John King's career as baseball coach at Pea Ridge nearly came unraveled just as it was getting started 30 years ago.
King arrived from Charleston in 1987 as an assistant football coach to then-head coach Kevin Miller.
"As my interview was ending I was told 'by they way, you'll be coaching baseball as well,'" King said. "Being a baseball coach wasn't even mentioned until then."
King's first baseball team at Pea Ridge finished 8-7 in 1988. But King almost didn't have a team to coach in 1989 after Pea Ridge decided to drop baseball because of budget concerns within the school district.
"A group of parents got together and, basically, funded the program that year," King said.
Good thing they did.
Pea Ridge not only won conference, district, and regional tournaments that year, the Blackhawks earned their only state championship in baseball with a victory over Bergman in 1989. But the success didn't stop there. King, 54, recently earned his 500th career victory that includes 15 conference championships, nine regional championships, one state championship, and a second-place finish in the state tournament in 1994.
"I've been very lucky to coach a lot of talented players," said King, who was selected the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Coach of the Year two years ago after leading Pea Ridge to a 23-5 record. "But it takes more than that. I've had a lot of players with a passion for the game who were willing to put in the extra work."
Baseball isn't the only sport flourishing at Pea Ridge. The school's football and basketball teams each finished as state runners-up in the same calendar and the baseball team is off to an 11-2 start. Pea Ridge is also 12-0 in girls softball.
"It's a good group of athletes," King said. "We've got seven players off the basketball team and four or five will start, depending on who's pitching."
Like many communities in Northwest Arkansas, Pea Ridge has experienced tremendous growth since King arrived in 1987. From about 1,500 in 1990, Pea Ridge is now a community of over 5,000 residents.
The town has long been a destination for visitors to the Pea Ridge National Military Park, where one of the biggest Civil War battles west of the Mississippi River was fought, and the annual Mule Jump in October still draws crowds nearly 30 years after the competition began. But newcomers to Northwest Arkansas are increasingly choosing Pea Ridge as a place to live and work. The business district is growing and there are plans to build a new high school in Pea Ridge, whose athletic teams compete in Class 4A.
"Where a lot of hay fields used to be, there are now fast-food restaurants and other businesses," King said. "We had about 500 kids in K-through 12 when I first got here. Now, we've got about 500 kids just in the high school. We're right around the corner from being a Class 5A school real soon."
The Pea Ridge football team kicked off a season of success with a 13-2 record and an appearance in the state championship game at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock. Three months later, the boys basketball also reached the state championship game and finished 32-3 on the season.
Senior Joey Hall was selected as the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Player of the Year and Trent Loyd as the Coach of the Year for basketball in Division II.
"There's no question that success in one sport can spill over into other sports at school," King said. "The kids have the attitude that 'hey, if they can do it, why can't we?' and usually they do it."
Teams competing in the spring will likely add to the trophy case at Pea Ridge, which is filling up quickly.
"Right now is a good time to be a Blackhawk," King said.
Indeed, it is, coach. Go 'Hawks.
Sports on 04/02/2017
Print Headline: King count at 500+ with Pea Ridge baseball