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story.lead_photo.caption Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/THOMAS METTHE -- 3/29/2018 -- Oliver Elders talks about his basketball coaching and playing days on Thursday, March 29, 2018, at his home in Little Rock. - Photo by Thomas Metthe

It was only natural for Kerry Joe Briggs to have the last word.

That was how it always had been at Hall High School in Little Rock: Oliver B. Elders would address his team before or after a basketball game, then he'd turn it over to his student team manager to close the meeting out.

Briggs would step in and speak to players like future All-American Arkansas Razorback and four-time NBA All-Star Sidney Moncrief or future Grambling State center Gary Tidwell.

Some of those players were out there in the April crowd at the Statehouse Convention Center in Little Rock, where Elders, 86, had just been enshrined forever in the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame.

Briggs was about to make certain Elders' name would give back forever, too.

He boarded the ballroom stage and began the surprise announcement: Briggs, former players, alumni and friends had established the Oliver B. Elders Endowed Scholarship at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.

The people who were influenced by Elders during his 36 years of coaching high school basketball in Arkansas -- when he won four state championships and broke racial barriers in the middle of nationwide desegregation -- had pooled their resources to make sure Elders would influence more people.

"You will continue to touch young lives for years to come," Briggs said to his former coach.

Briggs, the secretary of the OBEE scholarship, has set a fundraising goal of $100,000 by the end of 2018, and executive director Scott Green -- a former player for Elders at Hall -- said he expects donations can build the endowment's principal amount to as much as $500,000 by 2022.

The endowment funds will be matched dollar for dollar by Title III federal funding until October 2022, and Green said the interest payments made off the endowment's principal amount will fund an unknown amount of future scholarships at UAPB.

"It's as if he would touch lives from here to eternity," said Green, a 1981 Hall graduate. "As long as the university is in place and there are young people that are pursuing higher education, he will have a part in that."

Elders won’t say much about the endowment other than his thankfulness.

A few weeks ago, outside a Little Rock post office, he handed over a few forms that included details about the scholarship.

“You just read that and tell me what you see,” he said.

Comfortable laughter followed. It was a familiar prelude from a man who had accomplished much but didn’t want the pride that came along with telling you about it.

A month before, during a profile of Elders, he pointed toward his accomplishments instead of listing them: “Go drive under that bridge, up Roosevelt until you get to Horace Mann High School. You’ll see a name up there on the gym.”

That wouldn’t happen to be his name, would it?

“Might be.”

If you look for his accomplishments — dating back before his playing days at Arkansas AM&N (now UAPB) — you’ll find them.

No, listing them out would take time. Time better spent constructing character and spirit, distributing advice and encouragement, quoting scripture and poetry.

Green remembered a recent afternoon when he and “O.B.” were talking about “staying the course.”

“Out of thin air, he began to quote the 27th Psalm in its entirety,” Green said. “I’ve been a church boy all my life, and I have never been so moved by someone reciting a passage of scripture like that. It just blew me away. It challenged me to memorize the 27th Psalm, and I’m still working on it.”

It’s the sort of spirit Green and Briggs hope to preserve in the endowment, which will be passed along to future generations.

“We want something that will outlive Coach Elders,” Briggs said. “Fifty years from now, we want people to know who he was, and the endowed scholarship was the best way to honor a person like him.”


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