Hunter Yurachek, the relatively new athletic director at the University of Arkansas, is scheduled to address the Little Rock Touchdown Club on Monday. I look forward to meeting him and thanking him for making a sincere effort to understand this unique state, its people and what makes us tick. The fact that Razorback football teams will continue to play games at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock tells me a lot.
Yurachek is a native of Richmond, Va., who earned a bachelor's degree in business management from Guilford College in Greensboro, N.C., in 1990 and a master's degree in sports administration from the University of Richmond in 1994. He was a four-year basketball letterman at Guilford and came to Arkansas from a similar position at the University of Houston.
Before the official announcement in May that the UA will continue to play football at War Memorial, Yurachek had made it clear that he realizes Razorback football is about more than money. It's something his predecessor Jeff Long never seemed to comprehend.
"It's not just a decision about the University of Arkansas and our football program," Yurachek told KATV back in February. "I think this impacts our entire state and a variety of constituents. If it was just a decision based on dollars and cents, it's an easy decision for a director of athletics to make. But there's a lot more that goes into this decision than just pure dollars and cents."
Tuesday marks the 70th anniversary of the first football game played at War Memorial. It was built for the Razorbacks. In a story on the cover of this section, I detail the history of the stadium and the role it played in making the Razorbacks a statewide brand. At a time when so much revenue comes from television contracts, ticket revenue doesn't have as big of an impact as it once did. When recently released evidence showed that fewer than 40,000 people were in the stands for several games at Fayetteville last season, it made it even easier to justify the continuation of Little Rock games.
I travel the state a great deal, which is the most enjoyable aspect of this job. I'm fascinated by current trends in which the state is gaining population overall at a time when two-thirds of Arkansas is losing population. There are three primary growth areas: northwest Arkansas, the Little Rock metropolitan area, and the Jonesboro-Paragould corridor. How do we continue to unify this state of only 3 million people in an era of drastic demographic changes? I've written before that I see three major unifying forces in Arkansas: the Razorbacks, a strong governor, and a quality statewide newspaper.
I mention the unifying power of Razorback athletics with all due respect to my friends at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro. I've never understood why Arkansans find it so difficult to pull for all four of the state's NCAA Division I programs at the same time. After all, Arkansas is in the Southeastern Conference, Arkansas State is in the Sun Belt Conference, the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff is in the Southwestern Athletic Conference, and the University of Central Arkansas is in the Southland Conference. They aren't battling each other for conference titles, as is the case with the University of Alabama and Auburn University.
With that said, I hope the UA's recent decision to play UALR and UAPB in baseball will open the door for competition between the flagship university and ASU. I'm among those who believe that a football game between the Razorbacks and the Red Wolves to open each season at War Memorial would be a good thing. It could serve as a unifying rather than a divisive force.
The wonderful thing about Razorback games in Little Rock is that they resemble a giant family reunion. I can stand at a tailgate party behind the press box and see friends from every part of the state due to the central location of the capital city. I'm confident that Yurachek will consider such a game as he learns more about the state.
As far as a strong governor, we're fortunate that Asa Hutchinson has chosen to govern in the same pragmatic style as predecessors Mike Beebe and Mike Huckabee. Hutchinson appears to be cruising to re-election in November, and rightfully so. Even though he was raised in the far northwest corner of Arkansas, Hutchinson has spent a great deal of time as governor in south and east Arkansas. He played a key role in ensuring that Razorback football games will continue to be played in Little Rock. He knows what those games mean to residents of the Delta and the pine woods of south Arkansas.
We've had a good run of governors for more than half a century, ever since Winthrop Rockefeller was elected in November 1966 after 12 years of Orval Faubus in the governor's office. Since Rockefeller was sworn into office in January 1967, there have been five Democratic and four Republican governors. None of them have been extremists. All have governed from the middle. They've listened to voices from every corner of Arkansas. Given the current culture of corruption in the Arkansas Legislature, we're fortunate to have a chief executive such as Hutchinson.
That brings us to a quality statewide newspaper. I was fortunate this summer to have been asked to represent the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette at civic club meetings in several counties where we're moving from home delivery of the print edition to online delivery for subscribers with iPads the newspaper gives them. It's a bold experiment in this period of transition for the newspaper industry, and people across the country are watching us to see if it succeeds.
In all of those speeches, I made clear that this newspaper will continue covering all 75 counties of Arkansas. There once were a number of statewide newspapers in places like Des Moines and Louisville that covered entire states. The Democrat-Gazette now stands as one of the few newspapers that attempts to do that.
It's good that people in Texarkana can see obituaries from Blytheville. It's good that readers in Little Rock know what the school board in Fayetteville is doing. There are so many factors out there these days that divide us as Arkansans. We should cherish and hold onto the handful of things that unite us.
Rex Nelson is a senior editor at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Editorial on 09/16/2018
Print Headline: Unifying a state