UAPB campaign aims at increasing fan diversity, city’s ‘unity’

The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff is, has been and will continue to be a historically black institution. The state’s second-oldest public university is proud of that distinction, but its leaders realize that if UAPB is to remain competitive and achieve an even higher level of success, racial diversification is a requirement.

Moving toward that target, the university is counting on local businesses for help in ensuring the faces of its athletic program’s fan base are representative of the area’s diverse population. UAPB Athletic Director Lonza Hardy Jr. figures a more integrated fan following would not only boost the Golden Lions sports teams, but also lead to eventual revenue growth for the university as well as varied improvements for Pine Bluff, Jefferson County and the state.

To initiate what he hopes will develop into that domino effect, UAPB is promoting a football season-ticket campaign among businesses. Hardy said firms are being asked to purchase discounted blocks of passes to each of the Golden Lions’ five home games and distribute them to employees or customers. The season tickets are priced at $52 each, and those businesses buying 10 will receive two at no charge. Purchases of 15 tickets will net four free passes, and businesses buying 20 tickets will be receive six complimentary passes.

Hardy said he thinks the push will serve as a tool in enhancing the “spirit of the city” by illustrating a developing consciousness of increased “unity.” UAPB is also marketing its athletic and institutional brands by providing free banners, pennants and posters to merchants who agree to display the items year-round “instead of only during homecoming week.”

Hardy said he’s especially pleased that Mayor Debe Hollingsworth is actively supporting the effort, which he rates as reflective of her philosophy as the city’s elected leader.

“UAPB is our university,” said Hollingsworth. “It belongs to every single one of us, and we all share in the responsibility of helping to ensure its future as both an educational and economic driver. As vital as it’s been to our past and as important as it is currently, I don’t think it’s possible to overrate its future potential for us either individually or collectively. We can enrich our city’s image and our children’s and grandchildren’s futures by generating and illustrating a new pride in our university.

“I’m certainly in favor of tourism,” she said, “but I would love to see UAPB’s football stadium, basketball arena, baseball stands and other sport facilities packed with local fans whenever other teams come to town. It’s great that they bring their fans with them, but I want them all to see a Pine Bluff that totally backs its teams, and from the time they drive into our town I want them to see store and restaurant windows with banners and signs and paintings that make them realize they’re in Golden Lions country and the people here are all part of the same team.”

Simmons First National Corporation Chief Executive Officer Tommy May, a former member of the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees and an ardent UAPB fan and benefactor, echoed Hollingsworth.

“I personally would like to see more people in the stands at every ball game,” he said, noting coach Monte Coleman’s football squad not only claimed its first-ever Southwest Athletic Conference crown last year but also earned a national champion’s rating in one post-season poll. “Good athletics complement a good academic program, and athletic and academic successes lead to additional successes. Strong athletic programs with strong fan support create revenues for scholarships, which benefit everyone.

“I believe coach Coleman is an outstanding coach and mentor,” May said. “I’m excited about all he’s doing to raise the football program. I think Pine Bluff does support UAPB, but I believe we can do better in supporting the athletic program. I’m sold and I’ll be out there every opportunity I get when I’m in Pine Bluff.”

Hardy credits UAPB “super fan” Alonzo “Bubba” Pettigrew Jr. — a longtime car salesman here — for initiating the diversification crusade.

Pettigrew said he was motivated by the recently appointed UAPB Chancellor Laurence B. Alexander, who commented on how racial diversification could positively influence the university.

“I felt that I could and should do something to help with that,” said Pettigrew. “I think the first step in bringing that around for athletics is getting everyone near UAPB involved.”

Pettigrew has been working closely with Hardy and others in spreading the message and no one has responded negatively, said Pettigrew.

“Everywhere we go, everyone we talk to says, ‘What took you so long?’” he said. “People hadn’t asked before, but things are changing in Pine Bluff. We’re living in a time of cultural change, and we don’t need to be exclusive. We need to be accepting of everyone else and inclusive if we’re going to move ahead.

“UAPB’s teams already have a lot of diversity and that’s been increasing in recent years, but we need more of that with our fans, too,” said Pettigrew. “We need to be a positive force, together. We need to be a 12th man for our football team, and everything that comes from us ought to be positive and encouraging. We can continue to be Razorback fans, but we need to have as much and even more enthusiasm for our local college teams. We need to see ‘Go Lions’ signs everywhere we look here. We need to show our young people that we’re behind them and want them to succeed.”

The UAPB football season-ticket packs are available at the Golden Lions Stadium’s ticket office or by calling Brenda Jones at (870) 575-8601.