More than 4,000 fans and supporters filled the Pine Bluff Convention Center arena Sunday evening to honor the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff Golden Lions football team for their SWAC championship win.
Upon entering the arena, the excitement was almost palpable. Some of the attendees literally just stepped off of a charter bus to attend the event.
The seats filled just in time to welcome the arrival of the Marching Musical Machine of the Mid-South band (known as M4) and cheerleaders. The crowd erupted with applause and screams as they entered and began enjoying a short pep performance. By the time John Graham, director of bands and M4, led the crowd in a number of selections, they began to play “We Are the Champions” as smoke machines started up and the arena erupted in excitement as head football coach Monte Coleman and his staff entered the arena holding the SWAC championship, offensive and defensive player of the game trophies.
Hosted by Pine Bluff Mayor Carl A. Redus Jr., other program participants included Interim Chancellor Dr. Calvin Johnson, University of Arkansas President Dr. Donald Bobbitt, University of Arkansas Board of Trustees member Dr. Stephen Broughton, athletic director Lonza Hardy Jr., State Rep. Henry Wilkins IV, State Sen. Stephanie Flowers, and Simmons First Inc. Chairman/CEO J. Thomas May.
“Through their first 11 games, the Golden Lions worked to perfect plays on the football field,” Hardy said. “And that they did.”
Hardy also touted the team’s SWAC Western Division title, 8-1 conference record, 13 players making the all-conference teams, and Coach of the Year honors for Monte Coleman.
“At Legion Field, the Golden Lions had a goal to make history,” Hardy said to the audience. “And I stand before you today to say they made history.”
“One thing I learned this weekend (is to) never doubt the heart of a Lion,” said Johnson said. “We observed a fighting team that brought home a championship and we’re so happy about that. It was an exciting time and you had to have been there to enjoy it.”
Johnson also gave an overview of other historic events that transpired during this past weekend: former Chancellor Dr. Lawrence A. Davis, Jr. and the late H.O. Clemmons, were inducted into the SWAC Hall of Fame; Carl Whimper, former Sports Information Director, was also honored for his years of service with the Charles “Chuck” Prophet Wagonmaster Award; and according to Johnson, the marching band was voted the best band on the field.
Bobbitt marveled at the tremendous amount of team effort given by the football team, coaches, cheerleaders and marching band.
“It’s a remarkable effort,” said Bobbitt. “I think University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff should be very proud.”
Unable to attend the game due to another UA school commencement, Bobbitt related to the crowd that he made it home in time to see three amazing moves by the defense and a 95-yard touchdown pass that took the Golden Lions into overtime.
“When I took this job, (former UA System President) Alan Sugg told me that sometime in the next 10 years one of the University of Arkansas System schools will win a championship, and it will be one of the happiest moments of your life,” Bobbitt reflected. “Thank you University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff for making that happen today.”
Presentations and proclamations were made to the team by: Ann Williams, executive director of the Pine Bluff Regional Chamber of Commerce; Mike Delton, from Jefferson County Judge Mike Holcomb’s office, Wilkins on behalf of the Arkansas House of Representatives; and Flowers on behalf of the Arkansas State Senate.
Coleman approached the podium humbly, thanking all those in attendance as he prepared to make his remarks as he reflected on one of his practices.
“They were very spirited and I reminded them that we have to stay serious because we had to win this game — we’ll dance after we win the game.”
He reflected on the 15- to 16-hour days spent in practice and honored his wife Yvette for her undying support, administrative staff and coaches for their hard work, the Sheriff’s Department for their assistance, band and cheerleaders for their work and churches for their prayers.
He shared a few memories about the steps it took to get where they are today.
“I had the privilege of assembling some the greatest coaches in Arkansas and the nation,” said Coleman. “We were made successful by the efforts of these young men.”
He reflected on a game against Alabama State that brought placekicker Tyler Strickland to the forefront. His 26-yard field goal against Jackson State in overtime sealed the SWAC championship victory for the Golden Lions.
“This team by far has been the very best team I have ever coached in my football career,” said Coleman. Earlier in the program, Johnson said Coleman had a vision for the football team and worked hard to see it fulfilled. Coleman responded during his remarks saying God gave him a vision that the team would someday be champions.
“I was assigned the head coach position in 2007 and thought we would get it then,” said Coleman. “God said not yet.” He noted that this year as he and his coaches trained the team, they put in their books, ‘It’s Time.’
“When it’s God’s time, it’s in the fullness of time,” said Coleman. “Right now, we’re experiencing God’s fullness of time.”
Bill Ross, first-team All-SWAC, team captain, linebacker and defensive player of the game, touted the staff, coaches, team and family atmosphere.
“Every one of these guys are my brothers,” said Ross. “The coach is like a father figure. It’s been a blessing to be a part of the UAPB family.”
Ben Anderson, first-team All-SWAC, offensive player of the game and quarterback reflected on the last play of the game.
“It was reflective of our whole team,” said Anderson.
Broughton, UAPB alumnus and member of the UA Board of Trustees, has known Coleman since junior high.
“This man has come and put the Mighty back in Golden Lions,” said Broughton.
He touted Coleman for his faith and reflected on when he was unable to play his senior year due to a broken arm.
“We didn’t know he was going to go pro and play
16 years and achieve everything, but that just tells you about the tremendous amount of faith he has and his level of work ethic.”
May reflected on his arrival in Pine Bluff in 1987, “one of the greatest blessings was my association with the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.” He praised Coleman for his leadership and the team for their outstanding performance and left them with a memorable quote: “The character of the leader is the destiny of the pack.”
The final presentation was made by Redus with Keys to the City and a Proclamation declaring Dec. 9 “Golden Lions SWAC Championship Day” in Pine Bluff.