After 116 victories and four state championships in football, Lee Hardman could only imagine his invitation into the Arkansas High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame was on the way.
“I was hoping,” Hardman said. “You never take anything for granted. When you get a chance to be inducted, it’s a special, special honor.”
This summer, the induction will come.
A reception was held at the Robert F. Morehead Middle School cafeteria Thursday evening to celebrate the former Dollarway head coach’s upcoming induction ceremony, expected to be held in July. Although neither the AHSCA nor Arkansas Activities Association has announced the hall’s Class of 2014, Dollarway School District Superintendent Bobby Acklin broke the news early to Hardman.
“The superintendent called me over to his office,” said Hardman, who is now the district’s athletic director. “He surprised me. He wouldn’t tell me what it was all about. He called my wife over, and she didn’t know what it was about.
“I didn’t know if we were in trouble or not. He invited the staff over, and they didn’t know what was going on then. He told me at that time.”
Acklin, who serves on the Arkansas Activities Association’s Board of Directors, said he was not sure who would be inducted along with Hardman.
“(Hardman is) an advocate for children, sees no color and pulls out the best in them and he will work tirelessly to do that,” Acklin said.
“He’s more than a coach. He’s a mentor, not just to kids, but to us, the staff. He shows us how it’s supposed to be done every day on a consistent basis. He is a teacher by action.”
Hardman, who began his career as a junior high coach at Dollarway, led the high school Cardinals from 1982-92 and posted a 116-20-1 record with four state championships in his last five years at the helm. Included in that record were three undefeated seasons (1989, 1990 and 1992) and a 51-game winning streak from 1988 to the end of the 1991 season, when Fordyce beat Dollarway in the AA state championship game.
Among his standout players at Dollarway were Jackie Harris, who spent 12 years playing in the NFL, and Carl Kidd, a former Oakland Raider and Canadian Football League All-Star with the BC Lions.
His favorite moment coaching the Cardinals was his first state championship, when Dollarway was led by future University of Arkansas standouts Kidd and Darwin Ireland.
“We went in as a big underdog,” Hardman said. “Newport was No. 1 in the state. A lot of people didn’t know about Dollarway. They jumped out to a 6-0 lead right off the bat. We came back the first 5 or 6 minutes of the third quarter and put 26 on them.”
So, what was Hardman’s halftime speech?
“I don’t remember what I said,” he said. “I just remember the players said, ‘Coach, don’t worry about it. We got it.’ And they went and took care of it.”
Dollarway beat Newport in the 1989 AAA state final and Van Buren for the 1990 AAA crown.
After his fourth championship win over Ozark in 1992 AA final, Hardman left Dollarway to resurrect an Arkansas-Pine Bluff program hit hard by the NAIA death penalty a year earlier.
“It was a hard decision, but it was something like, I wanted another challenge,” Hardman said. “I loved UAPB and I felt I could bring something to it. Starting the program over from being dead, we knew it was going to be a challenge. It just so happened everything worked out.”
In Hardman’s second year at his alma mater, the Golden Lions reached the NAIA national championship game, falling to current Division II program Northeastern (Okla.) State. Hardman spent 12 seasons as UAPB’s coach, amassing a 64-58 record and guiding the program into NCAA Division I status in 1997.
“He’s a great motivator,” said Kevin Williams, who quarterbacked under Hardman at Dollarway in 1992 and played under him at UAPB from 1997-99. “He’ll motivate you and get you to do more than what you thought you’re capable of.
“He always preached, why do things halfway when you can go ahead and put your full effort into it and be all you can be? He always had some wise words.”
Wise words that helped Hardman become one of Arkansas’ best high school coaches ever and enjoy success even he didn’t envision at first.
“I just wanted a chance, an opportunity and a chance,” Hardman said. “I’ve told the players ever since then, you want an opportunity and a chance. Be ready. Work your butt off. I knew if we worked hard and did things right, we’d have a chance.”