Alvy Early received the call Friday morning on his way to Bentonville to visit his sons for the holidays. He was informed of his induction into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame.
“You have a lot of thoughts run through your mind,” the longtime Arkansas-Monticello softball coach and former women’s basketball chief and athletic director said. “The opportunity to achieve something like that, you owe that to the players. We all know players win games, and it is an accomplishment that needs to be shared with others.”
Early, along with 10 others, will be inducted into the hall on Feb. 28 in North Little Rock. Former Arkansas linebacker and Arkansas-Pine Bluff assistant coach Dennis Winston and former Sheridan football coach Don Campbell are among those who will be honored.
Early joined UAM in 1979 as the head women’s basketball coach and is, to this day, the most successful coach within that program. He posted a 425-211 record with the Cotton Blossoms in 21 years and led the 1989-90 team to an NAIA national runner-up finish. The senior class of that team, including All-American Tina Webb, went 112-15, according to Early.
He’s enjoyed more success on the softball diamond. In 1997, one year into the UAM softball program’s existence, Early took over as head coach and has built the program into a perennial powerhouse. His teams have won more than 600 games, five Gulf South Conference-West Division championships, the 2012 Great American Conference title, competed in four NCAA regionals and reached the 2010 Super Regional with a school-record 55 wins. When UAM moved from the Gulf South to the Great American for the 2011-12 school year, Early was the only active coach in the Gulf South to have 400 wins in more than one sport.
In his 500th softball win, pitcher Kayla Jackson tossed a perfect game against Henderson State.
“There are a lot of things, but it’s hard to single out one as my proudest accomplishment,” Early said. “But those are some of the things that are particularly special.”
Early served as athletic director at UAM from 1997-2009. He also was an assistant coach on Tommy Barnes’ football staff and was a part of NAIA playoff teams in 1988 and 1993.
Winston found out about his induction Friday afternoon from a reporter and was taken by surprise.
“That is special when you make that with a special group of people,” he said. “I think my high school basketball coach, James Banks, is in there.
“I’m in there with the likes of Keith Jackson, Dan Hampton, Monte Coleman. I’m honored to be in there with those guys.”
Winston, a Forrest City native who prepped at Marianna, was a star linebacker at Arkansas from 1973-76 and went on to an 11-year professional career with the Pittsburgh Steelers and New Orleans Saints. He won Super Bowl titles with the Steelers in the 1978 and 1979 seasons.
Winston coached the defensive line at UAPB from 2010-12, helping lead the Golden Lions to their first outright SWAC championship. He left UAPB this past spring to accept the defensive coordinator role at Grambling State, but 2013 has been anything but glorious for him.
He was named Grambling State’s second interim head coach of the season after George Ragsdale went 0-5. Ragsdale, also a former UAPB assistant, was fired on the heels of a players’ boycott over the operations of the athletic department and the firing of head coach Doug Williams. Winston went 1-3 and was let go along with the rest of the coaching staff.
Winston expects to land on a professional or college staff within the next two to three weeks, but so far, he’s received no better news this year than his forthcoming induction into the ASHOF.
“This might be the best thing that happened to me this year,” Winston said. “Everything else has been chaotic. 2013 has not been a good year.”
Campbell posted a 257-98-6 record as a head coach at Corning, Sheridan and Wynne. He won state titles with Wynne in 2001 and 2004, coaching current Carolina Panthers star DeAngelo Williams on the 2001 team.