“This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine..” – Harry Dixon Loes
If you talk to coaches in the SEC, they will generally tell you that their recruiting base stretches across Texas, Oklahoma over to the Carolinas based on whether they are SEC East or SEC West. Basically, their home state, conference, and a few surrounding states. In football, outside of the one outlier from Australia, that pretty much holds true.
But let’s look at the other sports. Women’s soccer boasts players from Canada, Colorado, Washington, Ohio, and Iowa. We know Coach Deifel can recruit as well. She has ladies coming from Nebraska, South Dakota, California, New York, and Colorado to play softball for her. Coach Neighbors has pulled in women’s basketball players from as far away as Minnesota and Maryland. On the men’s side, baseball and basketball have attracted players from Arizona, Washington DC, New York, Ohio, and Massachusetts.
Which got me to wondering, why? What is about Fayetteville that someone from that far away would find attractive? Why would a goalie who graduated from Princeton last year choose Arkansas for her final year of eligibility? Why would softball/baseball/basketball players and coaches leave the sunny climes of California to live in a state that experiences all four seasons (albeit a couple of them are kind of short) including ice and snow in the winter?
Well, if you grew up in Arkansas, your question is really “why not Fayetteville?”
The University of Arkansas boasts a beautiful campus. The foliage of the Ozark Mountains in the fall rivals a some of what you might see in the Northeast. The buildings have a nice, Ivy League-ish, atmosphere with buildings that date back to 1875 and architectural styles that run the gamut from the old to the modern. The town of Fayetteville itself mirrors that with an historic downtown area but modern art galleries and shopping and dining options.
Both have a little something for everyone.
But, let’s be honest, it takes more than Old Main and a choice of burger joints to get a young person to uproot themselves – possibly far from friends and family – and choose to make Fayetteville and the University their home for the foreseeable future. Something other than “it’s a great place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there.”
That is the intangible. You can’t describe, but you can just knowit. If you drive in from the south along I-49, or even come in on the old Pig Trail, state highway 71, you top a rise in the road andthen there before you, filling your windshield, is the University of Arkansas, nestled in the distance, Old Main towering above the other buildings.
A beacon welcoming you in.
And then you feel it.
That little something that feels like you belong, like home.
When you talk to players that come from outside our region, those for whom Arkansas was a state on the map but notsomeplace they knew much about, they say the same kind of thing, too. That you can’t really put a finger on what makes the UofA special, but you know you want to be a part of it. There is energy on campus all around and watching tens of thousands of fans call the Hogs on a beautiful fall day in Donald W. Reynolds or a crisp spring afternoon at Baum-Walker or elbow to elbow inside Bud Walton Arena are awe-inspiring moments. It’s hard to not get caught up in the moment. Even states, or countries,away from the events I still throw my arms up every time I hear aHog Call on television.
One of the latest buzzwords is Culture. We talk about creating cultures or the cancel culture or whether or not someone has culture.
One definition of culture is, as a noun, “the ideas, customs and social behavior of a particular people or society.” Another definition, as a verb, is “to maintain in conditions suitable for growth.”
That is what I think some of these players come looking for, and they feel it. Culture as a both a noun and a verb. A place where they can grow in their skills because we have one of the best environments for it. Look at the training facilities we have in baseball, football, and basketball. And not just the facilities but the coaches and support staffs that man them. We have buildings and programs that rival some in the professional leagues. We have coaches and directors and support persons that foster our athletes from head to toe, inside and out. The University has established its culture of ideas, customs and behaviors by bringing in the tops in their fields with top resources to help maintain those conditions so that our student athletes should, and we hope do, leave the University better than when they arrived. And that they enjoyed themselves, growing and learning along the way.
But no matter how they leave, how far they go, or how long they may stay gone, Old Main and the University of Arkansas still welcomes them home.
Pure as the dawn on the brow of thy beauty, watches thy soul from the mountains of God. Over the fates of thy children departed, far from the land where their footsteps have trod. Beacon of hope in the ways dreary lighted, pride of our hearts that are loyal and true. From those who adore unto one who adores us,Mother of Mothers, we sing unto you.
Once a Razorback, always a Razorback.