Keith Jackson: OU star, great Arkansan

By: Wally Hall
Published: Thursday, January 17, 2013
Herren Hickingbotham with Melaine and Keith Jackson
Herren Hickingbotham with Melaine and Keith Jackson

— Tonight a handful of close friends, admirers and family will gather at Pappas Brothers Steakhouse in Dallas for an unofficial toast, and probably a little of a good-natured roast, for Little Rock native Keith Jackson.

On Friday night the same group will be flocked by 850 NCAA Convention attendees as Jackson and five others receive the NCAA Silver Anniversary Award.

It is a big deal, and has little to do with Jackson’s great run as a tight end at Oklahoma or his nine years in the NFL when he made six Pro Bowls and won a Super Bowl with the Green Bay Packers in his final season, when he had 40 receptions and 10 touchdowns.

The honor doesn’t really have anything to do with him being a two-time All American and named to numerous All-Century teams, this for a guy who played tight end in a Wishbone offense, but averaged more than 22 yards per catch for his career and ran the tight end reverse like he was a wide receiver.

Jackson, 47, also has been an expert analyst on Arkansas’ football radio broadcastsfor more than a decade, but mostly he is being recognized for his contributions to society and mankind.

Many are aware of Jackson’s program, Positive Atmosphere Reaches Kids, but what most don’t truly understand is the impact.

Jackson started P.A.R.K. in his hometown in 1993 with a small group of underachieving eighth-graders who had less than a 2.0 GPA.

When that first group graduated, one young lady stood and said: “I hated my counselors. I hated Keith Jackson. I hated P.A.R.K. All my friends were partying and I was stuck studying.”

She paused - and at that point you could have heard a pin drop - and added: “Andtoday I was offered and accepted a full scholarship to Ouachita Baptist University.”

Rachel Williams went on to graduate from OBU and later earned her master’s degree.

She is just one of many success stories at P.A.R.K., and the numbers have continued to grow. More than 30 graduated last May, and most had college scholarship offers, although some of the young men over the years have taken their high school degree and joined the military.

About 80 percent who start the program finish and graduate, and almost 70 percent of those go to college.

So Friday night is a big deal because thousands ofathletes graduated 25 years ago, but only six will be honored Friday night by the NCAA.

Along with Jackson, the honorees are Chad Hennings (Air Force Academy), Gail Devers (UCLA), Bob Cottingham (Columbia), Dylann Duncan Ceriani (Brigham Young) and Pat McEnroe (Stanford).

All are involved as volunteers in their communities.

What has always made Jackson’s program a little special is how he left his home state to play football at Oklahoma - he was supposed to catch passes from Troy Aikman at a time when Arkansas was switching to the runbased Flexbone - but there was one place he wanted tostart his educational program and ministry, and that was his hometown of Little Rock. Every step of his journey has been supported by his family and friends, especially his wife Melanie, who spends countless hours at P.A.R.K.

Along the way Jackson has traveled all over the country as a motivational speaker, and just like with P.A.R.K., he’s been a great ambassador for his home state.

No one will be more modest Friday night than Jackson, but no one deserves to be honored more.

Sports, Pages 17 on 01/17/2013