Wally Hall is the managing sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Arkansas-Little Rock after an honorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force, he is a past president and member of the Football Writers Association of America, member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, past president and current executive committee and board member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, and voter for the Heisman Trophy.
LIKE IT IS:
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P.A.R.K. president Keith Jackson (left) is pictured with his wife Melanie (right) and Arkansas Democrat-Gazette publisher Walter E. Hussman, Jr., center, outside the Little Rock facility.
GRAPEVINE, Texas It was a night to celebrate.
The NCAA receives its share of criticism, but to wrap up its annual convention it honored six athletes who 25 years later have distinguished themselves in an area other than athletics — plus some of the more recent athletes who have distinguished themselves more off the field than on it.
That’s why several tables had been reserved by University of Oklahoma officials as well as Arkansans who believe in Keith Jackson and his Positive Atmosphere Reaches Kids program.
Old friends of Jackson’s came from Houston, like Wallis Marsh and Dr. Devinder Bhatia, a noted heart surgeon in Houston, attorney Andy Turner, who helped Jackson start P.A.R.K., and even fraternity brothers like Aaron Juniper.
It didn’t appear anyone had more support Friday night than Jackson, and during his short stint on the stage to receive his honor he paid tribute to those from his home state of Arkansas and the Boomer Sooner folks.
Before the night was over, it would become obvious Jackson was just one of many who personified what the banquet was really about — honoring athletes for what they learned from the games and practices.
Self-discipline, self-control and self-confidence were the underlying themes of the night.
Jackson, who played nine years in the NFL, started P.A.R.K. before his pro career was over and the need to make it successful helped Jackson make the decision to leave football two years, maybe three, before his career should have been over.
It was a night that honored more than former professional athletes or All-Americans.
David Borden played football at tiny Kutztown and double-majored in finance and marketing, but in 2006 he signed up for Marine Corps Officer Candidate School.
Borden and his platoon had been in Iraq for four months in 2007 when a suicide bomb detonated and left him comatose. He sustained several broken bones, hundreds of ball bearings were embedded in his body, and he was missing his right foot.
It took 40 operations and two years of rehabilitation, but in 2011 he was back on active duty in Afghanistan. Instead of taking disability, he is now a captain and a career soldier.
Kirk Rohle, a running back, and his childhood friend Ben Rogers, an offensive lineman, played at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia, but their lives were altered the night the house they shared with four others was engulfed in flames.
When Rohle got outside, he realized his friend was still in the house. Rohle ran back inside and started calling out for Rogers. The smoke was so thick Rohle couldn’t even see the walls, and he and Rogers even passed each other without knowing it as Rogers followed Rohle’s voice to safety.
But Rohle was still inside looking for Rogers when he realized his skin was melting, so he climbed out a window where he was caught by his friends.
He suffered burns on 47 percent of his body and was bedridden for four weeks. But within four months, while still hospitalized, he began to take classes. He graduated last summer.
The evening was epitomized by the honor bestowed upon Tony Dungy, the former college athlete and NFL coach, who was presented with the Theodore Roosevelt Award. Dungy, who is now a football analyst, spends much of his time as the national spokesman for Basket of Hope, an organization that gives spiritual hope to children diagnosed with cancer.
More than 800 were on hand for the NCAA’s Honors Dinner that ended the organization’s annual meeting.
Whether it was the story of Jackson and P.A.R.K or the courage of a soldier or an athlete who saved his friend’s life, everyone honored was equally important because they learned the right lessons by being involved in athletics.
What they learned on the playing fields of college athletics has carried them to even greater successes in life.
Sports, Pages 23 on 01/20/2013