The Southern Arkansas University Athletic Department has announced that it will add 10 new individual members to its Sports Hall of Fame, and for the first time ever, an entire team will be inducted as the 15th class was elected by SAU’s Hall of Fame induction committee earlier this summer.
The newest class will be formally inducted during a ceremony at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, October 20 in the Grand Hall of the Donald W. Reynolds Campus and Community Center. The class will also be publicly introduced at halftime of the October 21 game against Southeastern Oklahoma.
The 2017 Southern Arkansas University Sports Hall of Fame Class is comprised of eight former student-athletes, a former Sports Information Director/Assistant Athletic Director, and a legendary team that recorded the highest post-season finish in SAU history. Additionally, SAU will have an honorary induction of the University’s first-ever football coach as the program is set to celebrate its 100th season in 2017.
Among those inductees are the following:
Kell Clopton played football at SAU from 1995-98 and was an integral part of the Muleriders success on the gridiron during that time as the program moved from the NAIA ranks to the NCAA Division II. A 6-4, 300-pound offensive lineman during his playing days, Clopton helped pave the way in the trenches for the Muleriders’ punishing wishbone-style offense.
As a junior in 1997, Clopton was a Daktronics NCAA All-South Region First-Team selection and an All-America Third-Team pick at offensive tackle. That year, he helped lead the Muleriders to their first conference championship since 1972 as the Muleriders were co-champions in the vaunted Gulf South Conference (GSC) with a 6-1 league record. Overall that year, SAU finished with a 9-2 record, achieved a top-10 national ranking, and advanced to the NCAA Division II Playoffs in their first eligible year.
The following year – Clopton’s senior campaign, SAU fell one game back from another GSC title, but the Muleriders did finish that year with an impressive 8-2 overall record and a 7-1 mark in GSC-play. Statistically, the Muleriders’ offense, thanks in part to the dominant play of Clopton up front, broke out and led the GSC in Scoring Offense (330 points | 33.0 ppg) and Rushing Offense (2,703 yards | 270.3 ypg).
For his efforts that year, Clopton would be touted as a first-team all-region player once more while also adding another All-America honor to his ledger with honorable mention recognition from the Don Hansen Football Gazette.
Following his final game, Clopton was selected to play in the 1999 Cactus Bowl, which was a Division II All-Star game held at Javelina Stadium in Kingsville, Texas.
Mike Healer is considered to be one of the best distance runners ever at Southern Arkansas as he ran cross country and distance events in track at what was then Southern State College from 1971-1974. An injury cut Healer’s senior campaign short, but the three healthy years he had were remarkable.
As a freshman, Healer finished eighth overall at the AIC Cross Country Championships with a time of 26:42. A year later as a sophomore, Healer improved upon that time at the conference championships by 20 seconds and placed fourth overall. In his junior cross country season of 1973, Healer improved once more, but that year’s improvement was markedly higher as Healer won the AIC Championship after finishing the five-mile race with a blistering record time of 24:39, averaging just under five minutes a mile.
Healer’s steady improvement in cross country during the fall translated just as well over to the spring and its track season. In his freshman track campaign, Healer finished runner-up in the 3-Mile run with a time of 14:48.2. His sophomore season saw Healer improve that individual finish as he won the 3-Mile and established a new AIC record with a time of 14:40.1. Not done winning that event and bettering the record time he set, Healer would win the 3-Mile a second-straight year as a junior in the spring of 1974 as he trimmed 14 seconds off of his previous time and crossed the tape at 14:26.2.
Between cross country and track, Healer was a multiple recipient of All-AIC honors and claimed three individual titles.
While his senior season was lost to injury, Healer was motivated to not let that end his running career. In 1980, Healer qualified for the 1980 Olympic trials in the marathon with a 2:19.0 time registered at the Mardi Gras Marathon in New Orleans. Healer would run a similar time at the trials in Buffalo, N.Y., and was one of a record number 56 runners to finish the trials under 2:20, but did not advance to the Olympic team. Still, however, Healer continued to run, and after joining the Marine Corps in 1981, Healer would go on to make the All-Marine Cross Country Team in 1989 as well as the inter-service team that same year.
Cannon Lester played baseball at Southern Arkansas from 2007-2010. By the end of his time as a Mulerider, Lester was a two-time All-America First-Team performer who had put together one of the best all-around offensive careers in the storied history of the program with 10 career records to his name. Currently, Lester still holds eight of those records with his marks in Home Runs (41) and At-Bats (765) recently being eclipsed, and just by one in each category.
Of the remaining eight career record categories, Lester’s name is still at the top of Games Played (220), Games Started (215), Hits (290), Runs Scored (247), Doubles (75), Runs Batted In (219), Total Bases (498), and Hit-By-Pitch (68).
In addition to his career records, Lester also set single-season records in Runs Scored (89 | 2010) and Total Bases (167 | 2009) as well as staking claim to the single-game record for Doubles (4 | 2009 vs, Henderson State) and tying the game mark for Home Runs (3 | 2009 vs. St. Edward’s).
Lester’s career got off to a relatively humble beginning in 2007. That year, as a freshman, Lester played in 52 games and made 47 starts. He would hit .309 with 11 doubles, two home runs and 30 RBIs. His sophomore year, however, Lester broke out in a major way offensively as he hit an even .400 with 19 doubles, a triple, five home runs, 51 runs scored and 41 RBIs en route to being named All-Gulf South Conference West Division Second-Team.
The upward trend continued for Lester in his junior season as he helped lead the Muleriders to a GSC West Division title, the most wins in school history (52), a #1 national ranking, and hosting rights for that year’s NCAA South Region Tournament. Individually, Lester would hit .393 with 20 doubles, two triples, 19 home runs, 69 runs scored and 72 RBIs.
Those eye-popping stats resulted in Lester racking up the hardware as well as he was an All-GSC West Division First-Team selection at second base, a consensus All-South Region First-Team pick and was named to three All-America teams, earning first-team honors from Daktronics and the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA).
Lester switched positions on the infield as a senior moving over to third base, but his bat did not slow down as he hit .396 with 25 doubles, two triples, 15 home runs, 89 runs scored (to lead all of DII) and drove in 76. The consistency in his numbers from his junior year to his senior year resulted in consistent awards and accolades as Lester repeated all of his junior accomplishments while bolstering himself to a unanimous All-South Region First-Team player as well a consensus All-America First-Team pick.
Lester’s powerful bat and accolades to match helped SAU to another great year as they won the second-most games in a season going 47-10, repeated as GSC West Division Regular Season Champions, spent time as the #1 ranked team in DII, and played in the South Regional Final as the top-seed in that year’s tournament.
Furthermore, Lester’s senior season saw him be a semi-finalist for the inaugural Tino Martinez DII National Player of the Year Award as well as capture SAU’s Auburn Smith Award as the University’s Outstanding Male Senior Athlete that year.
Not long after the conclusion of Lester’s fabled career, he added one more prestigious honor as he was named a unanimous selection to the GSC’s West Division All-Decade Team for the 2000s. Later, Lester initially signed with San Francisco Giants to play professionally, but ultimately played three productive years with the Southern Illinois Miners of the Independent Frontier League.
Lynn McElroy arrived on campus at Southern State College from Brinkley High School (AR) where he finished his track and field prep career with school records in the 120 and 180 low hurdles. A recruit of SAU Hall of Famer and Arkansas Track and Field Hall of Fame inductee George Henry, McElroy was a multi-event athlete for the Muleriders during his four-year career.
During his freshman campaign of 1973, McElroy won the individual Long Jump title at the Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference (AIC) Championships with a mark of 22’ 4” to help SSC to a runner-up finish at the meet. The following two years, McElroy’s sophomore and junior seasons, the Muleriders placed third in the AIC meet, with McElroy claiming a pair of top-five finishes in the 1974 AIC Meet (120-yard high hurdles & 440-yard intermediate hurdles).
In his final season on the track, McElroy helped lead the Muleriders to what has often been described as an improbable 1976 AIC Championship Title; the program’s fourth as members of the conference.
In that championship season, McElroy set a school record in the high hurdles with a time of 14.34. McElroy also collected three top-five finishes at the AIC Championships his senior year as he finished second in the 120-yard hurdles (14.2), second in the 440-yard intermediate hurdles (53.5) and fourth in the Long Jump (22’ 9 ¼”). McElroy’s 440-yard intermediate hurdle performance, coupled with teammate William Hairston’s first-place showing in the event, proved to be the difference for SSC in securing the AIC Championships.
For his efforts, McElroy was named an All-AIC performer as well as an NAIA All-America selection after a sixth-place showing (14.56) in the 110 hurdles at the NAIA National Outdoor Track and Field Championships. Additionally, McElroy was a member of the Southern State 440-yard All-America relay team that finished fourth in the nation at the NAIA National Championships with a time of 41.76.
Dr. Larry McNeal has been associated with SAU and a faithful Mulerider supporter in multiple facets since the late 1950s when he enrolled at what was then Southern State College to play football.
Playing for the Muleriders under SAU Sports Hall of Famer Auburn Smith from 1958-1961, McNeal earned All-Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference (AIC) First-Team honors at defensive end in consecutive seasons of 1960 and 1961. During his four-year career, McNeal helped lead the Muleriders to three-straight winning seasons from 1959-61.
After his time on the gridiron was through, McNeal graduated from SSC in 1962 and pursued a coaching career that briefly took him to Camden Junior High School. Shortly thereafter, McNeal went to Auburn University as a graduate assistant where he taught swimming, soccer, and weight training. McNeal later went on to earn his Ed. D. degree from North Texas State University in 1971.
Prior to earning his doctorate, McNeal had returned to Southern State in 1965 where he served as a professor in the health, physical education and recreation department until his retirement from full-time teaching in 2000. During that time, McNeal served as the Intramural Sports Director and had a stint as the school’s club gymnastics coach from 1973-1976. Under McNeal’s guide, the intramural program at SAU flourished going from 11 activities to 50.
In addition to his longstanding academic, athletic and work relationships with SAU, McNeal has faithfully given back to the University expressing the need to continue to help current and future SAU students be able to have an affordable college experience. Recently, McNeal and his wife, Judy (Sessoms) were recognized for 40 years of consecutive giving.
A native of Magnolia, Arkansas, Hayden Simpson stayed home to pursue his collegiate baseball career, and after three dominant years on the mound, he would finish as the most highly decorated student-athlete in the history of SAU Athletics.
As a freshman in 2008, Simpson was named the Gulf South Conference West Division Freshman of the Year as well as a GSC West Division First-Team pitcher after he posted a perfect 10-0 record with a 3.43 ERA and 60 strikeouts in 63.0 innings pitched.
In 2009, he topped his rookie campaign with a 12-1 record over 108.2 innings pitched, which included a program-record 132 strikeouts, six complete games, four shutouts, and a no-hit performance against Culver-Stockton (Mo.). That season, Simpson’s dominance on the mound helped lead the Muleriders to a GSC West Division title, the most wins in school history (52), a #1 national ranking, and hosting rights for that year’s NCAA South Region Tournament. Individually, Simpson’s sophomore campaign saw him repeat his conference honor while also becoming a consensus All-Region First-Team selection/Regional Pitcher of the Year as well as being named a consensus All-America First-Teamer.
In his final year for Southern Arkansas in 2010, Simpson was at his very best as the right-hander finished with a 13-1 record that saw six complete games with half of those (3) being shutouts. Simpson also delivered an impressive 42.2 consecutive scoreless inning streak. In 99.1 total innings pitched, Simpson racked up 131 strikeouts and posted the second-lowest single-season ERA in program history at 1.81.
Simpson’s brilliance on the mound helped the Muleriders win the second-most games in a season going 47-10, repeat as GSC West Division Regular Season Champions, spend time as the #1 ranked team in DII, and play in the South Regional Final as the top-seed in that year’s tournament.
Individually, those gaudy and dominant numbers yielded another crop of major awards and accolades for Simpson as he became a three-time All-GSC West Division First-Team pitcher and a two-time consensus All-Region First-Team selection. Simpson was also awarded as the GSC West Division Player of the Year and named a “Top 10” honoree for the GSC’s Top Ten Award, which honors student-athletes based on athletic, academic and extracurricular achievement.
Nationally, Simpson was the consensus NCAA Division II National Pitcher of the Year and an All-America First-Team honoree for the second-straight year. Simpson also finished runner-up for the inaugural Tino Martinez Award for the DII National Player of the Year.
Not long after the sensational 2010 season, Simpson was honored as a unanimous selection to the GSC West Division All-Decade Team for the 2000s as well as being the unanimous choice for GSC West Division Pitcher of the Decade.
In three years, Simpson went 35-2 with a 2.39 ERA, 323 strikeouts and seven shutouts in 271.0 innings pitched. His wins, shutouts and strikeouts are career program records. Additionally, Simpson holds the top-two season strikeout totals, is tied for the season mark in shutouts (4 | 2009) and is tied for the second-most wins in a season as well (13 | 2010).
Of the 26 NCAA Division II pitchers currently with 35 or more career wins, Simpson’s career winning percentage of .946 is tied for the highest such mark in DII history, and he remains ranked among the Top 25 of DII in career wins.
Simpson’s collegiate career culminated in him being selected 16th overall by the Chicago Cubs in the first round of the 2010 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft; the highest MLB June draft selection in program history. He played two years in the Cubs’ farm system with stints in Peoria, Daytona, and Boise, before finishing his professional career in 2013 with the Southern Illinois Miners of the Independent Frontier League.
Houston Taylor had a 25-year association with Southern Arkansas that began in 1982. He spent a total of 14 years as sports information director over two stints at the University, including his first three from 1990-1993, and also served the last 11 years as assistant athletic director. His time serving as a full-time SID is the longest in the history of SAU Athletics.
During his career as an SID, Taylor directed the statistical team for the inaugural 2012 CHAMPS Heart of Texas Bowl game in Copperas Cove, Texas and called statistics for the 2005 Independence Bowl game in Shreveport, La. Taylor was also a part of statistical teams that covered seven NCAA Division II regional baseball tournaments, including serving as director and host for the 2009 regional. Taylor also directed statistics for SAU’s involvement in the 1991 Aztec Bowl in Mexico City, and the 1991 NAIA Baseball World Series in Lewiston, Idaho. Additionally, Taylor directed statistical teams for the Louisiana state high school football playoffs and the Arkansas state high school basketball tournaments.
In 2011, Taylor saw a streak of working 131 consecutive Mulerider football games come to an end.
Taylor also served as a media facilitator and statistical team member for the NCAA Division II football playoffs and numerous Division II conference basketball, baseball and softball tournaments, and was coordinator for the Daktronics All-South Region women’s basketball team for four years. Over a nine-year period he oversaw the nominating process and successfully promoted eight student-athletes in being named to the Gulf South Conference Top Ten, with three claiming the coveted Gulf South Conference Commissioner’s Trophy.
Before beginning his second stint in athletics, Taylor spent two years in the Office of Admissions at SAU, holding the title of assistant director of admissions. He also served eight years as an adjunct instructor in the Department of Health, Kinesiology and Recreation.
Prior to returning to Southern Arkansas in 2000, Taylor taught public school at Centerpoint High School in Amity.
From 1994-1999, he served as education director, assistant program director, and juvenile probation officer for South Arkansas Youth Services, Inc., headquartered in Magnolia. During his tenure at SAYS, he was directly responsible for the education programs at the agency’s four facilities, revamping the curriculum at the Magnolia and Lewisville locations, and starting the education programs at new facilities in Mansfield and Dermott. During this time he was also the owner/operator of a health and fitness facility for five years.
Taylor worked as news and sports director at KVMA radio in Magnolia from 1993-1994, also serving as an account executive and broadcasting both SAU and Magnolia High School football, basketball and baseball games.
A native of Hatfield, Taylor attended both Southern Arkansas University and the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, earning his B.S.E. in physical education from SAU in 1989, and his M.Ed. in kinesiology from SAU in 1993.
Professionally, Taylor was a long-standing member of the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA); served 12 years on the board of directors of South Arkansas Youth Services, Inc.; and was a founding member and the longest-tenured senator on the Southern Arkansas University Staff Senate, serving 10 years, with two terms as president and one as vice-president.
A graduate of Little Rock Central High School, Lee Vaughn arrived on campus at SAU in the fall of 1985 and began an impressive career as a hurdler and relay runner for the Mulerider Track and Field program.
As a freshman in 1986, Vaughn recorded a pair of top five finishes at the AIC Outdoor Track and Field Championships. He placed fourth in the 400-Meter Intermediate Hurdles (IH) (53.64) and recorded a fifth-place finish in the 110 High Hurdles (HH) (15.14).
A season later at the league championships, Vaughn bettered his time and finish in both the 400 IH and 110 HH. He placed third in the 400 IH at 53.17 and fourth in the 110 HH at 15.03. He would continue his postseason run during his sophomore campaign as he competed in the NAIA National Outdoor Track and Field Championships were he earned All-America honors in the 400 IH with a SAU metric record of 51.90.
In 1988, Vaughn dominated as the junior All-America hurdler put together several top performances including winning the 110 Hurdles (14.86) and the 400 IH (55.83) at the UAM Invitational as well as claiming the 400 IH title (53.74) at the NLU Indian Invitational.
At the AIC Championships that year, Vaughn topped the field in the 400 IH with a first-place time of 53.26 to earn All-AIC honors. He became an NAIA All-America honoree for the second-consecutive year in the event. In his final year, Vaughn, despite battling injuries, would qualify for the 1989 NAIA National Championships.
Sara Wooley was a two-sport star at Southern State College, excelling in both Women’s Basketball and Volleyball under legendary head coach and Arkansas and SAU Sports Hall of Famer Dr. Margaret Downing. Wooley, a native of Stamps, Arkansas, was an integral part of multiple Riderette basketball and volleyball championship teams in the mid-1970s.
A member of three-straight Arkansas Women’s Intercollegiate Sports Association (AWISA) Basketball Championship teams (1973-74 to 1975-76), Wooley would earn All-AWISA honors over her final three years. As a senior in 1976-77, Wooley and the Riderettes nearly made it four AWISA titles in a row as they placed second at the AWISA Basketball Championships.
That same season, the Riderettes finished third at the AIAW Region 4 Championships and posted an enduring program-record 20 wins. An All-AIAW Region 4 selection, Wooley shot 48.7% from the floor and added an 84% (21-of-25) shooting clip from the free-throw line, while averaging 19 points and eight rebounds per game in that postseason alone.
Wooley finished her playing days on the hardwood with 772 points and averaged 8.3 points per game in 93 career games played. At the end of her career, Wooley was among the top career scorers in program history and helped lay the foundation for successful years to come.
In her three years as a member of the Riderette Volleyball team, Wooley was a part of two AWISA runner-up teams in 1973 and 1975 as well as the program’s second-ever AWISA Championship Title in 1974.
After her time at SAU, Wooley went on to be a women’s basketball graduate assistant coach at Arkansas State University for the 1977-78 season. A year later, Wooley was tabbed as the head coach and spent three seasons at the helm racking up 57 wins and a .633 winning percentage. Her win total is currently the fourth-best at A-State while her winning percentage ranks second.
Wooley then went on to be the head coach at East Texas Baptist University in Longview, Texas where she spent six seasons and totaled 80 victories, the second-most in program history.
Following the 1986-87 season, Wooley retired from coaching and went to work the next 25 years at Eastman Chemical in Longview.
Thirty-years after making the single-greatest postseason run in program history, the 1987 Mulerider Baseball Team still stands as one of the most accomplished teams in the history of SAU Athletics.
The Muleriders, led by head coach and SAU Sports Hall of Famer Steve Goodheart, compiled an overall record of 46-7 with a 25-1 mark in Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference play during the 1987 season. The 1987 Muleriders’ current program record winning percentage of .868 included both the AIC regular season and tournament championships as well as the NAIA District 17 Championship.
Despite finishing as runner-up in the NAIA Area V Tournament, the Muleriders advanced to the NAIA World Series in Lewiston, Idaho as an at-large. Once at the World Series, the team won their first three games, before dropping a pair of contests to teams ranked in the top-three in the country, eventually placing third. The third-place finish nationally remains the highest postseason finish in the history of SAU Athletics.
As a team, the 1987 Muleriders hit a program record .371 and previously-held the team records for most runs in a season (507), in a game (28) and in an inning (14). That year, SAU banged out 620 hits and registered 489 RBI, while fielding .966 as a team; marks which still rank in the top-six all-time in program history. Another impressive streak saw SAU string together a then-school record 22 wins in a row, while their 46 total wins stood as the best mark in school history for 22 years and remains the third-most wins in a single-season in program history.
In all, the 1987 Muleriders set 14 individual single-season school records and 10 individual career records. Of the 24 combined records seven remain program records.
Individually, the 1987 Muleriders were led by five NAIA All-America Honorees in Bob Block (First Team), Arturo Cherena (Second Team), Tony Garcia (Honorable Mention), Larry Lundeen (First Team) and Keith Beam, who was also the NAIA District 17 Player of the Year.
Five Muleriders were named to the All-NAIA Area V Team, while eight received All-NAIA District 17 recognition. Fifteen (15) were tabbed as All-AIC performers and six players participated in the AIC All-Star game. Goodheart was voted the AIC Coach of the Year as well as the NAIA Area V Coach of the Year and also was an assistant coach for the All-AIC South team at the league’s All-Star game.
Not long after Southern Arkansas University was founded as the Third District Agricultural School (TDAS) in 1909, a football team was fielded, and a young 23-year-old George Ruford Turrentine was tabbed to serve as the first coach of the program beginning in 1911. Turrentine, who coached all sports offered at TDAS at the time, would go on to coach the football team through 1917.
While his 11-23-3 career record over seven seasons does not lend itself to a memorable coaching career on its own, Turrentine’s name still resonates and is synonymous with SAU Athletics to this day as he is credited with being the one to first attribute the nickname of “Muleriders” as he did so to his 1912 football team following the final game that season.
As the story has been accounted, preserved, and re-told, shortly after the school’s final football game of 1912, which was played on Thanksgiving that year, young men from the football team rode mules to Coach Turrentine’s home north of the campus.
In that final game, TDAS had played to a scoreless tie with Fordyce High School at home and players wanted to talk over the season with Coach Turrentine. At this time, it was not unusual for young men in the rural South to ride mules; as the animal was used most often in Southern agriculture, and were easily available. Additionally, it was noted that there were only four automobiles in Columbia County in 1912 and no paved roads, which made travel difficult in adverse conditions. Riding a mule therefore was a more reliable means of transportation.
In the school’s early years, football teams may have ridden mules occasionally to reach McNeil, five miles north of TDAS, to catch the Cotton Belt train to away games.
A few days after the Fordyce game in 1912, Coach Turrentine invited the players to dinner at his home, which was also located on the road to McNeil. As the riders (his players) dismounted in his yard, Turrentine walked onto his porch and shouted a greeting, “My Mule Riders!” This was the first known occasion when the name Muleriders was used for the football team.
The nickname coined by Turrentine that day did not officially stick until several years later. Steps in making “Muleriders” the official nickname for SAU Athletics came in 1922 when the yearbook changed its name from The Monitor to The Mulerider and when the student newspaper began in 1923, it was suggested that the name be The Bray as the paper was to server as the “voice” of the students.
After it became the official nickname of SAU Athletics, “Muleriders” endures as a unique mascot association within all of college athletics, and this coming 2017 football season will be the 100th season in which the Muleriders take the field.