For Horton, reality surpassed dreams

by Donna Lampkin Stephens

Friends, family, teammates, colleagues, former players — they all recently converged on the Conway Country Club for Harold Horton’s send-off to retirement.

Horton stepped down July 31 as executive director of the Razorback Foundation.

The former University of Arkansas football player and assistant coach spent eight years as coach at the University of Central Arkansas, where his teams put together a 74-12-5 record, including NAIA national co-championships in 1984 and ’85, and seven consecutive Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference titles. His teams were undefeated through the 1983, ’87 and ’88 regular seasons.

Following the ’89 season, he returned to the UA as recruiting coordinator for four years and director of football operations for four more seasons before joining the Foundation, where he spent nearly 15 years.

At the event hosted by Steve Strange (whose son, Steve Jr., was an All-American kicker under Horton at UCA), Horton recalled spending hours as a youth driving a John Deere tractor while working on a farm, daydreaming about his future.

“My reality has gone beyond those dreams,” he said, adding that he had enjoyed every place he had coached.

He mentioned UCA administrators he worked with, such as President Jeff Farris, President Bill Pate and athletic director Bill Stephens, who he recalled paying him one of the greatest compliments of his life. The Bears had won 34 or 35 consecutive regular season games (en route to a streak of 38) when Stephens told him after one game, “Harold, you just won’t let anybody beat you.”

He praised his UCA staff — Bill Keoppel, Ronnie Kerr, Mike Isom and Richard Martin, all of whom were there for the evening, and his predecessor at UCA, Ken Stephens.

“If you don’t have good people around you, you’re going to stumble and fall,” he said. “We inherited a good program. Ken Stephens did a great job at UCA. We just continued what he’d done.”

Horton was joined by his wife, Betty; daughter, Holly Banister; son and daughter-in-law, Tim and Lauren Horton; and three of their five grandchildren — Charlotte Banister and Caroline and Jackson Horton — all of Fayetteville. Betty Horton said it was great to see so many old friends.

“I had no earthly idea all these people were coming,” she said, adding that Tim kept most of the guest list a secret.

Martin said Horton was a good coach to work for — but strict.

“He took stuff personal,” said Martin, who coached wide receivers for three years under Horton after four years under Stephens. “If they dropped the ball, that was my fault. He was very intense all the time. They had better know the plays, better block and better catch. If they didn’t, he wasn’t going to get on them. He was going to get on me.”

Melvin Bohanon, who played defensive back for Horton from 1982-86, called Horton a no-nonsense type.

“Everything was by the book,” he said. “He knew how to bring out the most from every individual. He could pick your card and know how far he could go with it.”

Mark Turner, who played defensive back at UCA from 1983-86, said he still uses the lessons Horton taught him while his coach.

“Everything he taught me in four years, I still use today — discipline, life skills, everything,” Turner said.

Chris Riggins played for Horton in ’88 and then his successor, Isom, who led the Bears to the outright NAIA national title in ’91. Riggins called Horton a disciplinarian.

“He pushed us to surround ourselves with the right people,” he said.

Jim Baker remembered Horton calling him while he was managing the sale barn in Conway and saying, “I’ve got a fellow up here homesick for his cows. Would you show him some?” The fellow was Danny Ford, the former Razorback coach.

Horton grew up in DeWitt, graduated from the UA in 1962 and coached in high school at Bald Knob and Forrest City before returning to his alma mater to coach under his mentor, Frank Broyles, in 1968. He coached under Broyles and Lou Holtz through the 1980 season and spent a year in private business before coming to UCA.

He is a member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, UA Sports Hall of Honor and the UCA Sports Hall of Fame.

Karen Sullards graduated from UCA in 1972, but she spent some time growing up in DeWitt, and her father, Fletcher, was the first president of UCA’s Purple Circle.

“I’ve known Coach Horton since forever, and I knew my daddy would want me to be here,” she said.