Keeping his commitments: Conway's Carter signs letter of intent with UALR

by Donna Lampkin Stephens

Conway’s Bubba Carter will follow his heart to UALR next year, but getting there has been something of a journey.

And he knows who has been directing it.

In November, Carter, a 6-foot, 205-pound senior right-handed pitcher for Noel Boucher’s CHS Wampus Cats, signed a national letter of intent before about 80 friends and family members at the Applied Velocity Baseball Training facility in the Springhill community near Greenbrier to play baseball for the Trojans.

Among other honors, he is a two-time all-conference selection in the 7A/6A Central and honorable mention all state. He has thrown three career no-hitters, including one against North Little Rock in the quarterfinals of the 2014 Class 7A State Tournament that marked Boucher’s 600th career victory.

“God’s leading me to go to UALR,” Carter said a few days after he signed, recalling his recruitment and commitment to the Trojan program that was then under the direction of Scott Norwood. “I put everything in him, all my trust in him. It came to pass that all the coaching staff was either fired or leaves. I was like, ‘God, what’s going on?’ I had no idea. But I never wavered. I had complete trust in God.”

Carter is the middle child and only son of Billie and Salina Carter. Like him, his sisters, Tori and Kennedy, were involved in sports.

“The girls did competitive cheer, volleyball, soccer, softball — we’ve done it all,” Billie Carter said. “We’re kind of a sports family, but we’d never moved on to this level. It’s a new experience for us.

“Every dad, that’s their dream for their kid to play at the next level, so this is pretty exciting. Words can’t really describe the emotions we’ve been going through as a family and how blessed we are at the opportunities that have knocked on Bubba’s door daily.”

Carter boasts a 3.2 GPA and is a three-year member of forensics and FBLA at Conway High. He’s a two-year FBLA officer and a two-year delegate to Arkansas Student Congress Convention, where he was named outstanding floor debate recipient.

In baseball, he was a catcher until his sophomore year at CHS.

“Out of nowhere, (assistant) Coach (Barry) Lueders comes up to me and says, ‘Bubba, you’re not a catcher; you’re a pitcher,’” Carter remembered. “I said, ‘You’re the boss,’ and went with it. He said, ‘You throw too hard to be just a catcher,’ so they put me in junior varsity pitching and it takes off from there and God blesses from there.”

Boucher said under Lueders’ tutelage, and with a lot of offseason work, including his time playing for Greg Baxendale and Greg Harris for the Arkansas Express summer program, Carter had improved his pitching speed from the low 80s to around 90 mph.

“He did OK at catcher,” Boucher said. “He didn’t hit very well, but he always had a pretty good arm. He’s a good high school pitcher. Everybody would want him on his team. I’m glad we’ve got him.”

Carter attended a camp at UALR in the summer of 2013 and said he drew interest from the coaching staff before he hit the field. Last fall, he attended another camp at Arkansas Baptist College, and the UALR assistant coaches offered him a full scholarship then.

“They met my parents, and we talked and (the coaches) said, ‘Say yes and you’ve got it,’” he recalled. “I told them I had to pray about it, so I prayed for a couple of weeks and made it official on my official visit in January (2014).”

He met Norwood on that campus visit.

But the seventh-year coach resigned in June after audiotapes of a profane locker room rant surfaced, exposing an alleged pattern of player abuse and harassment.

Apparently, the allegations weren’t a surprise to the high school baseball community.

“I left my options open somewhat, but I still had my mind made up that UALR was where I need to be,” Carter said.

Williams Baptist College then entered the picture.

“Bubba likes preaching,” Billie Carter said. “He’s been saved, and he wants to eventually get in the ministry. He was considering pursuing seminary out of high school.”

But even amid the program’s chaos, his son kept his original commitment to the Trojans.

His decision was confirmed when Chris Curry, a CHS alumnus who played at Mississippi State and played professionally for seven years, was named to replace Norwood.

“I had known him for years,” Carter said. “He was a catcher, and I had gotten to experience the person he was through his catching camps. Sure enough, God puts in people who honor him, and all the new staff are great Christian men with great morals. I knew that’s where I’m supposed to be.”

Upon taking the job, Curry quickly contacted Carter.

“When I got the job, it was no secret the program was in a bit of turmoil,” he said. “What was most impressive about Bubba was that he had not wavered in his commitment, even not knowing who the coach was, just because of his strong moral beliefs and, as he puts it, it was ‘the right thing to do.’”

He said Carter’s loyalty would bode well for the Trojan program.

“The key to any successful organization is the people,” Curry said. “If you don’t have good quality people you can trust and who are
loyal, you don’t really have anything, and his character is off the charts.”

The loyalty goes both ways. Although not required to, the new staff honored every scholarship the previous regime had offered.

“At the end of the day, as a coach, it’s the ones that want to be there and are unwavering and all in who usually become your best players,” Curry said. “The ones you have to talk into it, beg and coax to get them here, usually end up with a lot of drama.

“I have no doubt that Bubba is going to be one of the best Trojans ever.”

Carter recalled that Curry told him, “‘I know you’re committed to the old staff, and I’m wondering if you’re still committed to the team?’”

“He said as long as I’m committed to the team, the offer is still there,” Carter said.

And that set up November’s signing ceremony.

“I knew that it wasn’t going to be that big of a deal, just sitting with a piece of paper, but once I saw everybody there, all the people who cared about me and who had influenced my life, every single one of them — it was overwhelming,” Carter said. “Everybody there had had some impact on my life. It was pretty exciting and humbling, that’s for sure.”

Among those there was Cody Clark, the bullpen catcher for the Kansas City Royals and the son of Doug and Carol Clark of Conway, who gave Carter catching lessons during his youth.

Doug Clark is the former head baseball coach at the University of Central Arkansas; Carol Clark retired from teaching in the Conway School District.

“Bubba can do whatever he wants to do,” Clark said. “Of all the people I’ve ever met, Bubba knows exactly who he is and exactly what his walk is all about. He’s going to get to wherever he wants to go.”

Boucher, too, said he expected Carter to have a bright future.

“He’ll go on and be successful in college, and if he works at it and will listen to Chris, he might get a chance to keep playing,” he said. “I hope he plays for a long time.”

A year after his original decision for the Trojans, Carter remains steadfast in his commitment.

“God had put it in my mind that was where I needed to be, so I’m sticking with it,” he said. “I don’t use baseball as recreation or as fun. I use it as a witness field. I miss church all the time because of baseball, and I hate it, but I have been told by another pastor that people don’t preach to other preachers. They preach to the lost.

“I witness to as many people as I can through baseball, and I felt like Williams Baptist was a great fit, but I wouldn’t get as much done (witness-wise) because they recruit guys who are already strong spiritually. A school that isn’t known for Christianity is where I needed to be.”