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Irvin Bass: more than name on gym

OPINION by Bob Wisener | December 2, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.

I had lost track of Irvin Bass until his picture appeared on Page 6A in Thursday's edition among the obituary listings.

Some readers' association with Bass may come only when they see his name in the sports section. Fountain Lake named its new gymnasium several years back in Bass' honor. Some Garland County schools do these things right, remembering past leaders -- Bass at Fountain Lake, Gene Glazener at Jessieville to name a few. That distinction applied equally to Stanley May, head coach of two state-championship football teams at Mountain Pine.

To someone with 40-plus years of commenting on local affairs like myself, it is nice to drive around town and see a building named for Roy Rowe and one for Maurice Dunn, both recognizing past service at Hot Springs High.

Why, then, is Bobby Hannon's name not associated with Hot Springs High, joining Joe Reese and Tommy Holt as reminders of glorious times in Trojan football. Hannon, as much as anyone, led the Trojans from creaky Rix Stadium downtown, winning two state titles and making four championship games in nine years.

Why also is Alvin Corder's name not on the floor of the school's spanking-new basketball arena, where the sightlines exceed greatly those in old Trojan Fieldhouse?

This is not a matter restricted to the school on Emory Street, which proudly and rightly recognizes itself as alma mater of William Jefferson Clinton. Random chats with Reese and basketball coaches Voris Johnson and Jim Elser are among highlights of my years working in this town. Reese, for one, knew a thing or two about horse racing, endearing him further to my cause.

But with historians in increasingly short supply, attention must be paid to our forebears, even if some are still living. For that reason, it concerns me that Tommy Barrett and James Boley are not more widely cited for basketball successes at Garland County's only 6A school. And that for all the construction at another school, J.W. "Chick" Austin is not more prominently mentioned on its football stadium.

It was thrilling again to read the story of Claude Mann, for whom the Malvern football stadium is named and where the Leopards play Nashville in the Class 4A playoffs tonight. Claude Mann Stadium resulted from a Works Progress Administration project, which ties it to Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal.

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, in a 2008 story, said "finding someone who knew the details of Mann's life was as difficult as entering the stadium and trying to single-handedly stop the Leopards' running game. Even the longest-tenured teacher or administrator was not around during Mann's time, or even when the stadium was named for him."

A Dallas import at the turn of the century, Mann served Malvern as newspaper publisher, city recorder, postmaster and mayor. On the 50th anniversary of the city, he convinced then-Arkansas U.S. Sen. Joe T. Robinson to get President Roosevelt to visit by train. Claude Mann Stadium opened in 1936, two years before its namesake's death, standing high amid the new Malvern High complex.

There, I watched Madre Hill, a future Razorback star, stampede Magnolia in the state semifinals on Thanksgiving Friday 1993, setting up a title game against defending champion Lake Hamilton at War Memorial Stadium that helped Hill flesh out his legend. I interviewed Madre afterward in old Bill Hunt Fieldhouse, the basketball arena, wondering where his upper-body strength derived.

Irvin Bass lived to see Fountain Lake win a state championship in football (2009, the last Garland County team thus honored). The Cobras withstood the usual growing pains in football from which some schools don't recover. The school's most fateful athletic hire came with that of Jerry Clay (from Hot Springs Central Junior High) in 1981. In seven years under Clay, Fountain Lake became a going concern in Arkansas prep football, finally topping out in its second championship-game appearance under Lake Hamilton alum Tommy Gilleran.

Bass might be as puzzled by Fountain Lake's move to 8-man football as anyone but likely would not be vocal about it. "We try harder," the Cobras vow, and its athletes leave it all on the football field, the basketball court or whatever venue.

Fountain Lake tennis under Pat Hines, volleyball with Tina Moore and basketball with Sammie Lambert and Dick Warrington (in present day with Matt Carter and Jake Dettmering) have been my privilege to cover. Bass and the late Larry Beckham (principal), for whom the school's football field is named, took care of administration -- Gerald Hulsey, in residence at practically every game, deserves mention as does Steve Campbell, a longtime friend from Oaklawn days involved in everything good at the school.

No two coaches, unless it be Clay and John Utley (at Fountain Lake, later at Lake Hamilton), ever worked in closer harness than Gilleran and Marc Davis. Scoreboards and won-lost records don't come close to measuring their impact.

So, too, in his own way, did Irvin Bass, who lived until age 82. I remember having only one conversation with Bass, that at Oaklawn on the first day of simulcast racing at the track in, I think, 1990. Our paths crossed upstairs and after a few kind words, Bass said, "Remember, you didn't see me here."

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