Editor’s Note: Click the link to read the entire When Marion Played Sports series.
By Jackie Hunt
Special to The Gazette
There was a time beginning in the 1960s that Marion played sports. The sleepy town of less than 1000 where log and pulpwood trucks dominated the streets and locals made their way across the Arkansas state line to work at “the mill” did not have a theatre or bowling alley or any of those luxuries afforded the bigger towns. The lifeblood of the populace was sports. Daily discussion was about the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team or the Dallas Cowboys. They were the only two professional teams located in the South at that time and had a guaranteed fanbase. And then there was the local sports scene.
The biggest draw was summer baseball every weekend when the Marion boys would “cross DeLoutre” and take on talented teams from Farmerville, Spearsville, Downsville and any other community that could muster a squad. There were also big rivalries in Monroe as well as El Dorado, Strong, Crossett and other Arkansas towns. From Little Leaguers to the girls and their exciting softball, Marion was always competitive and took pride in beating neighboring towns, especially Farmerville.
The diamond wasn’t the only place where competition abounded, though. Marion Industrial High School, which joined Union Parish Technical Training Center (Farmerville) and several other schools in Eastern Union Parish to form Eastside High in 1962, had laid claim to a state football championship as recent as 1957.
These bits of history and tribal knowledge was the mindset behind a project called “When Marion Played Sports”. The project vision was conceived by two Marion natives who live elsewhere but still maintain strong ties to the area. Roderick Kelly, attended Grambling College and traveled the world for 20 years as a military officer but never forgot the stories about the star athletes he had heard as a child. The same memories were embedded with Albert Jackson. He too, attended and graduated from Grambling and left the area. Living in Dallas, he returned home often and shared the stories of the glory days. Jackson is 10 years Kelly’s elder and had witnessed much more of the local lore.
“Marion lost a lot of sports history when the school went away,” Kelley says, adding “We wanted more young people to know the legacy that their dads, uncles and other relatives had created.”
“We first thought of focusing on the accomplishments of Bobby Joe Douglas (the national single season high school basketball scoring champion) but quickly recognized there might be a bigger story to tell,” Jackson explained.
A stop in Marion now does not offer a chance to go see a local team play. Nor does it present the many cars that surrounded the old ball field behind Oliver Recreation Center. There were times when parked cars would overflow into the parking lot of nearby Marion Baptist Church. It was Sunday after-noon, service was over and many of the church folks chose to walk over to the ballpark and join in the highlight of the week. These are the stories we want to tell.
The project was designed to highlight different segments of Marion sports history. There was a series of interviews with some of the now senior citizens, coaches, athletes and citizentry who fondly recall those days. There were several podcasts discussing Marion Industrial High School, the Marion Baseball Team that evolved into the juggernaut Marion Demons, Bobby Joe Douglas and his athletic siblings and Eastside High.
Immortals such as Hilbert C. Lee (declared by many as the greatest multi-sport that Marion ever produced), the legendary pitching ace Johnny Davis, James Lee Bright, Bobby Smedley and others were revered. The project mission is to entertain, educate and bring back memories of a time when Marion played sports. We hope you enjoy the series.