Whether you are an alum- nus and remember watching Coach Vining lead the Tiger basketball team or you are a student who attends Ouachi- ta basketball games in Bill Vining Arena, chances are you know the name.
Coach Vining, however, is much more than a legendary Ouachita basketball coach –one who actually coached Larry Bird and Magic John- son on Team USA in the 1970’s. Coach Vining is a man whose name is entrenched in Battle of the Ravine folklore.
Vining was actually a two- sport athlete for the Tigers when he was a student from 1947 to 1950. He started out playing football his freshman year, but then quit the team as basketball rolled around –he was the star post player for the Tigers all four years of his college career. During his sophomore year, the football coach strongly encouraged (you could even say forced) Vining to dress out for a foot- ball game halfway through the season. Vining played a strong game with no practice under his belt and earned the starting defensive end job for the next three seasons.
Ouachita was a much dif- ferent place when Vining was a student. As an 18-year-old, Vining rode to the school from Eudora, Ark. in the bed of a friend’s pick-up truck. When he arrived, he real- ized he had not applied to the school and therefore did not have a dorm room, so he went to the president’s house in the middle of campus and begged for a room. The presi- dent was able to secure him one, and so Vining became a Ouachita student.
During Vining’s time at Ouachita, the Battle of the Ravine was a big deal–an even bigger deal than it is today. The rivalry caused a pseudo-war in Arkadelphia during the weeks leading up to the football game. The van- dalism which was performed two years ago, when seven Henderson students were ar- rested, is nothing compared to the chaos which occurred more than 50 years ago.
Vining recalled one year when over 100 Henderson students marched through the ravine in an attempt to paint the tiger and a brawl ensued on Ouachita’s cam- pus.
“That year, Henderson marched their whole group,” Vining said. “I mean, they were in a line that was a quar- ter of a mile long, and they marched through the line to get to the tiger and paint it. All of our students were in chapel except those who were guarding the tiger. They hollered, ‘We need help!’ Peo- ple took o and we had our group. The other group was marching up from Hender- son, and they were about four abreast. And here they come, oh dear. We said, ‘They’re go- ing to kill our kids.’ But they grabbed the first two or three people from the Henderson line and whipped the dog out of them. The others began to push back, and they never did get anything on that tiger that day.”
Those ghts and vandalism attempts were normal. They happened every year. One year, Vining went with some other Ouachita students and painted the arch in the mid- dle of Henderson’s campus purple. No one expected any di erent. During Vining’s se- nior year, however, the Battle of the Ravine pranks took a turn for the worse.
At the beginning of his senior year, Vining began to date Ann Strickland, one of the more popular girls on campus. Strickland was named the Ouachita home- coming queen and had a good deal of notoriety around town as she was also an Arkadelphia native. Two days before the Battle of the Ravine, three of Strickland’s friends who attended Hen- derson picked her up and took her to a house in Hot Springs. Word quickly spread around Ouachita’s campus that their queen had been ‘kidnapped.’
“They picked her up and took her away about two days before the game,” Vin- ing said. “That’s when the ghting started. I got in a car with somebody after football practice, and we drove all over. If somebody from Hen- derson pulled up beside us, we were all out just ghting in the highway. That’s what it turned into when we heard she was picked up by the Henderson people.”
Vining and his friends were livid. They searched Arka- delphia and the surrounding area for any trace of Strick- land. They searched a hotel and a radio station, scaring the daylight out of anyone that crossed them. Vining’s friend, Ike Sharp, who is the father of current Ouachita athletic director David Sharp, even carried a shotgun in his overalls as they searched.
“This was the day before the game,” Vining said. “You talk about ghting – you just walk downtown and run into someone from Henderson or Ouachita, and you just start ghting. It was a bad situa- tion. The fellow who took her realized it and took her back home. They said sorry and let her out and scrambled. She told me who the boy was, and I looked for that guy for a long time. I was ready for him. I never found him, though, which was probably fortunate.”
The next day, Ouachita lost the football game by a nal score of 7-0.
A few years after gradua- tion, Vining would return to Ouachita to coach basketball and football and would play a further play a role in the Battle of the Ravine. Nothing, however, would compare to the role he played in search- ing for the kidnapped home- coming queen back in 1950.
The rivalry, the game and the story itself are interlaced in the history of the two schools and the community of Arkadelphia.
On Saturday, we will write the next chapter in this great rivalry.
By Caleb Byrd, sports editor