Former Monette athletes remember great season

Friday, January 2, 2009

It was a great basketball season for the 1971-72 junior and senior high Monette Buffaloes and their coach, Neil Abel.

Members of the 1971-72 Monette basketball teams and cheerleaders attending a gathering at Monette are, from left: front -- Terry Smith, Rocky Qualls, Ricky Smithee, Vicki Brinkley Nunn, Rhonda Taylor, Skip Layne, Marla Cook Layne, Cindy Layne Hatch. Back -- George Edd Holland, Ricky Stewart, Steve Cobb, Wayne Whitley, Eldon Jenkins, Kevin Baldridge, Jimmy Powell, Phillip Wilcox, Terry Edwards, Darrell Bridges, C.E. Barnett, and Jim Steele. (Town Crier photo/Revis Blaylock)

Former players and cheerleaders had the opportunity to reminisce during a reunion held Saturday at the Buffalo Island Central West school cafeteria in Monette. Some of the teammates had not seen each other in over 30 years.

Skip Layne and Rick Smithee started organizing the reunion several months ago.

"We wanted to honor Coach Abel," Layne said. "Unfortunately, Coach Abel was not able to attend due to health problems. Mrs. Abel called me a little while before it was time to start and said they were taking him to the hospital. He woke up this morning and was not doing well. He has some health problems. Our thoughts and prayers are with them."

Darrell Bridges, All District and All State player for the 1971-72 team, called Coach Abel a "man of character."

"He helped out a lot of kids, and got a lot of kids along the way," Bridges, now a pastor of a church in Clarksville, said. "I was five minutes late today and I thought for sure I would have to run laps."

Bridges said he lived across the street from Coach Abel and if he was coming home late after curfew, he would turn the lights off the car about three blocks away to keep from getting caught.

Assistant coach of the 1971-72 teams and now superintendent of Buffalo Island Central School George Edd Holland called Coach Abel a great coach.

"He has probably forgotten more basketball than most coaches ever knew," Holland said. "The junior high state championship team was a good, hardworking bunch of boys," Holland said. "We didn't win many games in the eighth grade but they came back in the ninth grade and lost only one game and went on to win the state championship. The senior boys were also a good group to work with."

The 1971-72 senior team made it to the final four at state and received the state sportsmanship and the state scholastic award.

Those attending the reunion enjoyed catching up with their old teammates, reminiscing about key plays of some of the games of the 1971-72 season, reading newspaper accounts of the games, and being back home in Monette.

Members of the 1971-72 Monette Junior High State Championship team were Mark Estes-All State; Roger Kenley-All State, Dwayne Whitley-All State and MVP, Kim Metheny, Rocky Qualls, Phillip Wilcox, Terry Smith, Eldon Jenkins, Kevin Baldridge, Rickey Smithee, Wesley Cranford, Jerry Walton, Joe Ball, and Ronnie Markin. Managers were Steve Cobb and Ricky Stewart. They finished the season with a 35-1 record.

Members of the senior high 1972-72 Monette Buffaloes winning the Pre-Holiday Tournament Championship, State Sportsmanship Award, State Scholastic Award, and State Semi-Finalist were Darrell Bridges-All District and All State, Lynn Taylor-All District, Dennis Parten, David Watson, Stan Henry, C.E. Barnett, Steve Taylor, Skip Layne-All District, Jim Steele-All District, Tommy Dowless, Mike Harper, Clay Stewart, Keith Haddock, and Terry Edwards. Managers were Jim Powell and Benny Sanders. Scorekeeper was Deb Henry.

Layne welcomed everyone to the reunion. He led in a moment of silence for two teammates who are deceased. They are Mark Estes, a member of the junior high state championship team, and Mike Harper, a member of the 1971-72 senior high Buffaloes.

Coach Abel, a native of Monette, is well known throughout the area as he coached 14 seasons at Monette; six at Manila; and one year at Childress prior to joining the staff at Arkansas State University.

During his basketball coaching years, Abel compiled a 369-121 record at three different schools. He coached two teams to state championships and was named "Coach of the Year on two different occasions."

In addition to coaching at Monette, he served as high school principal.

Abel started his 27 year career at Arkansas State University as ticket and athletic business manager in 1979 before adding the title of golf coach in 1980. He relinquished his ticket and business manager duties in 1988 and dedicated his full attention to the golf program. He served as head coach for the men's golf program leading the men's team to NCAA regional appearances in 1997, 2000, 2001, and 2002. He also helped start the women's golf program at ASU where he coached the women from 1992 to 1996.

He retired from ASU in 2006.

He and his wife, Margaret, live in Jonesboro. They have a daughter, Tammi Mardis, and three grandchildren.

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