A Farewell to the Stroupe Building

For a span of 15 years from the late 1940s through the early 1960s, no basketball venue in Arkansas rocked quite like Stroupe Gymnasium at Arkansas Polytechnic College in Russellville.

“Unless you were around back then, you would have difficulty grasping the impact Arkansas Tech’s Wonder Boys had to state college basketball…especially in the prime time of (Sam) Hindsman’s coaching career,” Jim Bailey, noted 20th century Arkansas sportswriter, once observed.

It was a period of Wonder Boys’ dominance that included 11 Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference titles, two NAIA National Tournament semifinal berths and a string of memories longer than the line of fans who waited outside Stroupe Gym to claim their seats on game nights.

Now, more than four decades after it hosted its final basketball game, the Stroupe Building (as it is now known) will soon be gone.

Gravity has waged a relentless battle against the 92-year old structure named for former Arkansas Tech Board of Trustees member Henry Stroupe, who served the institution from 1911-33. With a new multi-sport complex set to be dedicated a stone’s throw to the west this spring, Arkansas Tech University is preparing to say farewell to the Stroupe Building. The facility will be demolished during the second half of March.

“They used to camp out in tents to get in to the ball games,” said Lynn Hardin, daughter of Sam Hindsman and Mary Lou Hindsman, as she took one last tour of Stroupe in mid-February 2018. “My mother sat on the end of the bench. That’s the only place she ever sat. Red Wheeler and Pryor Evans were referees, and they looked at her one time and told her they were going to give her a technical foul if she didn’t sit down and hush. Mother was yelling, and dad was just sitting there. He never got up. There’s a lot of history here and a lot of fun memories, but it needs to come down.”

Early Years

When it was dedicated in August 1926, the facility was known simply as the armory. The Stroupe moniker did not come along until the Arkansas Tech Board of Trustees applied it in October 1954.

The armory housed two National Guard units and provided a space for physical education and basketball (for male students). It would be another decade until the Techionery was constructed to the north in order to provide similar educational and recreational opportunities to female students.

The record books show Tech’s first basketball game at the armory was a 22-19 win over the school now known as Harding University. Basketball was slow to match the success of the Wonder Boys’ football program between the two world wars, but the armory found other ways to become a significant part of the Tech campus during its first two decades of existence.

In 1931, humorist, movie star, newspaper columnist and radio commentator Will Rogers offered a performance at the armory. It was part of a tour of the southern United States that Rogers undertook in an effort to bring relief to regions struggling through what we now know as the Great Depression of the 1930s.

A report on Rogers’ visit to Arkansas Tech in the Agricola yearbook noted that “on the morning of the performance people came from all of the surrounding towns, and the biggest crowd that has ever been on the Tech campus crowded into the armory and around the doors.”

Rogers’ performance in Russellville raised $2,000, which was used to provide payment for laborers to construct a municipal airport.

“Many of the unemployed of Russellville were greatly helped through the depression by the work afforded to them by this $2,000,” reads the passage in the 1931 Agricola.

The armory scene of the 1930s also gave rise to an Arkansas Tech tradition.

An account from the Arka Tech student newspaper in the mid-1930s described the original Jerry the Bulldog as “always present at anything of any importance that happens at the armory.”

Owned by W.O. Young, business manager at Tech from 1917-42 and interim president from 1923-25, the original Jerry was adopted by the members of National Guard Battery F as if he was their own. That is why the first modern Jerry — Jerry Charles Young I — is escorted at appearances by the guardsmen’s descendants on campus, cadets from the U.S. Army ROTC program. It’s a role the cadets have filled since the tradition returned to campus in 2013.

Stroupe Gym Mystique

Sam F. Hindsman Jr. was born in Itta Bena, Miss. He was captain of the football and basketball teams at Memphis State University and earned his Bachelor of Science degree there in 1941. After serving as a U.S. Army Air Force aviation cadet instructor during World War II, he gained employment as a coach and instructor at Arkansas State Teachers College (today’s University of Central Arkansas).

In what is surely one of the greatest victories it has ever enjoyed over its arch rival in Conway, Arkansas Tech hired Hindsman away from ASTC in 1947. Accounts from Dr. Thomas A. DeBlack’s “A Century Forward: The Centennial History of Arkansas Tech University” indicate that Hindsman immediately went about assembling the parts of a basketball dynasty.

Among the first pieces of the puzzle was a gentle giant from south Arkansas. Deward Dopson was working the oil fields near his native Strong when Hindsman came calling. Dopson’s inclination was to stay and work for $1.50 per hour. His mother had another idea, according to a passage from DeBlack’s tome on Tech history.

“When that man comes back tomorrow,” said Dopson’s mother, “I’ve got your clothes in a box out on the porch, and you’re going.”

Similar Hindsman recruiting victories played out in other rural Arkansas communities, many in the small mountain towns to the north of Russellville.

Dopson was joined by fellow All-AIC performers Tom Massey, Raymond Tabor, Gene Wallick and Billy Bert Baker. Together, they and their teammates established the Stroupe Gymnasium mystique. A subsequent wave that included All-Americans E.C. O’Neal and Donovan Horn as well as All-AIC selections Danny Ruff, James Ralph Hudspeth, Paul Ray Martin, Don Sevier and Willard Smith elevated Tech basketball to national prominence.

By the time the 1954-55 season was complete, Arkansas Tech owned seven consecutive AIC titles, six NAIA National Tournament berths and trips to the semifinals of the national tournament in 1954 and 1955. The Wonder Boys’ record at home during those seven years was 79-3.

Arkansas Tech added AIC men’s basketball titles in 1958, 1960, 1961 and 1962. Tech made its final NAIA National Tournament appearance under Hindsman in 1963. All-Americans such as Ronnie Kennett, J.P. Lovelady and the Wonder Boys’ all-time leading scorer, Kenny Saylors, highlighted those teams. Dean Wilburn and Bill Boley also represented Tech on All-AIC teams during the final years of the Hindsman dynasty.

“He said that the greatest honor he ever had was to look at all the bachelor’s degrees, the master’s degrees and the doctoral degrees that his players earned,” said Hardin. “That meant more to him than any basketball game he ever won.”

Epilogue

Hindsman retired from coaching at the end of the 1965-66 season with a school-record 355 wins as head men’s basketball coach. The Wonder Boys continued to play their home basketball games at Stroupe Gymnasium through December 1975. The Arkansas National Guard operations and training housed in Stroupe moved to a new armory near the Russellville Airport less than three years later.

On Jan. 8, 1976, Arkansas Tech played its first men’s basketball game at John E. Tucker Coliseum, a domed structure with a capacity of 3,500 that has served as the home of Tech men’s basketball ever since. The women’s basketball program at Arkansas Tech has played its home games at Tucker Coliseum since Jan. 23, 1978.

The coliseum was built on the parcel of land that once included the airport made possible by Will Rogers’ visit to the armory in 1931. A monument to Rogers stands outside the coliseum.

On the other side of campus, the Stroupe Building continued to serve the Department of Athletics. An artificial grass surface was installed on top of the gymnasium floor in 1983. Among Stroupe’s functions was indoor practice space and weight room space for a variety of teams, and it was home to the offices and locker room for Wonder Boys football until the opening of the Hull Physical Education Building expansion in 2003.

The Stroupe Building’s last assignment was to provide offices and a locker room for the Wonder Boys baseball program. Those needs, along with the indoor practice space needs of the baseball, softball, men’s golf, women’s golf and tennis programs at ATU, will be met in the new multi-sport complex. A dedication for that facility is planned for April 14.

Note: Previous writings on the history of Arkansas Tech University by Dr. Thomas A. DeBlack, professor of history, Larry Smith, former sports information director, and the late Dr. Kenneth Walker, professor of history emeritus, contributed significantly to this article.

Comments

  1. Jerry Gatling says:

    I certainly enjoyed the article and expecially the comments about Coach Hindsman. His teams made Stroupe a feared place for visiting teams. You mentioned several all conference players who played for Coach Hindsman. There were quite a few during his tenure. I’ve attached a list below pulled from the Arkansas Tech Men’s Basketball Archives. All AIC players who played for Coach Hindsman include the following:
    Junior Carson – 47’
    Deward Dopson-50’- 51’
    Tom Massey-50’
    Raymond Tabor-50’
    Gene Wallick-50’
    Billy Bert Baker-51’-52’-53’
    Danny Ruff-52’-53’
    Donovan Horn-53’-54’-55’
    E.C. O’Neal-53’-54’-55’
    James Ralph Hudspeth-54’-55’
    Paul Ray Martin-54’-55’
    Don Sevier-54’-55’-56’
    Willard Smith-54’
    Ronnie Kennett-58’
    Dean Wilburn-58’
    J.P. Lovelady-58’-60’-61’
    Kenny Saylors-60’-61’-62’-63’
    Bill Boley-62’-63’-64’
    Larry LaFevers-65’
    Jerry Gatling-66’
    Not many of us still around. But we remember Stroupe, running the bleachers, and Coach Hindsman.
    Thanks for the memory.

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