Former Westark University baseball coach

Longtime Westark baseball coach Bill Crowder wrote a memoir in 1992 titled “Success is More Than Wins,” a message he lived by until his death on Monday at the age of 89.

The cause of death has not been made public.

“Well, first of all, I think other than a coach, I just think he was a really very compassionate person, a very caring person,” current Southside High School coach Dale Harpenau said, one of his players from 1981-82 who later followed him as a coach at school. “He always made you feel important. So I saw him more probably as a coach, for me anyway, it was in different ways, but as a mentor to me throughout his career.

In 33 baseball seasons, Crowder has gone 1,003-559. Among the five most successful coaches in NJCAA history when he retired in 1998, he was inducted into the NJCAA and UAFS Hall of Fame and produced four major leagues.

The school’s ballpark, which opened in 1994, is named Crowder Field in his honor.

Born February 4, 1933, in Perryville, Arkansas, to Dewey and Sybil Crowder, the coach began his career in several sports at Ozark and Springdale at the high school level, before being hired as a baseball and basketball coach at Fort Smith Junior. . College in 1965. The school was renamed Westark in 1966 and eventually University of Arkansas-Fort Smith as it became a four-year institution.

As a coach, Crowder led the school’s basketball team for three seasons before focusing solely on baseball for the next 30 years. The former brought an old-school chew-stain mentality to the company, his personality rubbing off on teams with a reputation for being “tough”, “tenacious” and playing harder than the opposition.

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Described as a simple man by former player and assistant Jim Wiley, Crowder emphasized building relationships that went beyond the ballpark.

“He did it with all of them in one way or another,” Wiley said. “He would take them to his house and give them a dinner of spaghetti or let them swim at his house in his pool or he would grab maybe two or three players and go out on a boat to go fishing.

“At the time, you thought, ‘Well, he just likes to fish’, but really, he was just doing it to get to know his guys. And that’s probably what separated him from so many people is that he knew so much about each player that it was truly remarkable.

At a time when high school baseball was far less prevalent in Arkansas, Crowder connected with American Legion coaches like Squeaky Smith to source talent, in addition to recruiting others like future greats. leaguers Kevin Lomon (New York Mets, Atlanta Braves) and Ryan Nye (Philadelphia Phillies) from nearby Cameron. Harpenau’s roommate, Jeff McKnight of Conway, played for the Mets and Baltimore Orioles, while Aaron Looper of Ada, Oklahoma, pitched for the Seattle Mariners.

“There had been times when people said Westark had a better pitching staff than the University of Arkansas sometimes because it most likely did,” Harpenau said.

For Harpenau and Wiley, however, his impact is even more visible in the community. A deacon at First Christian Church, Crowder had a generous nature, created personal relationships and wrote letters to parents about how athletes were doing away from home.

According to Wiley, Crowder played a “vital role” in integrating the athletics program and opening the door for an estimated 527 players to move into four-year institutions.

“Even up until a month ago he would sit and talk to me and he would remember the players,” Wiley said. “He never forgot them. He recalled how good players they were, where they went to school or what they became, and how successful they were.

Visitation with family will be from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday at Ocker-Putman Funeral Home and funeral services are scheduled for 1 p.m. Monday at the UAFS Stubblefield Center.

You can follow Bryant Roche on Twitter @BRocheSports and you can email him at [email protected]

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