Dusty Relics of Arkansas History
October 9-15, 2017
LRJC football national champions
By Bob Denman
Football season is in full swing and each year hopes are high that the Razorbacks will be in the SEC Championship hunt and if so, they will likely be in the National Championship discussion as well. If I were to ask you about a national championship you would likely recount the 1964 team. . . . the Razorbacks only national football championship. Most of the guys on that team were my heroes as a young 13-year old. But what I didn’t know then was there was an earlier national championship football team from Arkansas…one that has become a Dusty Relic of Arkansas History.
In 1947, John Larson, then president of Little Rock Junior College, also known simply as Jaycee and the predecessor institution of UA Little Rock, hired Jimmy Karam to resurrect football, which had been played at Jaycee since 1930. Karam had winning seasons in his first two years but it was his 3rd season that read like a Hollywood script.
In September of 1949 the team ran from a team meeting on campus to form a human chain, and rescue 3 small children trapped in a flash flooding of Coleman Creek in the center of campus. They then wrapped the saved children in team blankets until a rescue team arrived.
One month later the Trojans shattered the 16 game winning streak of the University of AR freshman, team, winning 34-0 at War Memorial Stadium. They continued to pile up wins, including a 70-12 Homecoming victory over Arkansas College. Students held pep rallies and bonfires and the city paraded the team down Main Street. National attention came their way after an undefeated season.
The Trojans received an invitation to play in the Junior Rose Bowl in Pasadena California. From 1945 until 1970 this game served as the official national championship for Junior College Football, matching the best of the east vs the best of the west. The Trojans traveled to California by train; they were escorted by Miss Arkansas, enjoyed touring the movie studios and were entertained by the Queen and King of the Junior Rose Bowl Parade, movie stars Patricia Neal, an Academy Award winning actress, and Arkansas native Dick Powell. They danced at the famed Brown Derby, where the cheerleaders particularly enjoyed dancing with John Wayne.
Over 50,000 fans filled the Rose Bowl on game day; Dick Powell visited the locker room at half time and gave a pep talk. Big plays followed including Benny Scott’s remarkable punt return for a touchdown and Joe Shinn’s game winning touchdown catch. Scott is the younger brother of Clyde “Smackover” Scott, and Shinn went on to set receiving records in the Canadian football league. The Jaycee Trojans defeated the Santa Ana Junior College Don’s 25-19 and were crowned national champions.
I have a personal reason to tell you their story. In 2006 the UA-Little Rock athletic department brought the surviving members of the team to the Jack Stephens Center to be recognized at the halftime of a basketball game where they were finally presented, 57 years later, with Championship Rings. I stood down on the floor and as they exited the court, one of the players looked at me with tears in his eyes and said “we thought we had been forgotten”. I promised myself that night to tell their story every time I had a chance. . . . this was one such chance and now you too know their story.
Let’s celebrate the ’64 Razorbacks, but let’s not forget about Arkansas’ first National Champions. Drop by the Bailey Alumni and Friends Center on the UA Little Rock campus to view the national championship trophy. The Little Rock Junior College Trojans should never be a Dusty Relic of Arkansas Sports History.
Bob Denman is Emeritus Vice Chancellor for University Advancement at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Ticket stubs from the 1949 Junior Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, won by Little Rock Junior College (now UA Little Rock). (Photo by Nick Popowitch)