I have been an Arkansas Razorback football fan since 1946 when my older brother Berry Lee (Bubba) received a full scholarship to play during his college days. He was only able to play one year, because he was disabled by a career ending knee injury during his sophomore year. I never got to see him play in a Razorback uniform. My loyalty as a fan has never waned despite some very lean years and only one national championship in 1964.
Shortly after our family moved to Arkansas in 1971 I infected our son John Aaron with the same zeal for the Razorbacks, and we have attended a number of games together including three post-season bowl games. One of the most memorable games we attended was the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans in January 1980 when the Razorbacks played the University of Alabama Crimson Tide. It was not the game itself which was so memorable, because the Razorbacks lost the game 24-9, but the events in New Orleans which led up to the game. John Aaron who was twelve years old at the time and I decided to attend the game and enjoy a father-son get together with Dr. Joel Spragins and his son Mark who was ten years old.
Dr. Joel Spragins is a gastroenterologist who practiced medicine for many years in Shelby, North Carolina. We were classmates in medical school at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock and close friends during those years. He is the son of Dr. John Spragins who formerly was President of Arkansas College in Batesville, Arkansas (now Lyon College) where Joel attended college. Joel was raised as a Presbyterian, but like me and by his admission during college and medical school days was nominal in his faith life. Between our sophomore and junior years we spent two months together in Jacksonville, Florida doing an externship at Baptist Medical Center. We had a fun summer in the sun with the beaches available while making lots of new friendships. In addition we also learned some good medical principles from the staff physicians at the hospital.
While doing my four year surgical training at Charity Hospital New Orleans I became very good friends with Dr. Richard (Dick) Faust who was a staff physician and practicing surgeon at a large clinic in down-town New Orleans. He and I co-authored an article on “Tetanus” which was published in a major surgical journal. In the interim between finishing my training and entering the US Air Force as a surgeon, I worked for two months in his clinic as a staff surgeon. He told me when I finished my military responsibilities if Cathy and I ever wanted to move back to New Orleans, I would have a position waiting for me in his clinic. He also said whenever we visited the city we had an open invitation to stay with him and wife Margaret. They had a beautiful home on Henry Clay Avenue in the Garden District just off well-known St. Charles Avenue.
John and I invited Joel and Mark to join us as guests of the Faust’s while enjoying all the Sugar Bowl festivities. It was a perfect place for us because the Faust’s gave us their entire third floor with a large suite of rooms and complete privacy. They did take us to dinner one evening, but otherwise we seldom saw them. According to Dick they wanted Joel and me to “give full-time and attention to our sons and not worry about them.” That’s the kind of friend Dick Faust was to me.
John Aaron and Mark made an immediate connection and really enjoyed talking and playing with each other. Their instant friendship made for an especially fun three days, because Joel and I already had a good relationship and conversation was always lively and sprinkled with lots of laughter.
I was able to tell Joel about the life-changing experience Cathy and I had in Dallas in 1977 when we attended the Bill Gothard seminar in the Dallas Convention Center.( A Shopping Trip To Dallas). I didn’t try to preach at Joel or even suggest he and his wife Jeanne should consider attending such a conference. Joel had lots of questions concerning our past and present lives and even asked John Aaron what he thought about his parent’s new attitudes and life styles.
On the morning of the game which was played in the early afternoon, we all went down-town to the Riverfront Hilton, which was the team hotel for a huge pep rally. The Razorback band was there along with the entire pep squad and what appeared to be thousands of Razorback fans all decked out in red clothing, Hog hats and Hog snouts. It was very exciting for all of us and had enthusiasm been the key to victory on the football field, we would have won the game hands down! Unfortunately our beloved Hogs were beaten by an excellent and superior team from Alabama.
When we returned to the Faust’s home for our final evening together before returning to our respective homes, Joel made this statement to me, ” I’ve never seen such a change in a person since the last time we were together. I want you to tell me more about that conference in Dallas and how Jeanne and I might attend!” I told him there was a also a conference held each year in Charlotte, North Carolina which was only fifty miles from Shelby, and they could sign up for the early summer dates for that meeting. We also knew a couple we had met at an earlier conference named Gary and Virginia Cooper from Charlotte, and they contacted Joel and Jeanne and even invited them to stay in their home during the four day conference.
They did indeed sign up for the seminar, and Joel called me a few days prior to the start and asked, “Before we go over to Charlotte are you sure this man Bill Gothard is not some sort of religious fanatic?”
I could hardly wait to hear their evaluation of the time spent in Charlotte, but Joel finally called to report he and Jeanne had a very special week together. They connected with the Cooper’s and made a new friendship in the Lord with them. Overall God had helped them strengthen their faith and marriage, and they were very grateful to have made the sacrifice of their time. He thanked me multiple times for encouraging them.
John Aaron and I had a wonderful time in New Orleans with Joel and Mark, and still talk about the weekend with fond remembrances when the subject is brought up. Despite the final score of the game at the Superdome, we believe we were part of a big win for the Lord at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans on January 1, 1980!