North Little Rock Boys Varsity Basketball Head Coach Johnny Rice, guest speaker for the Vilonia Athletic Banquet, said sports are just as important as the other subjects taught in school.
“I know some of you might not agree with me. But, I say sports teaches life lessons,” Rice said. Participating in sports, he said, promotes a healthy lifestyle, teaches character building, the importance of friendships, goal setting, time management, how to handle adversity and “to be gracious” winners and losers.
Coaches and parents, he said, tend to get caught up in the win but that’s not the way it is with students. Students, he said, overwhelmingly play for the fun of the sport. He encouraged the students to work hard but to continue to play for the thrill of playing as well as to “embrace your teammates.”
“Victories don’t make memories but relationships do,” he said. Lastly, he made reference to his championship rings.
“After three years, those rings are dust collectors but those relationships aren’t,” he added. In testimony, he said, he has remained friends with John Allison, Vilonia math teacher and cross country coach, for many years.
Allison introduced Rice saying they graduated together 30 years ago. Rice, Allison also said, is in the Central Baptist College Athletic Hall of Fame.
Rice has coached basketball for the North Little Rock school district for the past 25 years. In 2013, he was honored as the AR Preps Boys Basketball Coach of the Year, AHSCA Boys Basketball Coach of the Year, Head Coach of the East Team in the AR High School All Star Game, and coached his team to a 7A Boys Basketball State Championship. He was named the 2014 AR Basketball Coaches Association 7A Coach of the Year, and coached his team to a 2014 7A Boys State Championship. In 2015, he was named the USA Today AR Coach of the Year, the 2015 AR Preps Coach of the Year and the 2015 AR Basketball Association Coach of the Year.
Coaches of each sport were introduced by high school principal Matt Sewell including Kirk McDonald, tennis; Alvin Riley, girls basketball; Tim Goers, boys basketball; John Oxner, bowling; Dianne King, swimming; Brad Wallace, boys baseball; Michael Stout, football and boys track; Kevin Sullivan, girls softball; John Steward, girls track; Kara Kimberly cheerleading; Justin Moore, golf; John Allison, cross country; Brandi Nichols, volleyball; Donna Young, Special Olympics; Michael Riba, girls soccer and Chris Cowan, boys soccer. Each also took the stage during the event touting the accomplishments of their teams as well as some individual players. They provided statistics on state standings. They also acknowledged the number of seniors, on the perspective teams, who will be graduating. Some became emotional as they talked. The coaches also thanked other coaches and the administration and their families.
Speaking first, tennis coach Kirk McDonald may have conveyed a common thread that was prevalent in all of the coaches’ addresses.
“Seniors, I will miss you,” McDonald said. “I have enjoyed being around you the last four years. No matter where you go or what you do, you need to remember one thing—once an Eagle, always an Eagle. You need to continue to conduct yourself that way.”
Seniors also were called to the stage and they were presented plaques listing the sports they participated in while in high school.
Also, Ed Sellers, athletic director, spoke. He thanked the coaches and athletes “for the thrills and the joy you have given us this year.” He also thanked the Charlie Roller family of Vilonia, for sponsoring the meal.
“So many in Vilonia reach and do great things out of the deepest hurts and deepest wounds,” Sellers said. The Roller family sponsor several events at Vilonia, including a yearly scholarship in Charlie’s honor. Charlie Roller died in 2006, at the age of 24, with Hodgkin's Lymphoma. He was a 2000 graduate of Vilonia High School and graduated in the spring of 2006 from University of Central Arkansas with a degree in biology education and coaching. Prior to his death, he had accepted a coaching position at Arkansas Baptist High School in Little Rock.