John McDonnell

John McDonnell (courtesy University of Arkansas)

The Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame will hold its annual fall salute on Thursday, Nov. 15, when the organization honors one of the state’s athletic legends, former University of Arkansas track and field coach John McDonnell. The event will begin at 6 p.m. in the Great Hall of the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock. Those desiring more information should call Catherine Johnson at (501) 821-1021 or email her at McDonnell was inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in 1987. His 42 national titles are more than any coach in any sport in the history of collegiate athletics. “It’s hard to imagine that any coach in intercollegiate athletics has had more influence on a program than John McDonnell has had on the men’s track and field program at the University of Arkansas,” UA athletic director Jeff Long said at the time of McDonnell’s retirement in 2008. “John’s 36 years of dedication have defined the standard of excellence that’s synonymous with Arkansas track and field. John McDonnell applied a team approach to an individual sport and, in turn, produced the most successful collegiate athletic program in history.” McDonnell’s achievements include:

  • 11 NCAA cross country national championships, 19 NCAA indoor track and field championships and 12 NCAA outdoor track and field championships.
  • Twelve consecutive indoor championships from 1984-95, the longest string of national titles by any school in any sport in collegiate history.
  • 84 conference titles, including 34 consecutive cross country championships spanning the Southwest Conference from 1974-90 and the Southeastern Conference from 1991-2007.
  • Five national triple crowns, meaning the Razorbacks won the cross country, outdoor and indoor championships in the same school year.
  • Twenty conference triple crowns, including eight consecutive from 1987-95.

McDonnell coached 179 All-Americans and 23 Olympians. “He’s one of the great names in the history of track,” said Ray Tucker, executive director of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame. “We’re delighted to be able to honor him in this way.” The dinner chairman is Frank O’Mara. Like McDonnell, O’Mara is a native of Ireland. O’Mara is the chief executive officer of Allied Wireless Communications of Little Rock. He competed for McDonnell at Arkansas in the late 1970s and early 1980s, winning an NCAA outdoor championship in the 1,500-meter run. O’Mara, who was world indoor champion twice in the 3,000-meter run, competed for Ireland in the 1984 Olympics at Los Angeles, the 1988 Olympics at Seoul and the 1992 Olympics at Barcelona. Those scheduled to speak at the Nov. 15 tribute dinner include:

  • Well-known Arkansas businessman John Tyson of Springdale.
  • Vin Lananna, who headed the track and field program at Stanford from 1992-2003 and has guided the University of Oregon program since 2005.
  • Former Olympic gold medalist Mike Conley Sr., who won 16 NCAA long jump and triple jump championships while competing for McDonnell at Arkansas.
  • Distance running legend Alberto Salazar, who won three consecutive New York Marathons from 1980-82.

“I was coached by John McDonnell for 18 years and can attest to his dedication to his athletes and his drive for success,” O’Mara said. “Moreover, his affection for and commitment to the University of Arkansas and the state of Arkansas are undeniable. How rare is it to find a highly successful coach with tenure of more than 35 years at the same school?” This will be the fourth consecutive year for the Hall of Fame to hold a fall salute. Past honorees include Conway businessman Stephen L. Strange Sr., former Razorback basketball star Joe Kleine and former Razorback football star Jim Lindsey. The Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame inducted its first class in 1959. Little Rock insurance executive Andrew Meadors is the organization’s president. The Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame Museum on the west side of Verizon Arena is open each Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. It includes an 88-seat theater with a video highlighting the careers of Arkansas sports greats and a touch-screen kiosk with a database of all Hall of Fame inductees. Members of the Hall of Fame vote each year on inductees. Membership dues are $50 annually. Membership forms may be obtained here.