by Andrew Reynolds
Arkansas Media Relations
War Memorial Stadium: a gridiron beauty of simplistic architectural structure and nightmarish acoustics that haunts foes deemed unwelcome by the hometown crowd.
Situated between West Markham Street and Interstate 630 in downtown Little Rock, Ark., War Memorial has served as the Arkansas Razorbacks’ home away from home since UA opened the 1948 season with a victory over Abeline Christian, 40-6.
John Barnhill was head coach at the time and is widely credited for uniting the state of Arkansas through his efforts to please the Razorback faithful in the central part of the state. After the 1949 season, Barnhill retired as head coach to focus on his duties as athletic director; a position he held until 1969.
Frank Broyles has seen more games inside War Memorial Stadium than any other head coach, 57. His 43 wins on Markham are tops among Razorback coaches.
Outside of its functionality for Razorback athletics, War Memorial Stadium plays host to various other contests involving in-state universities, and serves as a home field for Little Rock Catholic High School and the Arkansas state high school football championships.
The stadium’s original capacity of 31,000 has since been expanded to accommodate 53,727. Sept. 19, 1992, saw that capacity stretched to its limits and beyond as Razorback fans crammed their way into the bowl to watch the Hogs play host to No. 9 Alabama. Joe Kines had taken over the head coaching position and the 1-1 Arkansas Razorbacks were coming off a big win, 45-7, against South Carolina in their inaugural SEC brouhaha.
A record 55,912 fans saw eventual national champion Alabama defeat the Razorbacks, 38-11, in what is to this day War Memorial’s all-time attendance record.
Aside from an upgrade in seating capacity, War Memorial has evolved with the times in other logistical areas. A complete lighting system and an Astroturf surface were added for the 1970 season and a new artificial surface followed in 1974. Another new layer of artificial turf was installed prior to the 1984 season, before a return to natural grass was made in 1994. Artificial turf was reinstalled prior to the 2002 season and was upgraded to field turf in 2006. Prior to the 2010 season, War Memorial Stadium partnered with AT&T to name the playing surface AT&T Field.
The field isn’t the only cosmetic change the stadium has seen this offseason. The new, three-story, $7.3 million press box and club facility officially opens for the 2010 football season, replacing the previous structure that had stood in place since 1966. The structure measures 112 feet tall, and spans 172 feet between the 25 yard lines. The club seating has been more than doubled from its previous capacity of 220, and now seats nearly 600 patrons. A third row of media seating has been added in the Orville Henry Press Floor that is named after the late, legendary sports writer. The transformations increase the stadium’s total capacity to more than 54,000.
The stadium itself was constructed in honor of the 4,634 Arkansans who lost their lives during World War I and World War II, and continues to serve its military roots through events such as “Welcome Home Arkansas Heroes,” held in 2005.
Musical greats George Strait, the Rolling Stones and the Eagles have rocked War Memorial Stadium in recent years, taking advantage of the large playing surface that gives fans the opportunity to be up close and personal.
This historical venue has undoubtedly served its purpose and more in its 60-plus years of existence. Nestled in the heart of Little Rock, War Memorial Stadium is more than just a structure to those who can appreciate its past; it represents a sense of unity among all Arkansans.
Twice annually this unity becomes evident as charter buses make the 190-mile trip down the Ozark Mountains to remind us all of the sacrifices made by those who have come before us. As the band takes the field and the players run through the “A” at War Memorial Stadium, a bond is created to form a family “Hog Call” that is 54,000 strong.