By Scott Goode, sports information director
Growing up the son of an auctioneer in Prim, Ark. (population 471), young Billy Morgan sat in the living room in front of his family’s television and did play-by-play of Monday Night Football. For the last 15 years, Morgan has been doing play-by-play for much larger audiences, and, for the last three seasons, he has been the voice of the Bisons for football and basketball.
Morgan, who now lives in Heber Springs, Ark., and works in the auctioneering business, began living his childhood dream as a sports broadcaster on the radio in fall 1994. Morgan had a cousin who worked at the radio station that held the broadcast rights for Heber Springs High School.
“My cousin talked to the station manager, and they let me do it,” says Morgan.
For three years, Morgan called Heber Springs High School games until the recommendation from a well-respected Arkansas broadcaster elevated his career to the collegiate level.
In summer 1996, Morgan sent a cassette tape of highlights to University of Arkansas play-by-play man Paul Eells.
“He was very encouraging to me,” says Morgan. “He told me he thought I could do college sports if I caught the right break.”
Eells knew Barry Dowd, then athletic director at Arkansas State University, and recommended Morgan to him. Dowd contacted Morgan for an interview and hired him in 1997 to work baseball and women’s basketball games.
Morgan did play-by-play in various combinations for Arkansas State men’s and women’s basketball, baseball and football teams through 2004 when he ended his tenure.
“I enjoyed it, but I was just really tired of being on the road all the time,” says Morgan. “I had been wrestling with the decision to leave for a couple of years because my two sons [Brooks and Brett Ty] were young, and I had been missing the holidays for years. Every year I would wake up somewhere different on Thanksgiving and that really bothered me from a family standpoint.”
When he left Arkansas State, Morgan believed his play-by-play days, at least on the collegiate level, were finished.
“I wanted to step away, but, whenever the new season started, I really missed it,” Morgan says. “It was football season again, and I did not have anything to do. In my heart, I really thought I had made a mistake.”
Morgan resumed broadcasting Heber Springs High School football games that year. Then in spring 2006, Morgan received an offer from Crain Media in Searcy to work some tape- delayed television broadcasts of Harding Bison men’s basketball.
“I really did not think it was something that I would be interested in, but I did it because it was just three or four games,” Morgan says. “When I did the games and saw the faster pace of college basketball, I remembered how much I enjoyed it. It kind of got my juices going again.”
Morgan then forwarded some clips of his Arkansas State football calls to Harding Sports Information Director Scott Goode and Public Relations Director David Crouch, saying that if the University needed someone to fill in on radio, he would enjoy doing it.
“In summer 2007, we found ourselves looking for a play-by-play announcer for football and basketball games. Football season was less than 90 days away,” says Crouch. “Billy Morgan was looking to get back into broadcasting after a brief hiatus from the college sports scene. Our paths crossed, and, as the saying goes, ‘the rest is history.’ He brought NCAA Division I experience to Bison radio broadcasts.”
However, Morgan did not want to spend all of his time on the road again. “At the time, I was not interested in taking an entire schedule of games,” Morgan says. “I thought I’d be on buses again, and I did not want to tackle that. That is why I got out in the first place. But when Mr. Crouch showed me the football schedule and assured me I would not be in hotels, I talked to my wife, Dusty, and said that I thought this was something I would enjoy. I was also dealing with some health issues at the time, and I felt like the good Lord put this in my life to pick me up a little bit.”
Morgan has been on the air as the voice of the Bisons with his trademark opening, “Football greetings, Bison fans,” ever since. And those Bison fans are listening to one of the best.
“I love game day,” Morgan says. “During basketball season, I love the time just before tip-off. During football, it’s the kickoff.”
“Billy is the consummate professional,” says Crouch. “He never enters the broadcast booth unprepared in his knowledge of Harding teams or their opponents. He has definitely taken our broadcasts to the next level. I have had numerous occasions to listen to the radio broadcasts of Harding’s opponents in both basketball and football. Billy Morgan doesn’t take a backseat to anyone in his play-by-play skills, enthusiasm and professionalism. We are very fortunate to have him as the voice of Harding sports.”
Kirwa second at nationals
Led by sophomore Daniel Kirwa’s second-place race, the men’s cross-country team placed ninth at the 2009 NCAA Division II Cross-Country Championships in Evansville, Ind., Nov. 21.
Kirwa completed the 10-kilometer race in 30:28.2, just four-tenths of a second behind the winner. He tied Jacob Rotich and Julius Kosgei for the highest finish by a Harding runner at the national meet and topped his own seventh-place finish last year. He earned his second cross-country All-America honor.
Also earning All-America was sophomore Philip Biwott, who placed 21st in 32:05.3.
The Bisons qualified for nationals by winning their ninth regional championship at the NCAA II South Region Meet in Tampa, Fla. Kirwa was the regional champion for the second straight year.
The team also won its ninth Gulf South Conference title, and Kirwa was again the individual champion. Biwott, Manase Busienei and Reese Jackson also earned First Team All-GSC honors.
Coach Steve Guymon was named GSC and South Region Coach of the Year, and Kirwa was named South Region Runner of the Year by the U.S. Track and Field and Cross-Country Coaches Association.
The women’s cross-country team placed 19th at the 2009 NCAA Division II Cross Country Championships, hosted by the University of Southern Indiana in Evansville Nov. 21. The Lady Bisons’ top runner was senior Katy Grant, who finished the six-kilometer race 59th in 22 minutes, 23 seconds.
Harding qualified for the national meet by placing second among 14 teams at the NCAA II South Region meet in Tampa, Fla. Grant was again the team’s top runner, finishing third.
Two weeks earlier, Grant led the Lady Bisons to their fifth Gulf South Conference championship by winning the individual title at the meet. It was Grant’s first career cross-country win.
Grant, Esther Kosgei, Gladys Kimtai, Rysper Sirma, Mary Samoei and Naomi Landecker earned First Team All-GSC accolades.
The 2009 football team compiled a 5-6 overall record, three-games better than the previous season. Much of the improvement was thanks to a defense bolstered by transfer Josh Jones.
Jones, a defensive back, led the Bisons with 94 tackles and the Gulf South Conference with eight interceptions. Jones earned consensus All-America honors and played in the Cactus Bowl, the NCAA Division II All-Star Game in Kingsville, Texas, Jan. 8.
Jones was one of five Bisons honored as All-GSC performers. Defensive lineman Keenan Kitchen, defensive utility player Jermaine Blanchard, all-purpose back Zac Ross, and center Brad Parker joined him.
Ross became only the fourth Bison ever to lead the team in rushing and receiving. He also finished his career as Harding’s career leader in kickoff return yards. During his senior season, Ross played wide receiver, quarterback, kickoff returner, punt returner, punter and holder.
The 2009 men’s soccer team went 4-15 with a 1-4 mark in the Gulf South Conference.
Junior Connor Galloway led the team with seven goals and 17 points. Senior Drew Nowlin had four assists.
Galloway and senior defender Chad Marshall were named First Team All-Gulf South Conference. Galloway also earned ESPN the Magazine Academic All-District honors.
The Lady Bison soccer team completed the 2009 season with a 3-10-4 overall record and a 1-4-2 mark in the Gulf South Conference.
Sophomore Chelsea Brandon and freshman Tabitha McReynolds tied for the team lead with four goals each. Junior midfielder Briana Meek led the Lady Bisons with nine points on three goals and three assists.
Senior midfielder Minnie Guzman and junior defender Hayley Withrow both earned All-Gulf South Conference honors. Guzman earned All-GSC honors each of her four seasons, and it was Withrow’s first All-Conference honor.
The women’s volleyball team finished the 2009 season with a 28-7 overall record — the most victories since going 33-5 in 2005. With an 11-1 record, the team won their seventh Gulf South Conference West Division championship and advanced to the semifinals of the conference tournament before falling to University of West Alabama.
Three players won All-Conference honors. Senior Manuela Nesheva earned her second GSC West Division Player of the Year Award and was named First Team All-GSC. The Bulgaria native ranked second in the conference with 4.42 kills per game and finished as the team’s career leader in kills and service aces.
Junior Emily Tate also earned First Team All-GSC honors after leading the conference with 0.49 services aces per set and ranking second with 4.68 digs per set. Senior Sarah Phipps earned Second
Team All-GSC honors and averaged 2.21 kills per game.