FORT SMITH, Ark — Bill Crowder became head coach of a team at the time called the Westark Lions in the mid-1960s. In the three decades that followed, Coach Crowder impacted the lives of hundreds of players to call the baseball diamond of Westark and now The University of Arkansas Fort Smith (UAFS), home.
"The guy gave us so much, he meant so much to that school," said Jim Wiley, a former player and assistant coach to Crowder.
On Monday, Crowder passed away at the age of 89. Even in his absence, his legacy on and off the field lives on.
"The great thing about all the teachings and sayings that he taught us, we've handed down again to somebody else," said Wiley. "Coach is living in all of us in some way, shape, or form and some people that have never met him. By the time this is all over, they'll have a little piece of him in them as well."
Coach Crowder earned more than 1,000 career wins as head coach. He ranks in the top-five winningest baseball coaches in National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) history.
In 2001, Crowder was inducted into the NJCAA Hall of Fame. But these accomplishments aren't the only legacies he leaves behind.
"I always used to say, 'Hey it's named Bill Crowder Field, you need to be out here and enjoy it while you can'," says Todd Holland, the current UAFS head baseball coach.
Since he became head coach of the team, Holland says Crowder became a close friend and mentor. His love of the game and teaching kept him going. Even after heath scares slowed him down, Holland said Coach Crowder always found his way back to the place he loved, stronger than ever.
Having a field named after you comes with some perks - having a permanent ear with the new ball coach, but always being respectful.
"He always was the guy that would say, 'I don't want to step on your toes," jokes Holland. "You're not stepping on my toes, I have big feet, you're fine."
Throughout the years as head coach, mentor, friend and molder of baseball players, Coach Crowder understood that life always came before the game.
"Other than my father, he probably had one of the most impacts on my life, in so many different ways, it's really hard to explain," said Wiley. "The advice and lessons that you get from him, you can't put a price tag on it, I mean, they are priceless."
The man and the coach will be missed. However, Coach Bill Crowder has left behind generations of knowledge, passion and love for the game and university he called home.
A visitation will be held Sunday, July 31, from 1 to 5 p.m. at Ocker-Putman Funeral Home, Fort Smith. Funeral services will be held Monday, August 1, at 1 p.m. at the UAFS Stubblefield Center.
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