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Bentonville softball playing for two names on jersey as Tigers chase another title

Tigers honor head coach Kent Early's dad Alvy, a reminder that they are playing for more than just trophies.

BENTONVILLE, Arkansas — As the Bentonville softball team chases consecutive states title, it's playing for two names on its jerseys.

On the front, Tigers.

"You always want to represent the name on the front," said Bentonville softball head coach Kent Early.

But on the back of their special white and green jerseys, the Tiger jerseys read 'A. Early'.

Credit: Bentonville Athletics

"They were able to put that on the back and it just means so much," Early said.

The name plate, helmet stickers, and green ribbons are in honor of head coach Kent Early's dad, Alvy Early. 

"The 2018 team, the one that won it last year, when they were freshman, that was the last game my dad got to see. He got cancer and passed away," Early said.

Before that, Alvy Early put together a legendary coaching career that landed him in the Arkansas sports hall of fame. 

As coach of the women's basketball and softball teams at Arkansas-Monticello, he tallied 1178 wins, more than any other collegiate coach in state history, passing former Arkansas baseball head coach Norm DeBriyn.

"My father was probably my idol as a coach because he coached, and that's all I've ever known," Kent Early said.

Kent helped his dad as an assistant at UAM, and from there developed a similar love for coaching.

"I mean it's just a passion, and that's what coaching is. It's a passion to help others succeed."

And succeed is exactly what Bentonville has done since Early took over, with four state titles since 2010.

That includes 2018, the state title game being the last Bentonville game Alvy Early watched before passing away.

So last year, with the freshman on the 2018 team now seniors and on the cusp of another championship, they provided their coach with a surprise he wouldn't forget.

"They're like, 'Coach Early!' And I turned around and they got those jerseys on. Man, it hit me hard. Hits me hard right now."

Jerseys with 'A. Early' on the back, in green letters, the same color as the school he coached at, Arkansas-Monticello.

"It meant something to these kids. They see that's not about you, and sometimes you have to play for a greater cause, and boy I'll tell you, it's just an indescribable feeling."

Needless to say, it's a tradition that's carried on.

"We do that just to show how much we care about him and that we're here for him as a family," Bentonville junior Kasey Wood said.

"It feels great because we know it means a lot to Coach Early, and we love to show our appreciation for him because he works so hard for us," said Bentonville senior Alleyna Rushing.

Credit: Bentonville Athletics

So as the Tigers chase a 2nd straight title on Thursday when they take on Cabot, they know they're doing it for the team on the front, and the name on the back.

"You know, there's still those times that you want to call him and tell him, and you want to tell him what you've done," Early said as he fought back tears.

"But having that on the jersey does help because that kind of fills that void of letting him know, 'Hey bud, we won.' 

I asked Coach Early, "Do you think he would be proud of you?"

Coach Early: "Absolutely."

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