BY RICK WRIGHT –
The Mena Bearcats play their home football games at a field named after this legendary coach, a man who has influenced so many high school young men on the football field and young men and women in the classroom for over 35 years.
When the lights come on Friday nights at Randall Whorton Field, at Bearcat Stadium, it’s Bearcat football time. Mena has a rich football tradition of a hard nosed, tough football style of play that goes way back. One of the reasons Bearcat football has been respected for so long is Coach Randall Whorton.
We are very honored to name Coach Whorton, one of the most loved and popular men in Polk County, the Citizen of the Week.
“I appreciate it, but I really don’t understand it,” said Whorton. “When someone tells me they appreciate something or they’re praying for me, I think well, I don’t deserve that.”
All Coach Whorton’s former players and students, those on and off the field that have had the honor of knowing him, would disagree. Many credit Coach Whorton for the positive impact he has had on their lives and agree that we are better citizens, better people for knowing him.
“It humbles me you know,” said Whorton. “When people say things like this, because I don’t really see it. I’m just an old coach.”
But, he’s our coach!
“Mena Arkansas is a unique place,” said Whorton. “It’s a special place. That goes way back to even when I went to school here, all the teachers. I’ve had a charmed career. When I first started out over in eastern Arkansas at Marked Tree, they were good people and took good care of me. Then I got the opportunity to come back to Mena. I got to work with my old coach and a lot of the teachers were still here that I had through junior high and high school; just good folks to be around. Good mentors to learn from.
“I remember one year over at Broken Bow,” said Whorton. “Broken Bow is always pretty good, especially in football. We went over there and we were visiting with their coaches before the game. We usually played them back then about the third game of the year. They had already played De Queen and Idabel. The Broken Bow coach said, “You know, we always tell our players that we gauge what kind of team, what kind of season we’re going to have when we play Mena. If we can hang with Mena or even beat them, we know we’ve got a good team.”
Coach Whorton graduated from Mena High School in 1967 and went on to the University of Arkansas at Fayettville, graduating in the spring of 1971. His first job was at Marked Tree. After coaching at Marked Tree for three years, Coach Whorton got the opportunity to come back to Mena in 1974. And this is where he spent the rest of his teaching and coaching career.
“I came in as the offensive line coach in 1974,” said Whorton. “I’ve always coached the offensive line, but I’ve coached defensive line, special teams, all the kicking game. I’ve been the strength and conditioning coach.” Whorton said simply, “I coached! I went to school and started my coaching career in a time when that’s the way it was. You were just a coach in whatever season it was. If you weren’t the head coach of a sport, you were an assistant coach. All this specialty stuff where somebody became just the baseball coach, or football, or basketball, all that happened later in my career. When I started you just coached whatever was there.”
Opportunities were out there along the way for Coach Whorton to go be a head coach somewhere else. He was more than qualified, loaded with experience and no doubt would have been an asset to any school.
“Mena was home,” said Whorton. “I grew up here. My parents and both sets of grandparents lived here. I had aunts, uncles and cousins living here, lots of relatives and friends. I’d look and think, ‘You know this is a great place to be.’ And the coaching staff, even the whole faculty, was like family. You had Coach Barron, Coach Rackley, and others I coached with after them, we were like family; even the faculty. There were guys like Harold Coogan, Leon Myers, Randy Lindsey, Paul Gray, and on and on, you know.”
“It was a family environment and I just didn’t think I could do better than this,” said Whorton. “Maybe I could have gone somewhere and maybe made a little more money, but this is home. I never really felt the desire to leave. I just always had a feeling that this is where I’m supposed to be. Something inside me said, ‘This is where you’re suppose to be!’”
Coach Whorton coached and taught 32 years in the Mena School System, 35 total years of coaching and teaching in his career. His impact on countless hundreds of students and athletes cannot be measured.