The 1950s era of Heber Springs football saw some success in the early part of the decade, some struggles in the middle part of the decade and a rebirth with a familiar face in the latter part of the decade as players still played both ways.
New coach Leland Myers guided the Panthers to one of the best marks in school history in 1950 with a 6-2-1 record. Heber Springs opened the season with a loss to Augusta but won six straight with wins over Clinton, Bald Knob, Ola, Cotton Plant, Arkansas School for the Deaf and Sloan-Hendrix. The tie came on Nov. 24 over a heavily-favored Morrilton squad. A loss to McCrory on Thanksgiving closed out the season.
The Panthers would win five games in 1951, the best two-year stretch in school history up that point, with wins over Mountain Home, Harding Academy, Hickory Ridge, Arkansas School for the Deaf and Clinton.
Former Heber Springs Panther standout Robert Fisher would take over as coach in 1952 guiding the Panthers to their first conference title in school history with a 5-3-1 mark — it would be 23 years before Heber Springs would win another conference title. The Panthers defeated Augusta, Harding Academy and Cotton Plant to earn the conference crown and also picked up victories over Mountain Home and Hickory Ridge. On Nov. 21, the Panthers traveled to Earle for a Class B playoff game (with only eight teams in the playoffs at the time). Heber Springs had two weeks off before the game while the Bulldogs had beaten county-rival West Memphis a week earlier and handed the Panthers a 25-6 setback. A Thanksgiving Day loss five-days later to McCrory set the final mark.
A new coach took over the reigns of the Panther program in 1953. Bernis Duke would go on to hall of fame career winning a state basketball title at Newport and later coaching the Oral Roberts University (in Tulsa, Okla.) tennis team for 33 years. Duke was inducted into the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Hall of Fame in 2002 and the ORU Athletics Hall of Fame in 2010 — the tennis center on the ORU campus is named in his honor, but at Heber Springs his only attempt at coaching football resulted in a one-win campaign in 1953 (a win over the “B” team from Conway).
The 1954 squad had the same fate as the 1953 squad, a single win over the “B” team from Conway. The assistant coach for that squad, Elmer Gathright, would also have building named after him, the basketball gymnasium at West Side High School in Greers Ferry.
In 1955 and 1956, another future Hall-of-Famer took over the reigns of the football program as Bald Knob High School graduate Carl Steward would guide the program to a 4-14 mark (a pair of wins over Bradford, a win over Conway “B” and Clinton). Steward would later make his mark as a track coach and a track official.
The decade closed with another HSHS graduate, Cecil Alexander, guiding the program for three season. Alexander, who had starred on the gridiron at Hendrix College after graduating from HSHS, would guide the program for the rest of the decade going 9-12-4. His first squad in 1957 defeated Harding Academy, Bradford and “B” teams from Batesville and Jacksonville to finish 4-4. In 1958, the Panthers would go 3-3-3 with wins over Newport “B”, Augusta and Sylvan Hills and ties with Carlisle, Mabelvale and Conway “B”. His 1959 squad would beat Clinton and Harding Academy and tie Danville.
The 1950s HSHS All-Decade Football Team
(Position, Player and Last Season Played)
End – Pete Benbrook (1950)
End – Sherlon Martin (1959)
Line – Elwood Cooper (1952)
Line – Roy Ferguson (1953)
Line – Dale Ramsey (1951)
Line – Richard Stark (1951)
Line – Tommy Whitaker (1952)
Back – Cecil Alexander (1952)
Back – Mickey Barnett (1951)
Back – Jimmy Davis (1952)
Back – Victor Davis (1959)
Back – Jerry Pilkington (1950)
Back – Keith Pilkington (1957)
All-Purpose – Lovell Davis (1953)
All-Purpose – Jim Alexander (1958)