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Athletics | FeaturedApril 12, 2024

Swing into the History of UAFS Baseball

Looking back at the last 96 years of Fort Smith Junior College to the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith and every iteration in between, two things have always been synonymous with the institution: education and baseball.

Much of why the two go hand-in-hand has to do with the legacy of one man, Bill Crowder.

Not long after the school moved to the outskirts of town and built a baseball field, Crowder accepted a position to coach basketball and baseball. But his focus was solely on baseball three years later, where it remained for the next three decades.

Coach Crowder became a legend of the game in his own right, amassing more than 1,000 career victories, coaching more than 30 players who played professionally and four who went on to the Major Leagues, and cementing himself as one of the top-five all-time winningest coaches in NJCAA history. His accolades earned an induction into the NJCAA Hall of Fame (2001) and the UAFS Hall of Fame (2010). However, the highest mark of recognition continues to be used by players today. In 1994, the home of the Lions baseball team was adorned with the name of the coach who turned them into perennial title contenders: Crowder Field.

In the years since, baseball has continued to grow and thrive at UAFS. Following Crowder's retirement, Dale Harpenau led the Lions from 1999 until 2014, before new skipper Todd Holland took the reins.

Under Holland, the Lions have celebrated their best season (2017), going 35-22, finishing the year as Heartland Conference runner-up. UAFS also secured their first-ever NCAA Division II National Tournament bid behind Holland's leadership.

But that’s not all Holland has led UAFS to on the diamond. The following season, the baseball team became the first program at UAFS to earn a number 1 region ranking (NCAA D-II South Central Region) and peaked at number 16 in the NCBWA D-II Top 25.

In 2023, Holland recorded his 500th win as a head coach. Along the way to this milestone, UAFS baseball has become more than just nine men on the field.

“UAFS baseball has been a home to me for the last four years,” said senior pitcher Lukas Petross. “It’s a brotherhood. Whenever you see us on the field, you see a family; you don’t see a bunch of individual players.

“Playing college baseball has always been my dream. So, getting to play four years here and living my dream is just something that I thought never would happen, and I’ve been blessed for it to happen to me.”

Beyond the achievements Holland has coached the Lions to, the work off the field sets the team apart. The Lions are volunteers at the Fort Smith Boys and Girls Clubs, active campus event volunteers, and join other UAFS athletic teams with city-wide projects.

“We’ve tried to really invest in the community, and I think that’s something that has really helped us, not only as individuals but as a team,” Lukas said. “It’s been a blessing to play for UAFS, represent this community, and represent the university.”

The 2024 season is the last season the Lions will compete in the Lone Star Conference. Beginning in 2025, the university will join the MIAA full-time. Senior infielder Dakota Peters says the change will be good for the area.

“We’re all about winning, and we’re going to do everything we can to win,” he said.

As the baseball team prepares to move, Holland is excited about what it means to the team and community.

“We bring in more than 50 athletes to the university. These are diverse student groups; kids from all walks of life who learn how to play as a team,” Holland said. “Baseball brings kids to college by providing an opportunity to pursue a dream while getting an education. The new conference is a good opportunity to see new things and is a very exciting time.”

From the days of coach Crowder to Holland, UAFS baseball teams have fielded a majority of players who call Fort Smith home. Holland envisions a future where this trend continues because of the foundational torch and reputation established by Crowder that Holland has picked up. The future of baseball at UAFS is bright with Holland in charge.

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Rachel Rodemann Putman

  • Director of Strategic Communications
  • 479-788-7132
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