Donald Ray Nixon, 86, of Conway, a long-time basketball coach and a member of the Arkansas High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame, University of Central Arkansas Hall of Fame, and Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, died March 21, 2014.
He was born to the late Frances and Oscar Nixon in Sedalia, Mo., on June 22, 1927, and grew up in southwest Little Rock, where his family had a grocery story, Nixon's Trading Post, and Lake Nixon, then a swimming area open to the public. He graduated from Mabelvale High School and then joined the United States Navy on July 17, 1945. He spent 14 months in service, including a stint in the South Pacific.
After his service, he returned home and enrolled in Little Rock Junior College (now the University of Arkansas at Little Rock), where he reconnected with an old high school acquaintance, the former Betty White. They were married on April 6, 1947.
He transferred to Arkansas State Teachers College (now UCA) and graduated with a bachelor of science in education degree in science and biology in 1951 and later earned a master's in administration from the University of Arkansas. His first job was teaching junior high science and social studies at Joe T. Robinson (now Pulaski Robinson), where he began his coaching career in softball and basketball. Over the years, he also worked as assistant coach in football and track.
After spending 1952-54 at Robinson, he returned to his alma mater, Mabelvale (now Little Rock McClellan), from 1954-59. After coaching junior high basketball from 1959-67, Nixon coached the boys team at Little Rock Central from 1967-72. His Central teams won Class AAAA state championships in 1970 and '72 (and finished runner-up in '69 and '71) and won the first Arkansas High School Overall Championship in '72.
He then spent a year as an assistant men's basketball coach at UCA before taking over as head coach for the 1973-74 season, leading the Bears to a 22-9 mark and the NAIA National Tournament. They returned to Kansas City in 1974-75. In six seasons, he compiled a 95-76 record.
Some of his players went on to become successful coaches themselves. James Dickey, now at Houston, is a former head coach at Texas Tech. John Hutchcraft is the legendary Guy-Perkins coach; Gary Davis was the successful baseball coach at North Little Rock.
After retiring from coaching, Nixon managed the UCA student union for nine years.
Nixon was a board member of the Salvation Army, UCA Sports Hall of Fame, Rotary Club, Masons, and the Arkansas Sports Club as well as a member of First United Methodist Church in Conway.
He is survived by his wife of 66 years, Betty; children, Michael Nixon (Kathy) of Reed City, Mich.; Pamela Sager (David) of Little Rock; Brandy Nixon-Snell (Lynnis) of Conway; Shawn Nixon (Melissa) of Fayetteville, and Scott Nixon (Beth) of Conway; his sister, Marion Nixon-Huggins (Frank) of Hot Springs; seven grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.
Funeral will be at 10 a.m. Wednesday, March 26, at First United Methodist Church in Conway with the Rev. Lynn Kilbourne officiating. Pallbearers will be some of his former players: John Hutchcraft and Joe Couch from UCA; Randy Elrod, Bruce Mitchell, Fred Allen and Ed Rownd from Central; and Don Hurst and John McDaniel from Mabelvale. Honorary pallbearers will be Leon Hill, Frank Huggins, Bill Pate, Jim Brewer, Vance Strange, Don Dyer, Cliff Garrison, Harold Horton, Charles Ripley, Terry Garner, Ken Stephens, Tom Byarly, James Dickey, Mike Harrison, Mike Beard and Jim Polk.
Burial will be at Martin Cemetery in Little Rock. Visitation will be at Roller McNutt Funeral Home from 6-8 p.m. Tuesday, March 25. Memorials may be made to the Salvation Army or First United Methodist Church of Conway.
Online guest book, www.rollerfuneralhomes.com
Roller-Chenal Funeral Home
13801 Chenal Parkway Little Rock, AR 72211
Published in The Log Cabin Democrat from Mar. 24 to Mar. 31, 2014