by Nate Olson
Pine Bluff High School has a rich sports tradition that has includes dominant state title teams and individual stars that have played in the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball. Thanks to PBHS 1990 graduate Theron “Pearl” Eckwood and other teammates, including Lucky Holman, from the 1990 state championship basketball team and other alumni, Zebras legends are celebrated while giving back to the community.
“We want to showcase the legacy of these great athletes, and what they have left on the community,” Eckwood says. “We also want to help the youth understand the pride we all have in Pine Bluff.”
The alumni created the Z’s Basketball Dynasty Network, a nonprofit organization that organizes a weekend that honors PBHS athletics greats but also includes a scholarship donation, a benefit basketball game and a youth basketball camp. The camp includes a mentor/mentee match and lunch.
The 1990 team was honored the first year, then former Zebra and Arkansas great U.S. Reed and the 1977 PBHS basketball team along with the 1995 girls squad and Coach Bo Dean. Last year, the group honored four-sport star Basil Shabazz and Juliet Jackson, a star basketball player and Hogs star. Last week, the 2020 event honored late legendary track coach and decorated faculty member Andrew Butler.
In four years, the organization has raised $15,000 that benefits scholarships and the PBHS basketball program.
“My community invested in me many years ago instilling a sense of values, ingenuity and love of family,” Eckwood says. “I know and believe to be fitting for me to do the same.
“Pine Bluff is a hidden gem with hard-working people, beautiful family, and extraordinary communities.”
I agree with Eckwood and know first-hand how wrong the stereotypes of the city are. I have lived in Northwest and central Arkansas and worked five years in Pine Bluff. I have never encountered more friendly folks and made better friends than the ones I met there. As I attended the Pine Bluff/Sylvan Hills varsity boys basketball game last Friday night with network members and the Butler family, I saw many of those familiar faces and was greeted not only by handshakes but by hugs.
In the Jack Roby Junior High School cafeteria I was surrounded by several of the members of the group having dinner and listening to them reminisce. That group included athletes who went on to own a restaurant chain, serve as a law enforcement officer, and work as a youth counselor and more career fields. All of those men were boosted by their athletics career and nurtured by mentors in the Pine Bluff community. Many, like Eckwood, have moved to other parts of the state or country, but a part of their heart will always reside in Pine Bluff.
“Growing up there was nourishing and joyful,” Eckwood says. “I’m proud of my hometown and consider it a privilege to invest back into it.
“The pride I have for Pine Bluff High School is magical! Pine Bluff High gave me more than just a sense of pride but vision, purpose and commitment to be excellent. , work hard and love your community and be a family.”
I have a lot of respect for Eckwood and Co. I have known some of them for many years. They hold the same sentiment as Eckwood and want Pine Bluff and its citizens, especially kids, to flourish. This group of former athletes is doing their part to ensure that happens.