‘Father of Division I’ to be inducted into Troy Hall of Fame

Published 3:00 am Thursday, April 13, 2017

One of my favorite people will be inducted into the Troy University Sports Hall of Fame this weekend.

Ben Beard will be honored at the ceremony being held at Trojan Arena at 7 p.m. Saturday night.

Beard, the very successful Troy businessman, will be honored for his great vision, contributions and support of Troy athletics for over 40 years.

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A native of Goshen, Alabama and a 1959 graduate of Troy State University, Ben moved back to Troy after working in Atlanta for a few years to establish himself in the oil business, which was a life long dream of his. At the same time he became interested in Troy athletics and grew to the point that he became the first president of the Troy University Action Club, a support group for all athletics.

He recruited me, Basal Drake, Nick Cervera, Wiley Locklar, Pat Kries, Jerry Groce, Raymond Ledford and Jack Rainey to name a few. Before long, we had it! Troy’s first support and fundraising group for athletics.

In 1983, to make money for the program, we started first by cooking chickens all night long at Murphree Park, then the “Troy State Football Night” where we raffled off a van to a lucky ticket holder. This created not only good exposure, but also helped jump-start a solid fundraising effort that has raised over a million dollars over the years.

Beard was the leader and we just followed. He was and still is a hard man to say no to. He had that tremendous drive about him that made him a super success in business and he gave that back to the school he loves.

As successful as Troy was in the 80’s, wining national titles in 1984 and 1987 in Division II under Chan Gailey and Rick Rhodes, Ben’s vision for Troy football was to elevate our program to NCAA Division I-AA, a step below NCAA Division I-A.

It wasn’t easy to do, especially due to the tremendous success Troy had in Division II. The non-believers were everywhere, but as always Ben had a plan. He formed committees to find a way to make it happen.

Yes, this was a big move with a lot of opposition, but even when things looked bleak he would call a meeting and “fire” everybody up.

So after many hours of planning and discussion, mostly with his “Top Gun” Col. Walter Henington, he got his wish. With the help of Dr. Doug Hawkins on the board of trustees and a young Chancellor named Dr. Jack Hawkins Jr., the vote was almost unanimous to go to Division I-AA in June 1989; leaving their old rivals, Jacksonville State and North Alabama behind.

The opposition to the move didn’t think Troy was ready to play at that level. Troy would be at the I-A level in every sport but football, what a jump, especially in basketball, which would be the biggest difference a few years later.

Beard’s dream of Troy football playing at the top level came true as the trustees voted unanimously to go I-A in football.

It was one of the biggest moves in Troy sports history and when Troy finally opened the season in Nebraska in September of 2001, we were finally there. Troy is now up there with the big boys in football and all other sports.

This all led to the expansion of Veterans Memorial Stadium to over 30,000 seats, a giant scoreboard and 85 scholarships. Could we compete when so many people said we could not? Just ask Mississippi State, Marshall, 16 ranked Missouri and Oklahoma State. They’ll tell you we can compete.

We had some invisible help with Henington, Athletic Director Johnny Williams and Dr. Doug Hawkins, but the big push always came from Ben Beard.

Ben always told me that the people of Troy need to understand that the move to NCAA Division I-A is not just a football move it was a move to make our University grow and our community grow.

Those words of wisdom turned out to be totally true. Troy football has proven to be competitive: we’re playing at the highest level and our program is getting national exposure for our school. Young high school students looking to go to college see Troy as being a bigger and better choice. Now with a record enrollment of over 8,000 students on the Troy campus and a community that is approaching the 20,000  mark, we owe a lot to the vision of our Ben F. Beard, the man many people call “The father of Division I.

Yes, Troy is now a D-I city. Thanks Ben!