Publish date:


Nolan Richardson of Arkansas has seen a career of triumph nearly toppled by tragedy

Old Momma

(The curtain opens; the stage is dark. We hear only the sounds of basketball: fans cheering, a ball bouncing, sneakers scuffling, a player shouting to his teammates. A spotlight comes up on Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson, seated on the Razor-back bench. He is wearing an open double-breasted white blazer, red polka-dot shirt, rusk slacks, reptile-skin boots and a gold watch. He is an imposing man—6'2½", more than 200 pounds of muscle—dark, the color of mahogany. He is leaning forward and watching the action intently, his big legs spread far apart, his hands clasped together. A whistle blows, and, furious, he springs to his feet, paces a step left, hitches up his pants and then paces right and makes the hand signal for a T: timeout. He freezes in this position; a spotlight remains on him.

Across the stage, another spotlight comes up on his grandmother, Rose Richardson—Old Momma. She is carrying a paper bag, which she puts down on a table. She begins to remove pieces of fried chicken from the bag and arrange them on a plate. In a heavy Southern black accent, she speaks to the audience.)

OLD MOMMA: There was always something so very special about Nolan. I'm not surprised he'd turn out to be the first so many times. Why, soon as they desegregated, he was the first Negro to go to Bowie High—that's here in El Paso, and that was 1955, when Nolan was only 13. Then he was one of the first, uh, black players at Texas Western University, and then Nolan came back to Bowie and was the first black man to coach at a desegregated school in Texas. And then he went over yonder to Snyder, Texas—to Western Texas J.C.—and he was the first black coach at a desegregated junior college in Texas. And then he went to Tulsa, and he was the first black coach at a major college in Oklahoma. And now he's at Arkansas—the first black man to be a head coach in the whole Southwest Conference. And still the only one. (She grins.) I always knew that boy was gonna be somethin'.

(Old Momma sits at the table and pours from a pitcher. She looks across stage; Nolan comes back to life. He whips off his blazer, and his players begin to gather about him. Andy Stoglin, a huge man with a big mustache and mutton-chop sideburns, joins the group. He is Richardson's longtime friend and assistant. Richardson berates Ron Huery.)

NOLAN: That's just a dumb, freshman thing to do, Huery, and you're not a freshman anymore. (He whirls toward Andrew Lang.) And if you can't keep your man off the boards, then....

(Nolan stops cold. A beautiful 15-year-old, his daughter Yvonne, wearing a red sweatshirt that reads HAWGBALL, emerges from the dark and stands behind the huddle. Because she is an apparition, none of the others can see her; they freeze.)

NOLAN: Yvonne! What in the world are you doing here? We're in the middle of a game. (He steps through the huddle to Yvonne.)

YVONNE: YOU always said I'd be a part of every team of yours, Daddy.

NOLAN: Yes, but....

YVONNE (smiling, fingering Nolan's shirt): Even if I'm gone, I got you back in polka dots again.

NOLAN: Yeah, I look like a clown again.

YVONNE: Yeah, my clown. (From her neck she takes a chain with a gold cross and puts it around her father's neck.)

NOLAN: But, baby, that's your cross.

YVONNE: I want you to have it, Papito. (She kisses him and begins to skip off; then she stops and turns back, smiling broadly. She calls to him.) Now you got to do some coachin'.

(The light goes out on Yvonne. The players turn to their coach. After a moment, Stoglin steps over and touches Richardson.)

STOGLIN: Time's back in, Coach.

(Lights fade on Richardson and his players. Across stage, Old Momma rises.)

OLD MOMMA: Nolan and his sisters lived with me ever since his poor momma died when he was only three. And his daddy died when Nolan was 12. We lived here in this old shotgun house—just this room and the two more, straight back. But we got ourselves an indoor toilet this time. And usually there's enough to eat. I work at a place makes fried chicken, and sometimes I can bring these leftovers home.

We're the only black family around here. The rest is all Mexican. When Nolan first went to school, main problem he had was he didn't speak English good enough. Even grown up, he still speaks perfect Spanish, but I expect nobody down in Arkansas knows that. Who's Nolan gonna talk it to down there?

(Young Nolan enters, wearing his Bowie High baseball uniform. He goes to the table, kisses Old Momma and sits down.)

OLD MOMMA: I don't know why you got that uniform on, since I hear you're not goin' with the team to the Districts.

YOUNG NOLAN: Old Momma, you hear everything. But it's just not fair. I'm the best player, and I can't stay with the team. The rest of 'em'll be staying in a motel, swimming, eating chicken-fried steak—and they're putting me up on the other side of town, staying with some old Negro lady. So I just told Coach Herrera I'm not goin'. That's my decision.

OLD MOMMA: Oh? Well, let me tell you something, Nolan Richardson Junior, maybe you're just not old enough to make those kind of decisions. Yes, I know it's not fair, but at least now you're goin' to school with white folks. If you don't go on the trip with the team, fine for you, but maybe you'll just be giving them an excuse not to open any more doors for your own children. Now, make up your own mind.

YOUNG NOLAN: Yes, ma'am.

(Lights fade on Old Momma. Young Nolan steps forward and picks up a baseball bat. A few feet away, the adult Nolan steps into the light and smiles as Young Nolan takes a few practice cuts.)

NOLAN: I wasn't afraid of anyone. I was always big and strong, matured early. But it was some tough neighborhood we lived in. Gangs on either side of me. Drugs. I had a cousin, best young football player I ever saw. OD'd when he was 16. The other kids would say I was afraid of the cops. But I wasn't. No, the only thing I was afraid of was hurting my grandmother, because she put so much trust in me.

(Mr. Pollitt, the principal, appears; he slaps Young Nolan on the back.)

MR. POLLITT: Hey, Nolan, great game in Abilene!

YOUNG NOLAN: Thanks, Mr. Pollitt. I think it was my best game ever.

MR. POLLITT: Should be. Two home runs, couple more hits, stolen bases—and you're the winning pitcher. Baseball your favorite?

YOUNG NOLAN: I don't know, sir. It's my first love, and I like football, too. But basketball is so exciting, and you're right down there with the crowd. I love that. Anyway, I've already made up my mind. I'm going to junior college, so I can get into the University of Arizona and play college baseball. (He waves and runs off.)

MR. POLLITT: That kid is really something. Football, baseball, basketball—all-district, all three. Runs and jumps for the track team in his spare time. The coaches think so much of him they've all chipped in and bought him a suit for graduation.

(Spotlight downstage. Young Nolan is helped into a suit jacket—over his baseball uniform—by his three coaches: Nemo Herrera, Clay Cox and Al Franco.)

YOUNG NOLAN: Thank you all. First new clothes I ever had. First new anything I ever had.

(Old Momma stands up and steps toward Young Nolan.)

OLD MOMMA: Come on, Nolan. You don't wanna be late to college.

P.A. VOICE: Bus to Tucson....

(Young Nolan runs over and picks up a cardboard box, which serves as his suitcase and holds all of his belongings. He walks to Old Momma and puts down the box; they embrace. The adult Nolan shakes his head.)

NOLAN: The whole way to Arizona, I kept thinking I must be crazy to leave. In all my life I never cried so much leaving a woman as I did when I left Old Momma.

(Old Momma gives a last hug to Young Nolan and then steps back. Young Nolan picks up his box. Darkness.)


(Spotlight on Rose Davila. She is a small woman, ever smiling. She speaks with a slight Hispanic accent.)

ROSE: Nolan didn't know me at all in high school. He was good friends with my older brother, Mañuel. But he didn't know that Manuel even had a little sister. And, of course, everybody at Bowie High knew Nolan Richardson. Everybody.

(Lights dim on Rose. Spotlight up on Nolan, wearing Texas Western sweats.)

NOLAN: In 1960, I came back from junior college in Arizona to get married. Married a girl named Helen, a school sweetheart. We had a baby and then another—three before I got out of college. In Arizona, I'd been a J.C. All-America first baseman, and later on the Houston Astros even offered me a $9,000 bonus. But they wanted to send me to Class C ball, and I had a family by then. I enrolled at Texas Western—you know it now as Texas-El Paso, UTEP. They didn't even have a baseball team then, so I played basketball. Averaged nearly 20 a game as a sophomore. I figured I was gonna set a lot of scoring records before I was through.

(A burly white man, carrying suitcases, enters.)

NOLAN: Give ya a hand?

HASKINS: Thanks. My wife and I are moving into the dormitory. Say, I'm lookin' for Richardson. Know him?

NOLAN: I'm Nolan Richardson.

HASKINS: Well, I'm Don Haskins.

NOLAN: The new basketball coach.

HASKINS: Right. And you're 20 points a game, huh? (Nolan puffs up.) Yeah, and they also tell me you can't guard a telephone pole. (Nolan looks shocked.) They say you're pretty good at baseball and football, too. Well, make up your mind, son. If you're not gonna play defense for me, then you better concentrate on one of them. If you wanna play on my team, you'll need this.

(Haskins chucks him an orange shirt and steps away to darkness. Richardson examines it and, resignedly, puts it on.)

NOLAN: I never took this off for two years in practice. I just played defense. Coach Haskins turned me from 20 points a game into 10 a game—but he taught me defense. And that's what I am today: a defensive coach.

(He jumps into a defender's stance and freezes; lights fade on Nolan. Stoglin enters and stands with Haskins.)

STOGLIN: Nolan guarded the best player on the other team, no matter how big the guy was.

HASKINS: Six foot 2½, played like six eight.

STOGLIN: He'd get so low he'd bang his hands on the court while he guarded a guy. He'd psych his opponent, always talkin' to him....

(Spotlight back up on Nolan. The red shirt is off; he is now carrying a San Diego Chargers helmet.)

NOLAN: I graduated from Texas Western, but there wasn't a spot for me in the NBA. Even though I hadn't played football since high school, the Chargers gave me $500 to come to a tryout camp. Maybe I should have concentrated on one sport, the way kids do now. But I always just played. All the Richardsons were always good athletes. My father was a pretty fair boxer—till he started drinking, and that finally killed him. (He pauses, turning the helmet in his hands.) Anyway, I had the Chargers made, then I busted a hamstring....

(Another light comes up on Mr. Pollitt, sitting at his desk having a conversation with Coach Cox, who stands there.)

MR. POLLITT: You really think so, Clay?

COX: You won't find a young man in the state of Texas more capable than Nolan.

(Nolan approaches; Mr. Pollitt beckons him to sit in the chair by his desk.)

MR. POLLITT: So, Nolan, you're agreeable? Besides teaching, you'll help with the baseball, football and basketball teams—and the golf. And the salary is $4,500 a year.

NOLAN: Yes, sir. (He rises, shakes hands and turns to leave. Cox taps Mr. Pollitt on the shoulder.)

MR. POLLITT: Nolan...Nolan, sometime you'll be ready to be a head coach yourself here.

NOLAN: Me? A Negro?

MR. POLLITT: It's coming, it's coming. What sport you think you'd like?

NOLAN: Football, like Mr. Cox.

MR. POLLITT: No, I don't think so. I think you'd have your best shot in baseball.

NOLAN: What about basketball?

MR. POLLITT: Well, that's the other possibility. You think about that, and don't worry—I'll remember.

(Lights fade. Light comes up on Rose standing in a kitchen, preparing food.)

ROSE: I got married myself, had a daughter. But the marriage fell apart, and I took my little girl and moved back in here with my parents. Nolan got divorced too. His wife got their daughter, but he kept the two boys. It was really a struggle for him.

(Light dims. Another light comes up on Nolan. He has a red, white and blue basketball. He shoots at a basket offstage. The ball comes back. He shoots again as he talks.)

NOLAN: Last chance. The ABA, a new league. A team named the Dallas Chaparrals offered to match my high school salary—and I was making big money by now. Seventy-five hundred. Had the team made, too—and then (grabs his leg in pain) the damn hamstring. That was the one time I was really disappointed. Really. I knew then that it was completely over.

(The light comes back up on Mr. Pollitt at his desk. Nolan approaches.)

NOLAN: I'm sorry, sir; I had to try. I know there were no promises, but....

MR. POLLITT: I know, Nolan. And your old position here—I can't give that back to you.

NOLAN (hangs his head): Yes, sir, I understand.

MR. POLLITT (rising): But the basketball coach quit, and I'd like to give you that position.

(Mr. Pollitt extends his hand, and Nolan shakes it vigorously. Across stage, the light comes up on Rose in her kitchen.)

ROSE: Those first few years, all Nolan had was a bunch of Mexican kids—none of them much bigger than me.

(Lights dim on Mr. Pollitt. Nolan puts a whistle around his neck and steps forward.)

NOLAN: Not a one over six feet. But they were great kids, and I taught 'em the same defense Coach Haskins had taught me. And then we started to get more black kids into Bowie, and....

ROSE: Coach of the Year three times in 10 years.

NOLAN: But it was still hard. Summers I'd work for a boys' baseball program. Up at dawn, fix the field, line the diamond. (He takes off his shirt and wipes his brow.)

ROSE: My parents' house was right across from that field, and I'd see Nolan out there, working. Oh, that build. It's embarrassing to say, but...I loved it.

NOLAN: And one morning, it was so hot, and I remembered that my old buddy Mañuel lived just over across the road there. (Mr. Davila, fanning himself, comes out and sits down on his front steps. Nolan approaches.)

MR. DAVILA: Nolan! ¬øQue pasa?

NOLAN (in Spanish): Señor Davila, I'd about kill for a glass of water.

MR. DAVILA: I think we can manage that. Rose!

(She has been peeking out the window, nervously drying her hands on her apron. Now she comes to the door.)

MR. DAVILA: Remember the little sister?

NOLAN (turning to Rose): Well, I can't say that I do, but I still hope I can get some water.

ROSE: The great Nolan Richardson can get a whole pitcher every day.

NOLAN: I may take you up on that.

(Mr. Davila looks at them, smiles and nods knowingly.)

MR. DAVILA: I'll get the water for Nolan. (He rises and exits.)

(Nolan and Rose look at each other fondly for a moment. Then she reaches up and puts a flower in her hair; she takes off her apron. Nolan slips on a dressy sport shirt. The lights dim, and the porch light goes on. It is evening.)

ROSE: Well, I hope you didn't just come for some water this time.

NOLAN (laughing and taking her hand): You know, you're amazing, Rose. You always have a smile for everybody; you talk to everybody. I'm such a private person, yet ever since I started talking to you, I've begun to think you're about the best friend I've got.

ROSE: Oh, come on, Nolan. Everybody in El Paso loves you.

NOLAN: I don't mean that. Besides, there are so many contradictions here. This is my hometown, but when I went to school here, I couldn't even go into the restaurants and movies.

ROSE: Will you leave?

NOLAN: Sometimes now I do wonder how much longer I can stay at Bowie. But I won't let myself say, If I were white. No. I've seen too many black kids with burning hate, and I won't let myself get to hating. My grandmother taught me that. We all belong to God, and we're all going to the same place when it's over. And I believe if I go to any other place before that, destiny will take me.

ROSE: You're the best friend I've got, too, Nolan. The best friend I ever had.

NOLAN: I think we've become more than friends. (He pulls her to him as the lights fade.)

MR. POLLITT'S VOICE: Nolan, Nolan!

(The lights come up across stage, where Mr. Pollitt is sitting in an easy chair. Nolan and Rose hurry to him, with Little Yvonne.)

NOLAN: We all came to say goodbye.

MR. POLLITT: This old man—with cataracts, too. But I'm not so old or so blind that I can't still make out beauty. Yvonne, you get prettier every time I see you. (He kisses her and then embraces Rose and shakes Nolan's hand.) How old are you now?

LITTLE YVONNE: I'm six, Mr. Pollitt.

MR. POLLITT: And you're all ready to go to Snyder? It's just an itty-bitty place, you know.

ROSE: For a chance for Nolan to coach junior college, we'd go anywhere.

MR. POLLITT: Nolan, you should have had that chance long ago.... Will you ladies excuse us for a second? (They nod and move aside.) Nolan, I've got one favor to ask of you.

NOLAN: Anything, sir.

MR. POLLITT: When I die, will you...will you come back and be one of my pallbearers?

NOLAN: Come on, Mr. Pollitt, I don't even want to talk about such things.

MR. POLLITT: Just tell me.

NOLAN: I promise you, sir. Wherever I am, whatever I'm doing, I'll come back here for you.

(Lights go out on the two men. Rose and Yvonne step forward under lights.)

ROSE: And so we went to Snyder, Texas—population 12,000. Western Texas Junior College. And the very first year, Nolan took the team to the national junior college championship tournament. Then Nolan got his best player, Paul Pressey, and we won the national title in 1980.

(Stoglin and Haskins step into the light.)

STOGLIN: A hundred and one wins and only 13 losses in three years.

HASKINS: Western Texas would score all these points, and people would see all these black juco kids fast-breakin', and they'd call it undisciplined.

STOGLIN: No way. The key was Nolan's matchup zone.

HASKINS: It was the defense that made the scoring possible—a lot like the old Celtics or UCLA.

STOGLIN: But it wasn't just that Nolan had winning teams.

ROSE: He'd only bring in good kids.

LITTLE YVONNE: Every team—my 15 big brothers.

STOGLIN: Every coach preaches that his team is family. But Nolan lives that. Rose would cook meals for the players. Didn't seem like there was ever a time I visited when one of the players wasn't spending the night at their house.

ROSE: And when we left Snyder, the whole town gave Nolan a day.

(Across the stage, lights come up on Nolan, who stands under a banner that reads: NOLAN RICHARDSON DAY.)

NOLAN: God, I loved that little town. We still keep a house there, and it's been eight years since we left.

(Lights fade out on Nolan. Stoglin and Haskins exit.)

ROSE: But it was just the same when we got to Tulsa. Nolan was just as popular, and the team kept winning.

LITTLE YVONNE: Daddy won the NIT the first year we were there.

ROSE: The only thing that changed was that Yvonne was growing up.

(Little Yvonne runs off past the teenage Yvonne, who enters wearing a Tulsa blue and gold sweatshirt.)

YVONNE: Daddy's teams were 119-37 and made a tournament every year.

ROSE: But more important, Nolan meant so much to the city.

YVONNE (giggling): And he started wearing polka dots.

(The light comes up across stage on Nolan, resplendent in a blue shirt with gold polka dots.)

NOLAN: I've always believed that a person in my position should be more than just a basketball coach. With my visibility, I can help bring the community together. And especially as a black man, I can show people how to respect one another better.

(Lights down. Across stage, lights come up on Frank Broyles, the athletic director at Arkansas. He is reading a clipping as his secretary comes in with some mail. Broyles shakes his head.)

BROYLES: You know, Donita, we get Tulsa on the TV cable now, and, I swear, all I hear about is this Nolan Richardson. And everybody who knows him tells me he's not just a big-time coach; he's a big-time person. Look at this clipping from the Tulsa paper—calls him "a community treasure, the most popular sports figure ever in Tulsa." I tell ya, Eddie Sutton made basketball in Arkansas, but if Coach Sutton ever leaves, the first guy I'm callin' is Coach Richardson.

(Lights go down on Broyles; lights go up center stage, where Nolan, with an overcoat on, leans down to Yvonne. Rose stands next to him.)

NOLAN: O.K., now, baby, by the time I get back from recruiting in Baltimore, I want you feeling all well again. You get rid of this old bug.

(He hugs her, hugs Rose, picks up a suitcase and exits. Lights down. We hear a telephone ring, and when the lights come up, Nolan rushes in, puts down the suitcase and grabs the phone off a night table.)

NOLAN: Hello...Yes, this is Nolan Richardson...Oh, my...When's the funeral?...You tell Mr. Pollitt's children I'm leaving Baltimore right away. I'll be there.

(He hangs up the phone and bows his head. The lights fade. Across stage, lights come up on Rose, who is sitting in a chair. We hear a minister speaking.)

MINISTER'S VOICE: Oh, God, accept our prayers on behalf of the soul of Frank Pollitt, thy servant departed....

(Nolan enters, puts down his suitcase and overcoat. He has on a jacket and tie. Rose barely looks up.)

NOLAN: Well, I kept my promise. I was there to help lay him to rest. It wasn't easy. I only made the procession by an hour. I got a flight out of Baltimore all right, but there wasn't a seat out of Dallas for El Paso. I finally...Rose, did you hear me? Rose?

ROSE (slowly raising her head): I took Yvonne to the doctor today, and...(She lowers her head in her hands. Nolan rushes to her as she begins to sob.)

NOLAN: Rose? Rose!

(The stage goes dark.)


(Yvonne, now 13, steps forward in a spotlight.)

YVONNE: My father got offered the job as head coach over at Arkansas, but I don't think he's going to take it. You see, they diagnosed me with leukemia.

(Rose steps into another spotlight. She looks toward Yvonne.)

ROSE: I call her love child. Only love could make anyone so beautiful.

(Nolan steps up in his spotlight. He looks toward Yvonne.)

NOLAN: Yvonne is so special. My three older kids understand how I feel about her. When they were young, I was struggling, just trying to make a living. Like a lot of young fathers, I didn't have the time for them, the way I do for Yvonne. Besides, we're so much alike.

(Rose crosses to Nolan in front of Yvonne, who watches her parents with a little smile, shaking her head fondly at them.)

ROSE (crossing to Nolan): Nolan, sometimes I just don't understand Yvonne. I know she loves me, but then all of a sudden she'll go for hours and won't say one word.

NOLAN: Rose, won't you ever understand? That's the part of her that's all me. Hell, you know how much I love you, and sometimes I don't talk to you. (He wraps an arm around her, laughing. Their lights fade.)

YVONNE: I know he's not going to take that Arkansas job, and that's just not fair.

(Lights up across stage. Three Tulsa assistant coaches are standing there. Nolan comes over, and one of them bounces him a ball. As Yvonne turns to watch, her mother steps up behind her.)

NOLAN: Well, you guys can sleep easy tonight. I made up my mind. I'm telling Arkansas no. We'll all be coaching right here again in Tulsa next year.

(They let out a cheer and exit. Nolan turns around. Yvonne has her arms folded.)


NOLAN: Now wait a minute, Yvonne. I've got to have an interview with you.


NOLAN: Listen to me. The doctors here at Saint Francis are doing a good job with you. It's best that we stay here in Tulsa until you're well. Then....

YVONNE: Then you might miss the chance, Daddy. You've worked too hard for this. We all love Tulsa, but you don't even have your own gym here. In Fayetteville, you'd have a whole state. Please, Daddy. It wouldn't be fair if you didn't take the job. Please, Papito.

NOLAN: Well, all right, but....

YVONNE: Yeahhh!

NOLAN: But no more polka dots. New job, new clothes.

(Yvonne kisses him. The lights come up on Broyles at his desk. Nolan steps toward him and meets Stoglin along the way.)

NOLAN: Fourteen years old, she's got leukemia, and she's worried about what's fair for me.

STOGLIN (to audience): Nolan brought me to Arkansas with him as an assistant, but it was a nightmare from the start.

BROYLES: The team Coach Sutton left behind was supposed to be the best in the Southwest Conference. But it wasn't—not by a long shot.

STOGLIN: And there was a lot of drug use on the team.

NOLAN: I lost my best two players to drugs, but I helped save two more that I didn't tell anybody about.

BROYLES: And Coach Richardson's style of play was completely different from Coach Sutton's deliberate style. So when the team lost, some people were even more critical.

STOGLIN: Nolan was ashamed of some of the ugly things they printed in the newspapers.

BROYLES (holding up a copy of the Arkansas Democrat): The Democrat—in Little Rock—has been opposed to me for 15 years, but to go after Nolan at a time when his daughter was....

NOLAN (taking the copy, slapping it): The sports editor wrote that it was "rumored" that they'd burned crosses on my lawn. I didn't even have a lawn. Rose and Yvonne were still back in Tulsa to be near her doctors, and I was living in a condo. (Throws paper aside. Lights come up on Rose across stage.)

ROSE: But he'd never bring any of it home. And there I was in this beautiful house in Tulsa, my beautiful baby getting sicker and sicker. We had to start taking her to Minnesota for treatment, and sometimes I just couldn't hold back anymore. (She begins to cry. The lights come up on Yvonne in her hospital bed. Standing beside it is Dr. Plunkett. Rose moves to her. From the other side of the stage, Nolan looks over. There is pain on his face.)

BROYLES: Go to Yvonne, Nolan. Anytime. (Nolan rushes across to her bed; she brightens as soon as she sees him.)

YVONNE: Papito! (They hug. Then she feigns irritation.) Now, Nolan, I need an interview with you. What's the matter with the Hogs? You got to start doin' some coachin'. (Laughter. Lights dim.)

STOGLIN: But it only got worse. That first season at Arkansas, 1985-86, we finished 12-16. And last year, even though Nolan got some new players in, he was away with Yvonne so much—back and forth. I think the guys played better when Nolan wasn't here. When he was here, just seeing him, that hurt too much.

(The sounds of basketball practice are heard offstage. Stoglin looks in that direction. Nolan appears beside him; his face grows angry.)

NOLAN: No! No! Stop 'em, Coach. (Stoglin blows whistle.) All right, get over here. (The players move onstage.) You know, I just got back from a children's hospital. You think you guys got it tough playing basketball? I met a terrific little boy the other day, and the next morning I came back, and he was gone. Gone. He died in the night. You understand? And you're all healthy, and here on a free ticket. Now get out!

(The players run off. Lights dim and then come up across stage at Yvonne's bed. Rose nods mournfully to Dr. Plunkett, and they step over to Yvonne.)

ROSE: Dr. Plunkett thinks if you go back up to Minnesota and have a bone marrow operation, it may...

DR. PLUNKETT: But it will be very painful, Yvonne.

YVONNE: If I got a chance, let's go.

(Suddenly, the Razorback team rushes onstage to her bedside.)

HUERY: Hey, little sister.

WHITBY: I got those tapes you wanted to trade.

YVONNE: You guys make me sick. If you don't start playin' better ball, I'm not so sure I want to be around you.

(She winks; they laugh and kid. The lights come up on Nolan, alone, center stage. He watches his daughter and his players as the scene fades to dark. He shakes his head.)

NOLAN: Nothing worked. Chemotherapy. Bone marrow. At one point the doctors had to break a rib to get at some fungus in Yvonne's lung. She hurt so much. So much morphine. But she never complained. Never said, "Why me, Papito?" Little Daddy. In all my life no one else ever called me little. But she had become bigger and braver than I could ever be.

(The lights come back up dimly on the bed. Only Rose is with Yvonne. Nolan walks over.)

ROSE: We're gonna do the X-rays now, baby.

YVONNE: Oh, Momma. Maybe you ought to just let go. I'm so tired.

NOLAN: They can give you a transfusion, baby. Clean out your blood.

(He sits on the bed and takes her hands. Lights fade. Across stage the lights come up on Stoglin talking to the players.)

STOGLIN: We can't let up. It's only January, and we've already won almost as many games as we did all last season. Coach has so much to worry about—he doesn't need to worry about you.

HUERY: I tell the guys I knew Coach Richardson before Yvonne got sick. A lot of people in Arkansas have never seen that man. The real coach.

STOGLIN: I don't understand how he's gotten through these last couple years. Except that everything in his life prepared him for this. Remember that. Even now, when I talk to him on the phone, when he's with Yvonne, I can tell he's about to explode, but all he'll talk about is you: How's the team doing? How are my players?

(Stoglin's eyes go around the circle. The players reach in and clasp hands; they freeze. Across stage, Dr. Plunkett is walking with Nolan.)

DR. PLUNKETT: I'm sorry, Coach. It didn't work. The bad cells are already back.

NOLAN: Is there anything...

DR. PLUNKETT: We could try, but the odds are...

NOLAN: No. No more. I won't have my baby mutilated anymore.

DR. PLUNKETT: She could come home with you. I'm sorry, Coach. (He turns away, pounds the wall and exits.)

NOLAN: Yvonne was only home for a day and a half. That one night, we all three slept together, but in the morning she began hemorrhaging, and we had to put her right back in the hospital.

(He turns. Lights up on Yvonne, in her bed. Rose stands there. Nolan steps up to the bed, bends down and kisses her.)

NOLAN: My baby.

YVONNE: Oh, Papito.

(She can barely get the words out. He turns away. Across the stage the team is still frozen in its huddle. Nolan starts toward them, but stops, center stage. Rose sits down on the bed.)

ROSE: We can let you go now, baby. (Yvonne looks up at her mother for a moment, and then her eyes close. Rose gasps, reaches down and touches her child's left cheek. We can barely hear her.) One last tear.

(Nolan looks up to the heavens. The players and Stoglin, hands still clasped, sink to their knees. The stage goes dark.)


(Nolan, in another, more subdued polkadot shirt, steps forward, center stage. He puts a foot up on a wooden chair.)

NOLAN: It's been over a year now. Yvonne died January 22, 1987. I'm a stronger person today—strictly because of her. But I'm human. Sometimes I ask God, Why? On the other hand, whenever I catch Rose saying that, I say, "Come on, we have to accept it. God just chose to pick from our garden." (Rose steps out next to him. He puts an arm around her.) Rose was hospitalized for 12 days this summer—exhaustion, depression....

ROSE: Does it ever get any easier? Sometimes I think I can't function without you, Nolan.

(Stoglin moves onto the stage, and Nolan hugs him with his other arm.)

NOLAN: I knew the people who really cared. There were some who'd say, "Oh, I'm so truly sorry, Coach," and I knew they'd go right around the corner and say, "I'll be glad when this Yvonne thing gets settled so he can get back to coaching." But then there were the others who were genuine. Like Ray Thornton, the president of the university. When he talked to me about Yvonne, I could see that he hurt for me.

(Nolan shakes Stoglin's hand and then steps to where Broyles, Thornton and Chancellor Ferritor have entered. He shakes their hands.)

NOLAN: President Thornton, Dr. Ferritor. Hello, Frank.

BROYLES: Nolan, you had a five-year contract with us when you first came to Arkansas. I want you to know that all of us believe that the first two years didn't count. So as far as we're concerned, beginning right now, with the 1987-88 season, you're starting the first year of your five-year contract with the University of Arkansas.

THORNTON: You can stay here for the rest of your life, Nolan. Or anyway, as long as I'm the president here.

(Lights fade on the three men. Nolan turns to Stoglin.)

NOLAN: So, how we doin' now, Coach?

STOGLIN: Well, we're 19-6 so far, Nolan.

(The players run onstage.)

LANG: Just off the conference lead.

CREDIT: We're gonna win it, Coach.

NOLAN: Oh, we are, are we?

STOGLIN: And we've already got two of the top 20 high school prospects in America signed for next year.

NOLAN: Whoa, slow down, Coach. First, we gotta get it done today. Live for today, men. God has really blessed you guys—you're big and strong and healthy. Today! Where I come from, there was too much ma‚Äö√†√∂¬¨¬±ana. Today! (He smiles and taps his own shoulder.) Course, I got someone who makes sure I keep after you clowns.

HUERY: Don't worry, Coach. Yvonne was our little angel too, and she never leaves my mind.

FREEMAN: Coach, whatever happens to me—and I hope I do make something out of myself—I want you to know I'm always living for two people.

NOLAN: Thanks. Thanks to all you guys. You were all I had to help me try and forget. Thank you for suffering with me. (He pauses and suddenly barks.) Now, get the hell out on that court and do some work.

(They exit noisily; Nolan moves downstage and addresses the audience.)

NOLAN: I learned one thing above all: Never doubt yourself about what you think needs to be done. I started second-guessing myself, and I've had to get back to doing things my way. I've got to be my own judge, jury and executioner. As Yvonne told me, "Nolan, you have got to do some coachin' ". (He glances up.) Right, baby.

(Rose has moved onstage. Offstage, the sounds of basketball begin.)

ROSE: I see him coming back to his old self now.

NOLAN (looking offstage): Come on, you can move faster than that. Come on, come on.

ROSE: It's good to see him fussing at the players. And it's even better to see him get a technical. Nolan even got thrown out of the Texas game a few weeks ago after a couple of technicals—and there he was shaking hands with the Texas team on his way off the court. Now, that's the old Nolan.

(Nolan looks at her and smiles.)

NOLAN: There are no assurances. I tell the players that. No promises. I've got to get it done now. (He sits down on the wooden chair and looks offstage. He reaches inside his shirt, grabs Yvonne's gold cross and holds it in his fist.) I am living in history. Right now. At this moment. I am living in blazing history in Arkansas.

(The sounds of basketball get louder and louder. Nolan looks offstage; his legs are spread, hands clasped. Rose stands behind him, hands on his shoulders.)

ROSE: Nothing good has happened here since we came, but he's back now. The real Nolan. You'll see. (Out of the shadows behind them come Old Momma and Yvonne.) They'll all see. Nolan's going to leave some beautiful moments for the state of Arkansas. He will.

(The three women watch the action with Nolan. The noise of the crowd and the game grows louder and louder. There is a whistle. Nolan jumps up, and then silence, darkness.)





(in order of appearance)


Nolan's grandmother

Arkansas basketball players

Nolan's assistant

Nolan's daughter

Bowie High principal

Bowie coaches

Nolan's wife

Texas Western coach

Rose's father

Arkansas athletic director

Yvonne's doctor

Arkansas president

Arkansas chancellor


OLD MOMMA: If you don't go, you'll give them an excuse not to open any more doors.

NOLAN: It was hard. Up at dawn, fix the field. I'd about kill for a glass of water.

ROSE: I took Yvonne to the doctor today and...and...

BROYLES: Go to Yvonne, Nolan. Anytime.

NOLAN: No. No more. I won't have my baby mutilated anymore.

ROSE: Nothing good has happened since we came here. But it will. You'll see.