Wampus Cat Hall of Fame Ceremony: 4 Lessons from the class of 2023

Conway Institute of Music

This is the first ToddTalk aptly named by a barista at Round Mountain Coffee (thanks Bailey!).


When I got the invite to attend the Wampus Cat Hall of Fame Ceremony, I admit, I was intrigued. The last Hall of Fame ceremony I attended was the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in 2010.

After all, I have no real connection with Wampus Cat sports other than living here since 2010. I have watched many football and baseball games, and pay attention to the other sports including swimming, soccer and basketball.

I root for the Wampus Cats because I live here, but over the years I have known some of the kids who played for Conway High School including my own nephew and nieces.

So, go Wampus Cats!

I was a bit apprehensive, but I noticed one name in the class of 2023 that I had been hearing about since I’ve been here. That name is Bryce Molder.

For me, it was a chance to meet members of the community. In the Conway High School cafeteria, there were many people for the fourth ever induction ceremony.

There were the usual folks like Mayor Bart Castleberry and Judge Clawson and other community leaders. Jeff Matthews was the emcee. He handled it with grace and early on he was under pressure.

When I pulled up, it was hot. Very hot. And, I figured I would be trying to find this thing by myself, but to my pleasant surprise, Rickey Gulley pulled up at the same time. Rickey was there to take pictures.

So, I was able to find my way with the help of Rickey and another lady who was present to see her good friend Bliss Hendricson Hildebrand be inducted into the 2023 Wampus Cats Hall of Fame.

I did not have a good enough career to ever be inducted into a Sports Hall of Fame. The pinnacle of my sports career was when I was a starting tackle on the offensive line for my 9th grade football team at Batesville Junior High School. We went undefeated. We were the first junior high football team to go undefeated and untied.

Since then, that accomplishment has since been eclipsed twice. Our old junior high football coach, Doug Walls, had a stellar career as a junior high football coach with three undefeated and untied football teams and several more conference championships.

I remember his success, but more than that, I remember the things he taught us and how he challenged us to be better players and better people.

There is something special about participating in extracurricular activities in school to make us better students, better people.

The Wampus Cat Hall of Fame class of 2023 underscored those lessons. I found four.

Wampus Cats Hall of Fame
Wampus Cats Hall of Fame

Lesson Number 1, Sacrifice

Every single inductee talked about the sacrifices they made to become better players, better students, and better people. It might include staying late for practice and getting extra reps in after the team finished. It might be showing up extra early to school. It might be long nights getting studies done after games so they can make the grades expected.

Bliss Hendrickson Hilderbrand told how her father insisted she run around the block two times when coming in from school, before she ever stepped into the house.

Those two blocks made up a mile. It didn’t matter what they were doing or where they had come from; they had to do it.

Later she asked her dad, “why did you have us do that?”

He told her he was teaching them accountability.

She learned how to sacrifice and be accountable from her own father. She was one of the most accomplished track athletes in the history of Conway High School.

She still holds records and has a championship at the Meet of Champs three years in a row. Her sacrifice and accountability led her to a storied career.

Lesson Number 2, Embracing their support system

One thing I noticed about each athlete is how much they thanked their support system. They thanked coaches, friends, family, including moms and dads and siblings. They also thanked community members who supported them.

They knew the whole town was behind them. They never forgot the support they had.

Many mentioned how parents challenged them to be better, to honor their commitments, and to keep their grades up.

Every athlete started their acceptance speech thanking their support system.

Success for our students and for all of us begins with the support we have at home from our families and friends as well as coaches and administration.

Let’s remember that as a new generation of students are walking the halls of our schools.

Lesson Number 3, Overcoming adversity

One of the things athletics teaches students is how to deal with and overcome adversity. When the season is done, only few can be champions. Everyone else is runner-up.

How we deal with that will help us become better people and successful in life.

I am taken by the 1967 Conway High School State Champion football team. The entire team was inducted into the hall of fame.

The teams started the year with major adversity. First, they had a brand new coach. What year one coach is going to win a championship?

Second, their best player was injured and would not play the season.

The team was undersized and missing its best player, yet they had four shutouts and held their opponents to a combined 87 points in 11 games.

Despite the early adversity, the team excelled, with one loss to a team in a bigger class. In the end, the team was voted state champions in their classification.

Lesson number 4, Embrace the hard

When Bryce was playing the pro tour in golf, he went through a stretch where, as he said, it just wasn’t fun anymore.

Molder sat down with a sports psychologist and began discussing his feelings.

The sports psychologist challenged him. “Embrace the hard, the fun will come,” the sports psychologist said.

Molder followed the advice and found it true. He began to “embrace the hard” and not long after, the fun began to come.

This is a great lesson for life. We will always have the hard. We can address it by complaining, shrinking from it, or even giving up, but if we step up, embrace the hard, do the work, carry on with the grind, soon, life will reward our efforts.

Wrapping it up

So what are we to learn here? Whether or not we are an athlete, we can learn a great deal about perseverance, discipline, overcoming adversity, embracing our support system and sacrifice.

At this point in my life, I have learned one thing: there will be adversity. If I were talking to my 18-year-old self heading to college, that’s the one thing I would tell me. Adversity will come. Just because you think you have your direction figured out, it will not matter.

The life lessons we learn in extracurricular activities can be beneficial for the rest of our lives.

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