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Monday, May 2, 2016

Gold Medal winners share childhood bond

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A long time ago, two young boys lived next door to each other in Mammoth Spring.

Both youngsters attended the same elementary school and shared a mutual love of playing basketball, both on their neighborhood playground and on their school court, as team mates.

There's really no counting just how many games Joe Couch and Larry Hurtt played throughout their elementary years in Mammoth Spring.

About the time the boys entered junior high school, Earl and Doris Hurtt and their young family moved to the community of Camp and Larry entered Salem Junior High School.

Joe Berry Couch, son of the late Presley and the late Bonnie Couch, continued residing in Mammoth Spring and, years later, graduated from Mammoth Spring High School.

Though these young men were no longer neighbors, their love of playing basketball continued.

Through junior and senior high school, Joe and Larry still met on the court to play their favorite game, only now they were competitors, the Mammoth Spring Bears vs. the Salem Greyhounds.

After graduating from their respective high schools, Joe went to State College of Arkansas, now known as the University of Central Arkansas (UCA), in Conway, on a basketball scholarship.

Larry went to Arkansas College (AC), now known as Lyon College, in Batesville, also on a basketball scholarship.

With both State College of Arkansas and Arkansas College part of the now defunct Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference (AIC), Joe and Larry continued competing against each other on the court throughout their college years.

Upon graduating from college, both Joe and Larry became coaches, but it was over 20 years before they met again on a basketball court.

Joe has continued in education, as a coach and a teacher, and is currently in administration as the Superintendent of Bergman Schools.

After coaching for several years in both Arkansas and Missouri (two years in Salem), Larry entered the business world of insurance, later moving into management positions in manufacturing and industry in Harrison.

Around 2003, Larry was invited to play on a Senior Olympics basketball team. One of the members of this team, known as the Arkansas Traveler basketball team, was Larry's childhood friend and team mate from Mammoth Spring, Joe Couch.

This Arkansas Traveler basketball team has won the Arkansas Senior Olympics in basketball for the past eight years.

In addition to the Arkansas championship titles, this group of men has even won the Louisiana Senior Olympics title.

Every other year, the National Senior Olympics takes place for those qualifying in their sport, whether in individual or team events. In 2005, the Arkansas Traveler team qualified and attended the National Senior Olympics held in Pittsburg, Pa., but did not medal. Louisville, Ky., was the site of the 2007 Senior Olympics and the team qualified to participate, but once again failed to medal.

In early August, 2009, after again qualifying for the National Senior Olympics, Joe and Larry, along with the rest of the Arkansas Traveler team, traveled to San Francisco to play a little round ball. After playing 10 games in four days, this Arkansas group of senior citizens, aged 55 and over, defeated Alabama's team 75-52 in double-elimination play to win the Gold in the National Senior Olympics.

After 50 years of playing basketball, on the same team and as competitors, these former Mammoth Spring/Salem residents look forward to playing the game for many years to come.

Later this month, Joe and Larry and the rest of the Arkansas Traveler basketball team will travel to Hot Springs to compete for the State Senior Olympics Basketball title. Hopefully, August of 2011 will find them in Houston, Texas, defending their national title at the National Senior Olympics.

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