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Village Academy was a fictitious private school in Arkansas that was created by two members of the staff at Jessieville High School in Garland County in 1985. Fake scores for the school’s football teams were printed from 1985 to 1988 in the Arkansas Gazette and the Arkansas Democrat before anyone at either of the Little Rock (Pulaski County) newspapers caught on. It is considered one of the classic pranks in modern Arkansas history and was the subject of a lengthy feature story in the 2015 edition of Hooten’s Arkansas Football magazine. Soon after that story was published, the Little Rock–based company Rock City Outfitters began selling Village Academy Beavers shirts.
Bob Sivils, the band director at Jessieville High School at the time, and Garry Crowder, the school’s girls’ basketball coach at the time, decided to create the Village Academy team after becoming frustrated with the limited knowledge exhibited by staff members at the Little Rock newspapers who would answer their calls on fall Friday nights when they reported actual Jessieville (Garland County) scores. Crowder had coached in southern Arkansas and was familiar with the community of Village (Columbia County), which is east of Magnolia (Columbia County). The two men decided that the prank would succeed if the fictitious school did not play Arkansas schools and did not win too much.
The summary stories of games against mostly Louisiana schools included a star player named Jess Norman. Jessieville High School’s principal’s name was Norman Jespersen, and Sivils and Crowder derived the name of make-believe star from the principal’s name. Sivils made the first call to the Little Rock newspapers in September 1985. The next morning, it was reported that Village Academy had tied Rayville, Louisiana, with a score of 6–6. Over the next four seasons, Beaver scores and game summaries were often published. Sivils and Crowder called only the two Little Rock newspapers, but the Associated Press picked up the scores, and they soon were running in newspapers across the state. A football coach who was in on the joke sent recommendation forms to colleges, and recruiting letters to Jess Norman began arriving at Crowder’s home address.
Sivils and Crowder shared their secret with several coaches and band directors across the state. Fellow faculty members at Jessieville High School created an alma mater and fight song for Village Academy. Photographer Bob Hurt, who took team photos at high schools throughout Arkansas, shot photos of Sivils holding a Village Academy football. Green T-shirts and bumper stickers that said “Village Academy Beavers” were distributed.
“Not only did the Beavers play football, they also started a track program,” said Crowder, who later became the head women’s basketball coach at Ouachita Baptist University (OBU) in Arkadelphia (Clark County). “They played girls’ basketball with Jess’ sister Jessica leading the way. When inclement weather forced the closing of schools across the state, Village Academy would appear on the Little Rock television stations as being closed.”
Crowder used the public address system when Jessieville hosted track meets and routinely called for Jess Norman to report for the pole vault or for Village Academy athletes to report to their bus. Sivils, meanwhile, saw to it that Jess Norman was listed as also attending band events at Henderson State University (HSU) in Arkadelphia and Arkansas Tech University in Russellville (Pope County). After Sivils moved to Sallisaw, Oklahoma, concert programs would list Norman as having written at least one piece. During the 1988 Christmas parade in Hot Springs (Garland County), the daughter of a Jessieville teacher rode in a convertible with a poster attached to the car that read “Little Miss Village Academy.”
In October 1988, an Arkansas Democrat reporter named Robert Yates followed up on an anonymous letter stating that Village Academy was fictitious. That ended the reporting of scores.
“Just when you think it’s beginning to die away, something pops up again,” Crowder said. “When the Arkansas Activities Association was selling bricks for a fundraiser, someone bought one that’s engraved in memory of Jess Norman and Village Academy. For the past 15 years, you could check the portion of the University of Arkansas football program where Razorback Foundation contributors were listed and find a donation from the Village Academy Booster Club.” Sivils, who is now retired in Sallisaw, makes the annual contribution in the name of the booster club.
For additional information:Beilue, Jon Mark. “Fauxball: How a Band Director and Basketball Coach Orchestrated a Hoax Too Funny to Forget.” Hooten’s Arkansas Football, 2015 edition, p. 116.
Lee, Mike. “The Story of How an Imaginary Football Team Made Headlines.” Standard-Times (San Angelo, Texas), October 29, 2015, p. 1C. Online at http://www.gosanangelo.com/sports/high-school/mike-lee-the-story-of-how-an-imaginary-football-team-made-headlines-ep-1344469853-353307131.html (accessed August 25, 2016).
Nelson, Rex. “The Village Academy Beavers.” Rex Nelson’s Southern Fried, April 6, 2016. http://www.rexnelsonsouthernfried.com/?p=7629 (accessed August 25, 2016).
Rex Nelson Simmons Bank
Last Updated 9/20/2016
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