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James Albert “Ike” Tomlinson was responsible for the revival of the athletics program at Arkansas State University (ASU) after World War II. An athlete who coached five sports, he served as ASU’s head baseball coach for thirty-two years, also serving as athletic director for three decades. He was named Associated Press National Coach of the Year and was selected for induction into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame. In 1993, ASU’s baseball complex, Tomlinson Stadium, was named in his honor.
J. A. Tomlinson was born on November 17, 1910, to farmers Frank and Nora Tomlinson in Macon, Illinois. The youngest in his family of three brothers and one sister, he was nicknamed “Ike” as a child, and the childhood nickname was used throughout his life. He graduated from Macon High School in 1928 and attended the University of Illinois in Urbana, majoring in physical education and ultimately also receiving a master’s degree in education from that institution. On June 17, 1933, he married Lois Lawrence, a friend from a neighboring town; they had one daughter.
In 1934, Tomlinson began his coaching career in athletics by returning to serve as coach at Macon High School, where he had played football. He then became interim football coach and athletic director for one season at Western New Mexico University (WNMU) in Silver City, New Mexico, in 1943. After most of his WNMU players were mobilized for military service during World War II and the football program was suspended, he was contacted by Arkansas State College (ASC), now ASU, in Jonesboro (Craighead County).
Tomlinson had previously communicated with ASC about a coaching job before accepting the position at New Mexico. By this time, ASC had been selected as the site of an Army College Training Detachment and needed a physical training instructor for the Army Air Corps Pilot Training Program. Tomlinson arrived in December 1943 to fill the position. In 1945, when the army training unit at the college was discontinued at the close of the war, Tomlinson was invited to remain on campus to revitalize the athletics program, which had faded during World War II, as scores of returning veterans arrived on campus to attend college on the GI Bill. He coached the 1945 football team in its first season after the war and coached basketball through 1949. Along with coaching football, basketball, baseball, track, and wrestling, he served as ASC’s dean of men in 1948.
Though adept at coaching several sports, he preferred baseball, saying it was “a little less demanding timewise.” Under Tomlinson’s leadership, ASC claimed three collegiate All-Americans in baseball—George Glenn, Dana Ryan, and Wayne Pitcock. Tomlinson was named National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Coach of the Year in 1964.
Tomlinson ended his baseball coaching career with a record of 543–439, having brought ASC up to the university playing level when it was granted university status in 1967. That year, his team finished in the top three at the NCAA playoffs with a 26–8–1 record, and he was named 1967’s Associated Press National Coach of the Year. Under his leadership, the ASU team was selected to compete in the 1968 College World Series.
In addition to coaching, Tomlinson also served as ASU’s athletic director from 1945 through 1976. When he was inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame in 1979, he was lauded for his coaching of numerous sports and for his long tenure as athletic director.
After his retirement in 1976, Tomlinson and his wife traveled extensively while still following ASU athletics. He died on March 9, 2000.
For additional information:“J. A. (Ike) Tomlinson.” Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame. http://www.arksportshalloffame.org/lists.php/mode/details/id/162 (accessed March 24, 2009).
Pyland, Lee. “Tomlinson Built ASU Baseball in 31 Years.” The Herald (Arkansas State University). October 15, 1993, p. 4.
Nancy HendricksArkansas State University
Last Updated 8/26/2009
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