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Going for the gold: Arkansas' Olympic Committee surpasses $100,000 goal.

This month, television sets worldwide will be tuned to channels broadcasting the Olympic Games from Barcelona, Spain.

Some of those sets will be in the homes of Arkansans.

Arkansas long has been recognized as a state that loves sports.

However, when it came to the Olympics, Arkansas traditionally was unable to pull its financial load.

The U.S. Olympic Committee, the organization that provides training and support programs for the nation's Olympic athletes, is organized into six regions. Arkansas is one of 13 states in the Southern region.

Every four years, the USOC provides each state with a fund-raising quota that is based on demographics, population and past financial performances.

Arkansas had failed to meet past quotas.

In 1984, Arkansans contributed $29,182 to the Olympic cause. The quota was $100,000.

In 1988, about $34,000 was raised in the state. Again, the quota was $100,000.

When Jim House, president and chief executive officer of USAble Life of Little Rock, took over as 1992 co-chairman for Arkansas' USOC committee, he called the state's past Olympic contributions "a little embarrassing."

"We have enjoyed the show, but we also have sat on the spectator sidelines when it came to support and participation," he wrote in a memo to Arkansas USOC board members.

Arkansas' quota for the 1992 Olympics was again $100,000. Along with Mississippi, Arkansas had the lowest quota in the region. The highest regional quota was set for Texas at $1 million. The 1992 national goal was $22 million.

At the time the quota was established, House called it "a reasonable sum. But I don't believe our quota has ever been reached."

He set out to change that.

And he succeeded.

House, who also serves as an executive vice president for Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Arkansas, shares the co-chairman's job with Bill Phillips, vice president of governmental relations for Blue Cross & Blue Shield. House and Phillips were asked to head the committee following their participation in past Olympic efforts through Blue Cross, a corporate sponsor of the USOC.

Most states have only one chairman.

Phillips says a decision to split the job was made because "two heads are, in most instances, better than one. Neither of us felt we had the time individually to effectively do the job."

Phillips says a lack of time could be a reason past chairmen such as Jerry Jones and Bill Dillard Jr. failed to reach their quotas.

"You have to set priorities," Phillips says. "|The job~ probably wasn't high enough on their list."
1992 U.S. Olympic Goals: Southern Region
 U S A
State Goal
Alabama $200,000
Arkansas $100,000
Colorado $850,000
Florida $500,000
Georgia $400,000
Louisiana $200,000
Mississippi $100,000
New Mexico $125,000
North Carolina $300,000
Oklahoma $250,000
South Carolina $125,000
Tennessee $250,000
Texas $1,000,000
Total $4,400,000
Source: United States Olympic Committee Southern Region.

There are other reasons why past efforts haven't been successful, according to Gerry Tate, Southern regional manager for the USOC.

"People don't realize that the USOC relies solely on the generosity of American businesses and the American public," he says.

The United States is the only country that doesn't provide government assistance for athletes, according to Tate.

"Moreover, the vast majority of Arkansas citizens simply weren't asked to get involved," he says of past efforts.

USOC's reorganization resulted in the merger of the Southeastern and Southwestern regions in the 1980s. The newly formed Southern region is based at Atlanta, site of the 1996 Summer Olympics.

Well On Its Way

The House-Phillips combination is an effective one.

They have raised $141,000 in Arkansas, shattering previous records.

House says the three main goals the co-chairmen set were:

* To recruit the top names in Arkansas business for the Arkansas USOC board. The 24 board members are a who's who of Arkansas business. The board includes such names as Curt Bradbury, chairman of Little Rock's Worthen Banking Corp.; Don Tyson, chairman of Tyson Foods Inc. at Springdale; Linus Raines, general manager of the Excelsior Hotel at Little Rock; and Sidney Moncrief, automobile dealer and former professional basketball player.

"I don't recall a single 'no,'" House says.

Utilizing corporate clout, the board members were instrumental in enlisting statewide support from business.

* To organize one major event and make certain it was a success. Because they were chosen in the fall of 1991, House and Phillips say they had less time to raise funds than previous state chairmen, who usually were chosen two years before the Olympic Games. A banquet honoring past Arkansas Olympic medalists and the 28 Arkansas Olympic hopefuls for 1992 was held May 29 at downtown Little Rock's Statehouse Convention Center. Corporations that made contributions to the committee were offered three levels of sponsorship -- gold for $15,000, silver for $5,000 and bronze for $1,500. More than 700 people purchased tickets for the banquet, which featured Peter Vidmar, a 1984 gymnastics medalist.

"There wasn't time to involve a lot of people," House says. "For that reason, we targeted corporate sponsors."

Almost 60 corporations contributed, including four gold sponsors. The $15,000 contributors were Stephens Inc. of Little Rock, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. of Bentonville, Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Arkansas and its subsidiary, USAble Life.

* To involve more individuals. Arkansas was awarded one of 10 vehicles donated to the USOC by the Chrysler Corp., a major corporate sponsor of the Olympics.

"We are trying to determine the best way to utilize |the gift~ to achieve financial success," Phillips says.

Future Plans

House and Phillips also are working to ensure future success in Arkansas.

"I hope if and when we pass the gavel, we're able to establish criteria for future chairmen to follow," says Phillips, a former football player at Arkansas State University at Jonesboro and for the Denver Broncos.

A weekly newsletter and monthly meetings keep board members abreast of the latest developments. House and Phillips hope to continue those efforts.

Since the Summer Olympics and the Winter Olympics now will be staggered every other year, fund raising will become a continuous effort.

The co-chairs want regional and county chairmen appointed statewide. Each region of Arkansas will be assigned a quota to help the state meet its goal.

"If every county chairman raised $1,000 per year, that would be $300,000 in a quadrennium," Phillips says.

House and Phillips agree that an important element in the Arkansas committee's success was building a better understanding of the Olympics among Arkansans.

"When you talk to people about how we haven't lived up to expectations in the past, Arkansas pride kicks in," Phillips says. "They don't want Arkansas being subsidized by other states. Arkansas had only raised $60,000 in eight years. It's pretty obvious that our athletes were being supported by states that met and in some cases exceeded the USOC's expectations."

Although USOC support for a state's athletes is not determined by that state's contribution, Phillips says it might carry some weight.

"That has to be a consideration," he says. "Our Olympic hopefuls have always received our admiration, but they deserve our financial support as well."

This year, thanks to Jim House and Bill Phillips, those athletes have both.
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Author:Harper, Kim
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Jul 6, 1992
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