Curt Huckaby (1951–2016)
Curt Huckaby was an attorney and a Craighead County District Court judge. He was also renowned across the country as the driving force behind the nationally ranked rugby program at Arkansas State University (ASU) in Jonesboro (Craighead County), a pursuit he took up on a volunteer basis for fourteen years. His teams were perennially ranked in the Top 25 collegiate teams across the nation, and Huckaby coached sixteen All-Americans and numerous regionally ranked players. In 2016, the ASU rugby pitch was named the Curt Huckaby Field. The Curt Huckaby Cup is a traveling trophy awarded to the winner of two rival teams, ASU and Life University of Marietta, Georgia, who play for it each year. Reflecting Huckaby’s legacy, engraved on the cup are the words “Make a difference every day for as long as you can.”
Curtis Lloyd Huckaby was born on May 25, 1951, in Jonesboro to Robert and Carolyn Huckaby. He had a sister, Julie. Huckaby lived most of his early life in the Jonesboro area before attending Sacramento State University in Sacramento, California, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in history in 1974. He went on to earn a master’s degree in history from California State University in Chico, California, in 1977 and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Arkansas School of Law in Fayetteville (Washington County) in 1982.
Returning to northeastern Arkansas, Huckaby established a successful general practice law firm in Lake City (Craighead County). He and his wife, Vickie, had a daughter, Ashley, and sons Matt and Curtis.
While living in California, Huckaby became a rugby enthusiast and fell in love with the game. Originating in England, rugby has been called the forerunner of American tackle football, but it is notably different due to the ball being in constant play as players both defend and play offense. The field (or “pitch”) is slightly larger than a football field. As a result of the constant movement and physical contact, rugby demands a combination of strength, speed, stamina, and strategy, as well as mental and physical toughness from the fifteen players on the pitch. A match consists of two forty-minute halves of constant play, a ten-minute halftime, and limited substitutions.
In 1996, Huckaby began resurrecting a faded rugby club at ASU, serving as volunteer coach and organizer for fourteen years. During that time, he guided the team’s growth from a novice Division II club to a nationally renowned Division I powerhouse. ASU amassed a record of 144 wins, eighty-three losses, and one draw during Huckaby’s tenure.
Under his leadership, the ASU rugby team made it to the Elite Eight every year it played Division II rugby, with the one exception of 2005. The team won the Division II Plate National Championship in 2000, and were National Championship runners-up three times (in 2001, 2004, and 2007).
After a move to Division 1, the highest level of college rugby within the United States, ASU won the South Collegiate Championships two years in a row, finishing eleventh in the nation in 2008 and fourth in 2009. ASU’s only losses were to a pair of nationally ranked squads—San Diego State in 2008 and Louisiana State in the fall of 2009—and to eventual national champion Brigham Young in the Elite Eight that spring.
Playing in Division I, ASU made the Final Four in 2010, a feat not achieved by any school in the South since the early 1980s. Teams that traditionally have made it to the Division I rugby Final Four include the University of California, Brigham Young University, the Air Force Academy, Army, Navy, California Polytechnic, Penn State, San Diego State, and Utah.
In 2010, Huckaby stepped down as ASU’s head rugby coach. His son Matt, an All-American rugby star, was named by ASU as his successor. Curt Huckaby continued to support the rugby program by working with donor development, fundraising, recruiting, marketing, player development, and program advancement. He was one of only seven All-American selectors in the United States, served as head coach of the Mid-South rugby team, and was a coach of the South Collegiate All-Star team.
Huckaby ran unopposed to be elected judge of the District Court for the Eastern Department of Craighead County in Lake City. Huckaby served as a district judge from 2012 until his death in 2016.
What started as numbness in Huckaby’s foot was ultimately diagnosed as the neurodegenerative disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. At the 2013 7s National Championship, ASU players wore blue pinstriped ribbons on their jerseys for ALS awareness.
Huckaby died at age sixty-five on June 21, 2016. Dr. Patrick Stewart, who served as Huckaby’s assistant coach from 1999 to 2007, attested to Huckaby’s extensive effort in forging a successful team: “His work went well beyond the three practices a week with games on Saturday most every fall and spring weekend to include a host of unsung and often under-appreciated exertions,” said Stewart. “Rarely did the young men playing the games and the fans on the sideline see the effort he put into coordinating games and travel, arranging scholarships and developing relationships with the University, providing advice both legal and personal, and often just listening to the concerns and woes of players with careful empathy.”
For additional information:
Morris, Sarah. “Huckaby Remembered for Service to Others.” Jonesboro Sun, June 22, 2016.
Stewart, Patrick. “College Rugby Mourns Curt Huckaby,” Goff Rugby Report. http://www.goffrugbyreport.com/news/college-rugby-mourns-curt-huckaby (accessed November 9, 2016).
Garland County Historical Society
Last Updated: 11/16/2016