to be enshrined
in Arkansas HOF
By Tom Williams
Chaney High School graduate Ron Calcagni, a quarterback for three seasons in the Canadian Football League, has never seen the inside of Youngstown’s Covelli Centre.
He never witnessed the Youngstown SteelHounds (2005-08, Central Hockey League) skate or the Youngstown Thunder (2007-09, Arena2 Football League) catch passes.
But he has an appreciation of the efforts it took for those minor league teams to operate. In between his football coaching jobs, Calcagni served as the President of Marketing for Arkansas Sports Entertainment.
At that time, the Verizon Arena in North Little Rock, Ark., was home to the Arkansas Twisters (2000-09) of the now-defunct Arena2 league and the Arkansas Riverblades (1998-2003) of the ECHL.
“The one thing I learned from working in those sports is that it cost a lot of money to run those franchises,” said Calcagni, who compiled a 23-4-2 record as a starter when he attended the University of Arkansas from 1975-79. “Hockey is a very, very expensive sport. The arena football team helped us get through [the economic challenge].”
Since leaving Youngstown, Calcagni had a very successful college career, played in Canada and coached for the University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and the XFL’s New York/New Jersey Hitmen.
“That league sure didn’t work out very well,” Calcagni said.
Arkansas has been his home since his coaching adventures ended. Tonight, he and 11 others will be inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame at a ceremony at the Statehouse Convention Center in Little Rock.
When he received the phone call notifying him of his induction, Calcagani said he was “real excited but humbled.”
Calgani, who just turned 58, earned all-Ohio honors at Chaney. Niles native Bo Rein recruited him to go to North Carolina State, but then Rein took a job on Frank Broyles’ staff at the University of Arkansas. He persuaded Calcagni to follow him to Fayetteville, Ark.
“So positive, full of charisma,” said Calcagni of Rein, who died in 1980 in a plane crash shortly after being hired as the head coach at LSU. “He was just full of enthusiasm.”
Calcagni became the winningest Razorbacks quarterback. As a junior, he led Arkansas to a 31-6 upset of No. 2 Oklahoma in the 1978 Orange Bowl. It was the Razorbacks’ 11th win of the season.
Arkansas went 9-2-1 during his senior season. Undrafted by the NFL, Calcagni moved north and had a three-season career with the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes and Ottawa Rough Riders.
He then turned to coaching. His college stops also included the University of Tulsa and the University of Houston
He was a member of Bob Stoops’ staff when the Oklahoma Sooners were national champions in 2000.
Today, Calcagni is a physical education teacher and football coach at Pulaski Heights Middle School in Little Rock.
“More than 20 years after I graduated, I finally decided to put my degree to use,” said Calcagni, saying he was ready for some job security.
“Really, there are two types of coaches — those who have been fired and those who are going to be fired,” Calcagni said.
Being a “role model and father figure to young kids who need someone is very rewarding,” he said.
A resident of Conway, Ark., Calcagni and his wife, Carol, have two children: daughter Danielle, 27, and son Chase, 22.
“He’s following in his father’s coaching footsteps,” said Calcagni of his son, who his a graduate assistant for the Central Arkansas program.
His one regret about tonight’s ceremony is that his deceased parents — Patrick and Louise — won’t be there.
“I wish they could be here to share in this,” Calcagni said.
His siblings will be present, including two from the Mahoning Valley with their spouses — brother Jim and wife Debbie, and sister Patty Gizzi and husband Phil.
His younger brother Mark, who lives in Arkansas with his wife Jackie, will attend.
“He followed me to Arkansas to play football,” Calcagni said.