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Lifelong Dierks Outlaws earns recognition after more than 40 years on the field

FATHER AND SON. The late Archie Cothren and son Archie ‘Cotton’ Cothren, together before officiating a state championship football game on Dec. 4, 1987.

By John Balch

News-Leader staff

Dierks native Archie “Cotton” Cothren has been selected as part of the 2024 class of the Arkansas Officials Association Hall of Fame in recognition of more than 40 years of officiating college and high school football games.

Cothren, 66 and a 1976 graduate of Dierks High School, said he knew early he wanted to start officiating football games after watching how much his dad, legendary ref Archie Cothren, enjoyed it and went on to a 57-year officiating career that once stood as an actual world record. (The world record was later broke by a 58-year ref from Little Rock.)

The elder Cothren was inducted in to the AOA Hall of Fame in 1996, officiating his first game in 1938 and wrapping up in 1994.

“I always knew once I graduated from college I would start officiating and I’m sure glad I did because it’s been a lot of fun,” Cotton told the newspaper.

Cotton is very familiar with the football field, having played tight end and tackle for the Outlaws and then on to four more years with the Ouachita Baptist University Tigers. As a senior, Cotton helped the Outlaws to a state title in 1975 and to bring home what he claims is “the first football star championship trophy like it in Howard County.”

Cotton called his first game in 1982 – a preseason match between his Dierks Outlaws and Fountain Lake. “It sure felt funny to be out on the old field and watching the plays go by without getting involved,” Cotton laughed.

The Cothren father and son worked together on many occasions, including a state championship on Dec. 4, 1987, which was Cotton’s first title game.

The son was also able to make it to his dad’s final game in 1994.

Like it was yesterday, Cotton recalled it was a rare Saturday night game between the Outlaws and the Idabel, Okla., B-team. Cotton was then officiating college ball on Saturdays and he and his crew were working a 2:00 kick-off at Henderson State University. Once the game ended in Arkadelphia, Cotton headed to Ayers Field and arrived in time to work the final game with his dad.

“That really was something special for me and him to be on the field together that game,” Cotton said.

Cotton said there have been highlights aplenty during his career, thus far, but he said he is not done yet. He and his longtime crew, umpire Steve Collins, referee John Duncan, lineman Craig Cole and back judge Scott Wright have a full schedule this fall, starting Aug. 30. The crew has worked three state championship game since 2015.

Cotton is unsure if he will try to chase down his dad’s former world record, but he will always keep in mind his father’s feelings about the importance of high school sports. “I heard my father say on many occasions that the American high school athlete won Word War II for us,” he said. “No matter the sport they played – just knowing how to participate was important.”

COTTON AND HIS LONGTIME CREW. (From left) Cothren, umpire Steve Collins, referee John Duncan, lineman Craig Cole and back judge Scott Wright. The crew has worked three high school state championship games since 2015.

Cotton also shares his father’s feelings about getting young people involved in officiating.

“We need more officials,” he said. “We need younger people to starting getting into this and learning because we are an aging group. You can be a football official. It’s work but it’s very rewarding.”

Just how long does Cotton plan on running up and down the fields across Arkansas? “As long as I can step out on the field, I will do my best.”

“Each time I step on the field, I represent my former high school teammates, my college teammates and the other officials I’ve work with and I take a great deal of pride in that.”

Cotton will be inducted in the AOA Hall of Fame July 12 during a ceremony at the Hot Springs Convention Center.

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