By Don Eskins
As a young girl growing up in Texarkana, Arkansas, Becky Thompson never quit dreaming big.
Thompson's dreams, along with a competitive spirit, would one day lead her to Carlsbad where she would become one of the Cavern City's most successful and celebrated women.
Recognized by most people in the Cavern City as a businesswoman, she is the former owner of Becky's A&W and the Carlsbad Sports Center.
But Thompson has proven over the years to be much more than just a businesswoman.
As an athlete, her exploits on the softball field have landed her an induction into the New Mexico Softball Hall of Fame. As a member of the 1961-62 All-American Redheads, a traveling women's professional basketball team, she's earned induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame, the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, the NBA Hall of Fame, and most recently, the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame
Through athletics, her ownership of Becky's A&W and the Carlsbad Sports Center, Thompson has also played a vital role in the development of Carlsbad's greatest resource- its kids.
For her success in athletics and for all the work and effort she's put into Carlsbad's youth programs, the city named a softball field after her at the Bob Forrest Youth Sports Complex in 2014.
And for the many young girls who play there each year her park has become for them, just as the fields she played on while growing up in Arkansas did for her, truly a 'Field of Dreams'.
An unfinished story
In 2012, when Thompson found out that she was going to be inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame, Carlsbad became excited. It's not the type of recognition Cavern City folks receive every day.
Shortly after her return from the induction, I visited with her for an article about the ceremonies which drew a host of NBA legends. Legends like Larry Bird and everybody's role model Charles Barkley.
But while discussing her induction, I became more intrigued about an unrelated story she shared with me. A story about her growing up in Arkansas, a story that helped me to better understand how she became the Becky Thompson that Carlsbad has come to know and love.
A story that helps bring to light just why her name hangs proudly over one of the Bob Forrest Youth Sports Complex's softball fields. A story that, until now, went untold.
Growing up without and sports
Thompson did grow up in Arkansas, alright, but not necessarily the way most people probably think.
"I grew up in Texarkana. We were very poor though, and we often didn't know if we were going to have enough food to eat," said Thompson. "For us those were very difficult times and doing without was something I had to learn to deal with."
Growing up without many frills, she often found refuge in her love of sports. If it had a ball she wanted to play it.
Baseball, because there were no softball programs for girls at that time, was always one of her favorites. But because money was tight at home, she often had to play in her barefeet and catch the ball with her hands. There was no money for a glove or shoes.
"My family was very athletic and all I ever wanted to do was play ball," she said as she reflected back on her life. "My mother played high school basketball in Oklahoma and my dad played baseball.
"My father was actually drafted to play professional baseball. But at the time his family was very poor, so he had to give up his dream of playing baseball to find work in the cotton fields near Texarkana to help support them," said Thompson. "After marrying my mother, he continued to find work there which kept us very poor."
Missing out on an opportunity to play professional baseball and not being able to get his family out of poverty led Thompson's father to begin drinking. As a result, Becky and her four sisters found themselves growing up, not only in poverty, but also in an abusive and stressful home.
However, after confronting her father about his abusiveness at just twelve years of age, life for Becky and her family began to get much better.
And as she began her eighth grade year in junior high school, little did she know just how much better. Someone was about to make a huge impact on Becky's life, an impact that follows her even today.
Life takes a turn
At the end of her seventh grade year in junior high school, Thompson asked the girls basketball coach if he would ever consider playing an eighth grader on his freshman team. The answer, absolutely not.
However, as an eighth grader her luck quickly changed, but for much more than just basketball.
"I'd heard that we had a new coach that year, coach Horace Broom, so I ran as hard as I could to find him. After locating him I asked him if he would allow me to play on his freshman team," she said. "All he wanted to know was how tall I was. After measuring me and finding out that I was 5'10" and just an eighth grader, he said absolutely yes."
Broom soon learned that Thompson wasn't the only member of her family who wanted to join his team. She had a twin sister named Rachel, and together they'd take the floor for the new coach for the next five years.
Becky soon learned though, that playing basketball for Coach Broom wasn't going to be easy.
"Coach Broom was very strict with me and, as a somewhat troubled kid, it was something that I had really never experienced before. He taught me how to become a much more disciplined person, something I needed badly in my life," she said. "And I know for a fact, without his guidance and encouragement during such a difficult time of my life, I would have never graduated from high school."
But Thompson gives her old coach credit for much more than just graduating.
"Everything that I am and everything that I've been able to accomplish in my life I owe to coach Broom," she said. "For me he was the father I never had."
"One day, coach Broom gave me a piece of advice that I've never forgotten. It changed my life," said Carlsbad's six-time Hall of Famer. "He frequently said to me, there's always room at the top Rebecca, reach for it."
And reach she did.
The Promise and the Redheads
Following her high school graduation Thompson, at eighteen years of age, decided to travel to the Cavern City to spend some time with one of her sisters.
"I wasn't sure what I'd find when I got to Carlsbad," she said as she looked back on her decision to leave Arkansas. "But when I left Texarkana, I promised myself that I'd never be poor again!"
Upon her arrival to the Cavern City she began to work as a car hop at the A&W Drive Inn, located on the corner of Church and Mesa, in order to support herself. It would prove to be a decision that would change her life forever.
"While working there, I learned that the All-American Redheads were getting ready to play a basketball game here in Carlsbad," she said. "I'd never heard of women's professional basketball before but the idea of playing professionally suddenly became very appealing to me. It was something that I felt I could do. Something that I felt I was really good at."
After attending the game Thompson approached the Redhead's coach to find out what she needed to do to become a member of the team. Impressed by her aggressiveness, confidence, and desire to play he quickly ran a background check on her through her former high school coach Horace Broom. A month later she was on his roster.
And it didn't take much longer for her to establish herself as the team's top player, a must for the Redhead's to keep on the floor.
"I was the team clown. Just about everything we did went through me and I loved it," said the former Redhead. "Being able to compete at a professional level in basketball and serving as a team leader left me with an enormous amount of confidence. It was an experience that I'll never forget."
During the year, as a member of the Redheads, Thompson traveled through forty-five states taking on and defeating men's basketball teams around the nation.
With the 1962 season successfully behind them, 1962-63 looked to be an even better one for the newest member of the Redheads. It was to be a season in which she would be featured as the team's centerpiece once again and a season in which she would receive another very good contract.
But for Thompson, life's fortunes were about to take another turn.
Reaching for the top
While Thompson gained a lot of recognition on the basketball floor as a member of the All-American Redheads it wasn't the only thing she did in 1961 that managed to attract a lot of attention.
"The owners of the A&W asked me to stay on and manage the Drive Inn for them. As their manage, they'd also pay me a very good salary," said Thompson. "But I was really looking forward to another year of basketball and had to say no."
However, after a little more coaxing and bargaining, she agreed to stay.
"We finally settled on an offer in which I'd manage the Drive Inn for two and a half years at which time I could purchase the business when I turned 22," she said. "They knew down deep that owning the Drive Inn was what I really wanted."
But there was also something else that Thompson wanted. Something very important to her.
"Because I'd grown up poor and never really owned much of anything, purchasing the A&W meant much more to me than just buying a business, it meant fulfilling a dream," said the former Redhead. "So, when I was finally able to purchase it I wanted to see my name up there to, I wanted it say Becky's A&W."
Becky would later also purchase the land that the Drive Inn, and what would later become the Carlsbad Sports Center, sat on.
Becky Thompson, a young entrepreneur at only nineteen years of age, was now on her way.
Giving something back
Although Thompson's legacy has continued to grow over the past several years she's never forgotten her Texarkana roots. As a result she's helped to improve the lives of many others who reside in Carlsbad, especially underprivileged children.
Over the years she has sponsored youth teams, coached and helped an untold number of kids through philanthropic acts of kindness.
As a coach at P.R. Leyva Jr. High a few years back, I often wondered why it was so important for Becky to allow us to purchase soft drinks for our kids at cost only, while always adding a few extra ones at no charge, to make sure that all of our kids had at least one.
And then there's the story about a young boy who frequently visited Becky's A&W, often showing up with only two or three cents in his pockets, just enough to purchase a hamburger, fries and a Coke.
And lets not forget about the many parents at Becky's Carlsbad Sports Center, who after stressing out over how to pay for two athletic shirts, were suddenly able to purchase one and get the second free.
There are many, many other stories out there about Thompson's kindness and willingness to help people and children in need.
Becky Thompson has never forgotten what it was like to be poor nor has she ever forgotten about the encouragement and direction she got from a coach named Horace Broom.
"I have seen a lot of Becky Thompsons out there," she said. "And I've always tried to help and encourage them as much I could. Just the way coach Broom did for me."
For Carlsbad kids, who may be growing up in a situation similar to hers, Thompson has this piece of advice for them, "There's always room at the top kids, reach for it!"
Still living her Dream
Thompson, who arrived in Carlsbad at the age of eighteen with not much more than a suitcase and the clothes she was wearing, has made the Cavern City her home for the past sixty years.
Over that sixty year span she has owned and operated two local businesses, invested heavily in Carlsbad's kids and been recognized locally, statewide and nationally for her athleticism by six different Hall of Fame organizations.
In 2018, Thompson was honored by her hometown. She was inducted into the 'Carlsbad Hall of Fame', not only for the recognition she has received as a great athlete, but also for just being Becky Thompson. Someone who has meant, and given back, so much to the community.
"Of all the Hall of Fames that I've been fortunate enough to have been inducted into, the Carlsbad Hall of Fame is the one that's the most special to me," said Thompson. "This city has meant everything to me and to be recognized by Carlsbad as a member of its Hall of Fame is such an honor."
"I love this place, this is my home. I was able to build a life here and along the way meet a lot of very nice people," she went on to say. "And after all these years it makes me feel really good when people come over to me to say hello, especially the kids I knew years ago who are all grown up now."
Becky continues to keep busy, as much as she can anyway. But the new norm has definitely put somewhat of a clamp on her lifestyle.
Thompson, who coaches a co-ed boys and girls basketball team at the First Baptist Church, could normally be found at this time of the year operating a concession stand for kids, parents and fans at the Bob Forrest Youth Sports Complex.
But not this summer, as the state has shut down summer youth programs due to the COVID- 19 threat.
Nevertheless, you can usually find her teeing up at the Lake Carlsbad Municipal Golf Course.
"I'm a people person," she said. "Sitting around the house all day isn't something I'm particular fond of. I really don't know what I'd be doing if it weren't for golf and all the friends I have there."
Becky Thompson continues to live every day to its fullest and at 78 professes that she's had a 'Wonderful Life.'
That life might be best described by a comment she made eight years ago after having just returned from her induction into the NBA Hall of Fame.
"My father had to give up his dream," she said. "I'm still living mine!'
Becky Thompson, an inspiration for all of us.