XZero Heroes: Ryan Faulkner, UCA Polar Bears

When his plan to play college baseball threw him a curve ball, University of Central Arkansas senior Ryan Faulkner found another way to turn his dream into reality.

“I’ve been playing baseball since I was four years old,” Faulkner said. “[In my youth,] I won back-to-back championships in USSSA ball and earned All-Conference honors as the left fielder for Central Arkansas Christian High School. When I heard that UCA was holding open tryouts in 2015, I knew that I had to give it a try. I tried out as a pitcher, but ultimately didn’t make the team.”

Fearing the end of his baseball career, Faulkner found opportunity in the most unexpected of times.

“That was when I met Will Tucker,” Faulkner said. “He had tried out for the team as a pitcher, too, but didn’t make it, either. A week later, he approached me in the UCA College of Business and asked if I would be interested in helping start a club so that we could continue playing baseball. I said, ‘let’s do it.’”

That fall, Faulkner and Tucker created the UCA Polar Bears, a Club Baseball organization designed to give UCA students a second chance at playing college baseball.

“From the beginning, we knew that we wanted to be different,” Faulkner said. “While we still wanted to represent UCA, we wanted to be able to set ourselves apart from Bears athletics. After brainstorming, one of our members, Gunnar Bullard, came up with the name because he thought it could lead to some cool uniform choices for us. The rest was history.”

Together, Faulkner and Tucker spent the following year recruiting for the team and enrolling within the National Club Baseball Association. In 2017—the Polar Bears’ first official season—the team excelled, finishing one game shy of the National Club Baseball Association Division II World Series.

“In our inaugural season, we won the District VI – South conference and went to the district playoffs with only 15 players on our roster,” Faulkner said. “At the district playoffs, a NCBA representative pulled us aside and congratulated us on the success of the club. They said that a first-year club reaching the district championship game was both impressive and unprecedented. If you would have told us a year ago that we’d see this much success this soon, we wouldn’t have believed it.”

According to Faulkner, who pitches and catches for the team, the reception from UCA has been warm.

“The University has welcomed us with open arms,” Faulkner said. “UCA has been trying to make club sports on campus a bigger deal. They help us out a lot and are very open to the idea of club sports—adding both a men’s club volleyball team and an ultimate frisbee team as well. The school’s official baseball team is also on board and likes seeing us develop, too.”

As the team looks forward to its second season, the Polar Bears look to add more members as well as home games to grow their presence in the community.

“We’ve been working with UCA and Conway Parks and Recreation and are very excited for the opportunity to play home games in Conway,” Faulkner said. “We’re also hopeful about upping our roster to a full 25 players. For this team to be as successful as it can be, we need to get more guys on our roster. Next season, we’d like to win our conference to get back to the district playoffs. In the next couple of years, if we continue to have the success, interest and personnel, I’d like to hear about the UCA Polar Bears making an appearance in the World Series.”

Tucker graduated from UCA in May while Faulkner plans to graduate next year. In the future, he hopes for the organization to grow beyond his time at the University.

“When I graduate, I hope to leave this club able to grow and maintain enough interest to break off into both a division-one and division-two team,” Faulkner said. “I want to see this grow into more than just a two-to-three year thing. Baseball is supposed to be fun. We are a light, relaxed organization. We want to compete with a good attitude, do things the right way and have fun. At the end of the day, we’re all about giving people the opportunity to play baseball.”

For more information on Ryan Faulkner and the UCA Polar Bears, including joining the team, visit www.facebook.com/ucacb.

2017 UCA Polar Bears Top row from left to right: Grayson Cole, Charles Tucker, J.B. Brazeal, Zach Hull, Will Tucker, Aaron Davis, Connor Betz and Christian Ewing. Bottom row from left to right: Peyton Traywick, Chris Wilcox, Ryan Faulkner, Brad Foster. Not pictured: Gunnar Bullard, Garrett Taylor, Chase Wilson, Jose Perez.

Each day in Arkansas, many athletes are overcoming the odds and accomplishing great things in their community. XZero Sports wants to recognize the brightest stars in central Arkansas athletics by sharing their stories for the world to enjoy. Nominate your XZero Hero today at www.xzerosports.com.

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© 2016 by Mark Oliver