Once a Bearcat, Always a Bearcat

We heard it when we came to Maryville for our interview. We heard it each time we visited campus before finally making the move to Missouri. We read it in congratulatory emails and texts. Without question, the Baker family was familiar with the phrase “Once a Bearcat, always a Bearcat” long before we actually moved to “The Ville.” 

It isn’t uncommon for a collegiate athletic program’s fans to say “once a _______, always a _______.” In preparing for this last blog, I Googled the phrase, trying to figure out where it originated. It apparently goes beyond sports. In my research, I found considerable biblical discussion on “once saved, always saved.” There was also some relationship websites with some lively discussion on “once a cheater, always a cheater.” I’ll leave that discussion alone! Ultimately my research couldn’t prove if Northwest was the first university to coin the phrase, but residents of “The Ville” don’t need evidence. In fact, you won’t convince anyone in Maryville that the saying didn’t originate with former Bearcat coach Ryland Milner. 

And this belief is exhibit ‘A’ on why Northwest is special. It is impossible to quantify the passion of a fan base. Does Nebraska, Alabama or Notre Dame have the most passionate football fans? I suspect that depends on if you are asking someone in Lincoln, Tuscaloosa or South Bend. Here is what I know, Bearcat fans are some of the most passionate I’ve experienced. Occasionally, I’ve tried to explain the passion to colleagues in athletic administration. The best way I can do that is simply to state facts. In a town of 12,000 and a county of only 23,000 we routinely put more than 10,000 in a football stadium and we will have crowds of more than 2,000 at basketball games. That’s a strong market share! We are one of a handful of D2 programs that don’t have to worry about avoiding scheduling games at the same time as D1 teams. I can’t think of one instance where I thought our crowd was affected by a game at Mizzou, Nebraska, Kansas or K-State. Honestly, I’d put the passion of Bearcat fans up against fans of any institution.

To Bearcat fans, there is nothing more big time than the young men and women clad in green and white. They arrive early (especially to tailgate) and stay late. They travel en masse. They live and die with every possession, drive, at-bat, etc. In what feels like a sea of corn fields, lies a University that has no equal in the hearts of our 70,000 alumni and friends. So there is a deep meaning when a Northwest fan says “Once a Bearcat, always a Bearcat.”

As my last day as an employee of Northwest nears, my family is thankful for our time here. Together, we have dealt with a lot and accomplished a lot during the past 26 months. Personally, Heather and I are thankful for the support system that exists in this community. It is a great place to live and raise a family. We are thankful for the athletics staff. Northwest has some of the best coaches and administrators in the country. We are thankful for the 400+ students-athletes who have taught me a great deal about excellence and perseverance. It is because of the tremendous group of coaches and student-athletes the future is brighter than ever for Northwest. We are thankful for each faculty and staff member, alumnus, community member and fan. You make Northwest what it is. Lastly, we are thankful for our time as Bearcats. Without it, we wouldn’t know the meaning of “Once a Bearcat, always a Bearcat!”

 

Remembering the Victims of Sandy Hook Elementary

I love the Christmas season.  I love everything about it.  I enjoy good food, catching up with friends and spending time with family.  I love giving gifts.  I start shopping months in advance.  Of course, I don’t finish that early.  No, I will usually finish up at the last minute like most Americans.  But I do start early.  Surely, I can get some credit for that.  I am especially looking forward to this Christmas.  My daughter is 17 months old and starting to figure out there is something fun in most of those boxes wrapped in paper.  I could watch her playing in the wrapping paper and throwing bows for hours.  Continue reading

The Joys of Fall

I love the fall season on college campuses.  There is such an energy and buzz.  It is especially noticeable in college athletics.  In the fall, everyone plans on competing for championships.  Each practice is spirited and competitive.  This fall has been a great one at Northwest.  Our soccer team is currently 7-3-2 (5-1-1 MIAA).  Women’s volleyball is 11-7 (5-1 MIAA) and football is 5-1 (4-1 MIAA).  Both of our tennis programs are having terrific fall seasons and women’s golf just completed its best fall season in program history.  Both of our cross country teams have done extremely well and are preparing to host the MIAA cross country meet right here in Maryville on Saturday, Oct. 20.  We would love to have you there! Click here for more info on the event. Continue reading

It Ain’t Over till it’s Over

Friday, I will visit Wren Baker.  I will turn in my keys and laptop computer.  My 13 years at Northwest Missouri State University will come to a close.  Wren is my boss and the athletic director at Northwest Missouri State University.  He’s my third boss in my 13 years at Northwest.  I will always be grateful to my first boss, Jim Redd, for hiring me in June of 1999.  Continue reading

High School Favorites

The life-blood of any college basketball coach is their relationship with high school coaches.  The toughest adjustment for me when I came to Northwest in 1999 was trying to establish solid relationships with Missouri coaches.

I had spent 15 years cultivating rapport with Nebraska coaches while the women’s basketball coach at Doane College.  I had a real feeling of comfort with most of the Nebraska girls’ high school coaches when searching the state for the top recruits.  In 1999, I had to start all over. Continue reading

It Ain’t My Fault, Man (Chico and the Man Sitcom)

The Little League baseball season is winding down.  There is less than three weeks left and then I go into the coaching closet once again.  Last week, I asked my son, Sam, to bunt.  Sam’s not a bad bunter and I thought he needed a little confidence at the plate.

On the first pitch, Sam popped the ball to the catcher.  His first at bat lasted all of one pitch.  It ended with a weak, little foul ball out.  As he headed to the dugout, Sam shot me a dirty look that would crack fine crystal.  I’m sure he was thinking, “It’s your fault, Dad, for having me bunt.” Continue reading

Scott’s Still With Us

            In April, the women’s basketball team ran the Bearcat Slam and Jam Youth Basketball Tournament.  One of the teams in the high school boys’ division was six or seven local kids that formed a team.  Not all played basketball last year and they coached themselves. 

            Blake McFadden, the great baseball pitcher from Savannah, joined the Maryville boys on the team.  I held my breath when the play got rough.  Blake will probably be drafted by major league baseball.  He’s also a really good basketball player. Continue reading

Remembering Coach Bostwick

It is unbelievable how fast a year goes by.  One year ago today, I woke up on a Sunday morning.  I had a few honey-dos to get finished.  My wife and I were expecting our first child in less than a month.  We had just moved into our home in Maryville and had been landscaping.  That morning I put on some grungy clothes and prepared to go purchase a pick-up bed full of mulch.  When I was gathering my things, the phone rang.  It was defensive coordinator and assistant football coach Rich Wright.  Before I could answer it, the call went to voicemail.  I grabbed my phone and wallet and headed for the truck.  When I got in the truck, I checked Rich’s voicemail.  He simply said “Call me as soon as you can.” Continue reading

Giving Back

Many people are aware of the incredible success that Bearcat athletic teams have experienced on the field and court over the years.  Sometimes we don’t do enough to recognize the many non-competition successes of our student-athletes, coaches and staff.  For instance, our student-athletes have consistently ranked in the top #2 of the MIAA in Academic Success Rate (ASR) as calculated by the NCAA.  We are amongst the nationally elite as well.    

Our coaches also emphasize community engagement initiatives.  A part of community engagement is giving back.  We believe that it is part of our responsibility to give back to our community and those in need.  Our student-athletes and coaches understand and embrace this responsibility.

With that in mind, our department embarked on some new endeavors this year.  In February, we hosted the Special Olympics district basketball tournament.  The Special Olympians enjoyed playing in collegiate facilities and the entire community joined in our efforts to make it a special event.  The group had such a good time they came back in April and we hosted their spring track and field games.  It was another very rewarding experience and one that we hope to continue. 

This Saturday many of our coaches, staff and student-athletes will join with others in the community to participate in and host the Nodaway County Relay for Life.  The event starts at 12:00 PM at Bearcat Stadium.  We are excited to partner with the American Cancer Society (ACS) and look forward to doing our part to find a cure for cancer.  The Relay for Life is the #1 fundraiser for ACS.  Each team agrees to have someone walking the track for a twelve hour period.  Cancer has probably affected everyone in some shape or form.  Hopefully, together we can find a cure for this terrible disease. 

For more information on the Nodaway County Relay for Life visit http://relay.acsevents.org/site/TR/RelayForLife/RFLFY11National?sid=128433&type=fr_informational&pg=informational&fr_id=39996

To donate to our athletic department team “Team Bearcats” visit this link http://main.acsevents.org/site/TR?team_id=1189191&pg=team&fr_id=39996

You are also welcome to come out and visit with our team.  In closing, these are just a few examples of how Bearcat athletics is affecting our community.  Let me also take the opportunity to thank all of you who support our student-athletes, coaches and Northwest.  Northwest is a special place and this is a special community.

How Many Ways Can I Say “Win!”

Vince Lombardi is always credited with the famous quote about winning.  It goes, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”  Lombardi, the late, great coach of the Green Bay Packers actually never made that statement.  I’ll bet a lot of football coaches credited him with uttering those famous words.

However, fear not Lombardi fans.  He danced around that quote any number of times.  Lombardi definitely said, “Winning isn’t everything, but the will to win is everything.”  Personally, I liked it when he said, “Winning is a habit.  Unfortunately, so is losing.” 

I never was big on locker room quotes.  I think the only quote I ever used on my teams in 33 years as a head coach was one by Walt Disney.  It was in a year when the team was going to travel to Disney World in Orlando, FL.  I didn’t put it in the locker room, but I used it in some publication for my players.

The quote was, “If you can dream it, you can do it.  Always remember that this whole thing started with a dream and a mouse.”  That’s what I call winning.  This guy grew up in Marceline, MO, which isn’t that far east of St. Joseph. 

Who knew the power of an over-sized mouse?  However, I do proudly claim to be a card carrying member of the Mickey Mouse Club.  I would wear those stupid ears just in case Annette Funicello came to Clatonia, Nebraska.  I would do anything to “win” over the early maturing Mouseketeer.

Zig Ziglar, the famous motivational speaker tried to piggy-back on what Lombardi had to say.  The quote attributed to Zig was, “Winning is not everything, but the effort to win is.”

In 1948, John Wooden was coaching at Indiana State University.  He invented a pyramid that contained 15 steps that he called the “Pyramid of Success.”  Can you name any of those steps? 

In the early 1970’s, Jerry Hueser was the men’s basketball coach at Kearney State College.  He was the basketball theory teacher when I was first learning the craft.  Coach Hueser actually read the book to us in class.  We had to memorize every step.

I am about to criticize the holy grail of basketball, but I always thought the “Pyramid of Success” was a little corny.  A few of the blocks in the pyramid are really obvious stuff like “Enthusiasm,” “Cooperation” and “Friendship.”  I know many coaches who are as enthusiastic as a cheerleader, cooperate with everyone, and is a friend to all who know him, but can’t win a basketball game.

Take for example the very first block on the pyramid, “Industriousness.”  What exactly does that have to do with coming up with a game plan to beat an MIAA team?  According to the dictionary, industriousness means, “hard working and diligent.”  Aren’t we all?

The last block at the very pinnacle of the pyramid, the great John Wooden puts, “Competitive Greatness.”  Tim Tebow says that means getting your team in the best position to win.  What bothers me about all these blocks and definition is you can’t buy them a Dick’s Sporting Goods.  I can’t even draw what they look like.

The Pyramid of Success is the Bible of basketball.  That’s why I’m sitting here at my computer checking the skies for any sign of lightning.  With all that in mind, John Wooden was quoted about winning, “Winning takes talent, to repeat takes character.”  I can wrap my hands around that quote.

Two of the greatest basketball players of our time have famous quotes about winning.  What does Bird and John Wooden have in common?  They both spent time on the Indiana State campus.  I relate to Larry Bird.  He has a big nose, he never could jump, and he wasn’t exactly a speed demon.  Those could all be said about my appearance and talent.  The difference was about 40% higher shooting percentage from Bird.  Oh yah, millions of dollars earned, too.

Larry Bird said about winning, “A winner is someone who recognizes his God-given talent, works his tail off to develop them into skills, and uses his skill to accomplish his goals.”  Bird should have built a pyramid.

I loved watching NBA basketball when Michael Jordon played.  There always was a chance you would see something that had never been done on the basketball court.  Michael certainly doesn’t build teams with his talents as is proof with the Charlotte Bobcats.  The president and part-owner of the Bobcats, Jordon led the team in a record low nine wins this year. 

However, he could talk winning.  Michael said, “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.”  I’m not sure what this means, but he also said, “There is no “i” in team, but there is in win.”

Knute Rockne was the master motivator.  Who really knows if he heard George Gipp, in his dying breath and leaning on one elbow and said, “I’ve got to go, Rock.  It’s all right.  I’m not afraid.  Some time, Rock, when the team is up against it, when things are wrong and the breaks are beating the boys, ask them to go in there with all they’ve got and win just one for the Gipper.  I don’t know where I’ll be then, Rock.  But I’ll know about it, and I’ll be happy.”

Rockne used those dying words to rally his team from a 12 – 6 halftime deficit against number one ranked Army to upset the military academy.  He also said, “If I know a gracious loser, I know a failure.”  That’s a little harsh on sportsmanship. 

Leo, the Lip, Durocher, played major league baseball for 20 years.  However, it was his 22 years as a major league manager that gained him the most notoriety.  He is credited with the famous quote, “Nice guys finish last.”

The Lip rejected that claim when he said, “I never did say that you can’t be a nice guy and win.  I said that if I played third base and my mother rounded third with the winning run, I’d trip her up.”   That’s my kind of quote.