Heroes. We all have them. Some people’s heroes are athletes, some government and world leaders. Others choose members of the military who defend our freedom. Some people’s heroes may be their parents or kids. I probably have heroes in all of those categories. For instance, I’ve always considered my grandparents as heroes. My ‘granny’ is just about perfect in my eyes. Always has been. It would be impossible for me to go into all the reasons I consider her to be a hero but suffice to say, I would not be where I am today without my grandmother. She has been a role model on how to live and is the most giving person I’ve ever known. I take great inspiration from her.
This week, I am taking an opportunity to tell you about another hero of mine. An individual that makes me proud to be in collegiate athletics. When I arrived at Rogers State University in the summer of 2006, there was a lot to be done. RSU had just completed initial seasons in baseball and softball but for the most part I was hired to start the athletics program. I was also the head men’s basketball coach and was charged with fielding a team from scratch in a year and a half. Recruiting to a new program is difficult. Players don’t know who their teammates will be. There is no tradition to sell. The player has to take a leap of faith and believe in the coach and institution.
The very first men’s basketball player to sign at RSU was Maurice Rutherford. Maurice was a quiet and unassuming kid but he played with heart and passion. He was a “pass first” point guard from Broken Bow, OK. It was only because I had been a principal at a school 30 miles away that I knew about “Mo.” Our team at Valliant (OK) was very good and lost to Broken Bow twice because we couldn’t stop Mo. When I brought Mo on campus at RSU, we had no offices. He wasn’t able to meet anyone from our department. I took him to the Claremore Expo Center to show him where we would be playing — and it was full of dogs, literally full of dogs. That day happened to be the day of a dog show in town. (I probably should have checked that out before taking a recruit there!!) All I could do was offer him promises on a vision to be successful.
Mo was unfazed. He signed at RSU a few weeks later. Maurice has battled through a lot of adversity. His family didn’t have much money. Often, he would work and send money back home. He also spent a lot of time helping take care of his little sister who is 4 years old now. He has battled back from a blown-out knee and medical redshirt to once again be the starting PG at RSU. A point guard who has never won less than 20 games in five seasons. In fact, the fledging basketball program has averaged a 23-8 record during Mo’s career. That’s a 74% winning percentage.
A little over a year ago, Maurice found out his mother had terminal cancer. She hasn’t been feeling well the past few weeks. Then another tough blow, a few weeks ago Mo’s dad had a massive heart attack and isn’t doing well. This is unfortunate for many reasons. Among them is that his parents can’t make it to Claremore, OK for the RSU men’s basketball Senior Day Thursday night. That night Maurice will celebrate a career that started on a leap of faith over five years ago. He will celebrate a career that has put RSU men’s basketball on the map. A career that saw the young athletic program win its first conference championship. He will be the first one in his immediate family to earn a four-year college degree this spring. He has developed into a campus leader and strong contributor to society. Senior Day at RSU this Thursday will be special for me. I will be there on the floor with one of my favorite players, people and heroes. I will be there standing on the floor with Maurice Rutherford. It will be a great privilege to stand alongside a champion on the court and in life. It makes me proud to be in college athletics and humbled to help honor one of my heroes.
Speaking of Senior Days, we are having our basketball senior day this Saturday at Bearcat Arena. Our teams will be playing Missouri Southern. As Bearcats, we will also have a chance to salute our fine senior student-athletes. On the women’s side Abby Henry, Shelly Martin and Tara Roach will play their final home game on Saturday at Bearcat Arena. All three played big parts in last year’s final four run. They have battled through a tough season this year and have continued to work hard. On the men’s side Kyle Haake, Jake Petersen and Jake Reinders will also be celebrated on Saturday. After some team struggles early in their careers, they have an opportunity to play for a MIAA title in their final regular season game. I hope to see you in Bearcat Arena on Saturday as we thank these student-athletes for what they have done for their program, University and community.