As I drove to Warrensburg, MO, last night, I had a whole bunch of thoughts running through my head.
I often thought about my friend, Larry Cowen. Larry & I both were at Lynn University (Boca Raton, FL) together. He was the Vice President for Development, and I was the Athletic Director. We hit it off right away. When he was considering the job at Lynn, I think that he visited three times (at least). Somehow, I got to go to lunch with him each time.
Larry had been a college basketball coach and Athletic Director at Plattsburgh State. He eventually moved into Development, and eventually he took the position at Lynn University.
To fast-forward, Larry eventually was named as the Vice President of Development at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg, and I was named as the Director of the NAIA’s Division I Men’s Basketball National Championship. From Boca Raton to Missouri, we both moved to the Midwest, only about an hour apart, within about a month or two of each other.
We saw each other multiple times. I took my son out to a football game at UCM, and he came into Kansas City and we went to grab some BBQ at the original Arthur Bryants. Then, one evening, Larry & I met in an Irish Pub in the new Power & Light District. He introduced me to a couple of proud UCM alums, Joe & Michelle Sweeney (who own Ingram’s magazine). We had a great night and a lot of laughs.
We talked a couple of days later, by phone, as he was on his way to the Kansas City Airport to pick up some folks. He had just come from a workout.
I had no idea that this would be the last time that I would ever talk to Larry Cowan, and that our time at the Irish Pub would be the last time I would ever see him.
A few days after we talked on the phone, Michelle Sweeney, of whom I had just met through Larry, called. She was very quick and very serious, asking if she could come see me —- right now. She came in and was frantic, telling me that Larry had just dropped dead. He was 49 years old.
As I drove into Warrensburg, I drove past that football stadium where I had taken my son. We enjoyed our time with Larry that day, and as I drove by this time, I missed my friend.
I also thought about the Maude Naismith Trophy. For some reason, I’m not sure that a whole lot of people understand the tremendous historical significance of this trophy. In short, the University of Central Missouri is America’s first college basketball National Champion. Whether you recognize the 1937 or 1938 National Champions as the first true National Champions (that were played through a tournament format, as opposed to a vote), Central Missouri State Teacher’s College (now UCM) won both of them.
In 1937, an actual trophy was not awarded to the National Champions. In 1938, however, the Maude Naismith Trophy was presented to the National Champions. Why the “Maude” Naismith Trophy? As you may (or may not) be aware, Dr. James Naismith, the Founder of Basketball, was one of three people credited with the creation of America’s first national basketball championship (along with Emil Liston and Frank Cramer). Naismith’s wife, Maude, had passed away during the 1937 and 1938 tournaments, and Naismith wanted to do something to keep his wife’s memory alive…..so he named the trophy after his wife.
It’s my understanding that, when Dr. Naismith passed away in 1939, he left in his will that the Maude Naismith trophy be presented to the National Champions each year. That tournament became known as the National Association of Intercollegiate Basketball (NAIB) in 1940, and then became the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) in 1952.
……and so, that trophy now sits in a bookcase at the University of Central Missouri….America’s first National Championship trophy in college basketball. Very, very special.
(Me with the Maude Naismith Trophy)
….and so, before the game, I enjoyed the opportunity to catch up with Jerry Hughes, the Athletic Director at the University of Central Missouri. He told me about the time that Ian Naismith, grandson of Dr. Naismith, came to speak at the school. He didn’t realize that they had the trophy. When he saw it, he cried.
….and then there’s the story about the time when Jerry “saved” the trophy, as the custodial staff had taken it out to the trash to be thrown away, accidentally. He saw it, and quickly retrieved it. How about that one? One of the game’s great pieces of history almost thrown away on accident?
….and then I saw Bob Boerigter, Commissioner of the MIAA, sitting in the upper deck by himself. I enjoyed sitting next to him for the whole second half. Since we are both former college basketball coaches, we really enjoyed watching the game together.
…..and for the game itself, it turned out to be a dandy. Fort Hays State came into the game at 7-0 and ranked #15 in the latest NABC Division II Poll. UCM was 6-1 and received one vote in that poll. During the second half, the game was back-and-forth, until Fort Hays State took a one-point lead….only to miss three-out-of-four free throws in the last minute, while UCM made two in a row….and the game went into overtime. In the end, Central Missouri scored 20 points in overtime and handed Fort Hays State their first loss of the season, 93-85. (Here’s the game story:http://www.ucmathletics.com/news/2013/12/5/MBB_1205135309.aspx).
As a note, the University of Central Missouri has an outstanding facility, and recently added the four-sided video board. When all of the seats are pulled down, the facility holds about 7,000. Very impressive facility.