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.
Last night, I drove through the fog to Baldwin City, KS, to Baker University. Although dark and foggy, I smiled. It was like a scene out of a movie, like going back in time and landing in Baldwin City, KS…..a town that appears to be from a time long, long ago.
You pass through a lot of farms, a lot of country, on your way to Baldwin……until you get to Baker University.
One could argue, intelligently, that, between Gardner, Baldwin and Lawrence lies the seeds of the creation of small college basketball in America. You see, it was Frank Cramer (from Gardner), Emil Liston (from Baldwin) and Dr. James Naismith (you know who he is, and he lived in Lawrence at the time) that came up with the concept of a national tournament for small colleges.
This was before the NCAA Tournament. Before the NIT. This was in 1936. The three of them met at Frank Cramer’s house in Gardner to talk about the creation of such a national event. In short, Dr. Naismith was the “name” behind the tournament, and he was very invested in the tournament. In fact, when he passed away, he left it in his will that the annual winner of the tournament be presented with the Maude Naismith Trophy, in honor of his first wife (she passed away before Dr. Naismith, and he remarried shortly before his death).
Frank Cramer was the local businessman who help support the tournament and was very excited about bringing such a tournament to Kansas City. Today, in 2013, the NAIA still presents the annual Frank Cramer Award to a person who has showed tremendous support of the tournament over the course of many years.
Emil Liston…..ahhh, Emil Liston, known as “Big Liz”…..he was the driving force behind the creation of the tournament. He was the Athletic Director and Basketball Coach at Baker University in Baldwin City. Ultimately, in great part because of his will and determination, America’s first National Collegiate Basketball Championship was held in March of 1937 at Municipal Auditorium in downtown Kansas City, MO.
There were only eight teams in that original tournament, and Central Missouri State Teacher’s College (now known as the University of Central Missouri) won the first tournament. Some may consider that more of a regional tournament, but the following year 32 teams were invited to Kansas City for the tournament. (Technically, only 31 teams showed up, as Western Kentucky wasn’t able to travel at the last moment). Again, Central Missouri State Teacher’s College won the National Championship.
By 1940, the schools organized and officially named the organization the National Association of Intercollegiate Basketball (the NAIB). By 1952, additional sports’ National Championships were added, and the organization changed names to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (the NAIA), as it stands today. As a note, there was discussion about naming the organization the National Association of Intercollegiate Sports…..making it the NAIS, as in the first four letters of Dr. Naismith’s last name, but his family members didn’t feel that this was necessary.
Backing up, Emil Liston, as the driving force that helped create, sustain and grow the tournament, was named as the Executive Director of America’s first National Championship. He can very well be considered the Father of Small College Basketball…….or in the least, the Father of the NAIA.
The story of the creation of the first collegiate basketball National Championship, which became the NAIB, which then became the NAIA, is told in great detail in National Title, by Danny Stooksbury (http://www.amazon.com/National-Title-Unlikely-Tale-NAIB-ebook/dp/B0049P1NTY). This is the most thorough compilation of the creation and the early years of the tournament that I have read, yet I may be a little biased, as I wrote the Foreward for the book.
Here’s a bit of additional information about Emil Liston:
Emil Liston’s bio on Wkipedia:
Emil Liston in the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame:
Emil Liston - Baker Hall of Fame
So I got to Baker University last night, and enjoyed a very exciting game and excellent atmosphere. The band played. The cheerleaders cheered. The fans cheered and were really enthusiastic. ……and the Baker University overcame a 20-point deficit to defeat their rival, Mid America Nazarene, 90-85.
It was a special night, as Dan Liston (very distant relative of Emil) spent the afternoon with Buck Farmer. As I’ve written about previously, Buck and his wife, Betty, have attended 67 straight NAIA Tournaments, missing only one game in 67 years (at least one of them, usually both, were in the stands for at least a portion of all of those games, except one). This means that they have attended over 2,000 NAIA Tournament games.
A couple of months ago, Betty passed away. Buck is now 92 years old. At the Farmer house, they have a room dedicated to the NAIA Tournament. It’s filled with signed balls, photos, game programs, awards, etc. Yesterday, Dan Liston took his first tour of the room, and then took Buck out to eat….and then down to the game.
It was quite fitting. It was Buck’s first time to a game at Baker University. At 92 years old, as one of the NAIA’s greatest fans, he came back to where it all began.
The public address announcer bellowed out a welcome to Buck Farmer. Baker President, Dr. Pat Long, visited with him and asked him is she could hug him (of course, that was a “yes”). Strangers came up to shake his hand.
After the game concluded, and the band stopped playing, it was Buck Farmer, one of the NAIA’s greatest fans, walking by the Baker Hall of Fame, with the stained glass photo of Emil Liston, the Father of the NAIA.
Yes indeed, it was a great night….and I’m glad that I was there to share that time with Buck Farmer, Dan Liston and Baker University community.
Anonymous asked: I'm currently starting to help my son research colleges as he will be entering HS next year. He has been a strong center on his club and varsity teams, well rounded and maintains a 4.0 GPA. I wanted suggestions on some on the smaller colleges worth looking into. He plans on double majoring in Business and English.
First, thank you for reaching out to Small College Basketball….and congratulations to your son on doing so well, both academically and athletically.
Since there are over 1,000 colleges and universities between NCAA Division II, NCAA Division III, NAIA, NCCAA and the USCAA, it’s a challenge to refer you to specific schools. With this, I would throw out a few notes and suggestions:
* There are many of America’s finest schools, academically, that compete at the small college level, athletically.
* I have written a booklet to assist high school student-athletes and their parents/guardians with the recruiting process. It’s very inexpensive, yet provides a great deal of information, including the many questions to ask yourself (as a student-athlete) to help narrow down the number of schools to schools that may be a good fit. The booklet can be ordered through my personal website at this link: http://www.johncmccarthyjr.com/Overview/Star-Athletes-Online.asp#.Up35uYmA0dU (As a note, this is within the Star Athletes Online portion of my website, yet is not a product of Star Athletes Online….it is written, personally, to assist student-athletes with the recruiting process.
* While I am cautious to name specific schools, here are a few examples of schools that have very high academic standards and are highly respected/regarded, plus have excellent men’s basketball programs: Washington University (St. Louis), Amherst (MA), Williams (MA), Bentley (MA), Middlebury (VT)…..and there are many, many others, yet these come to mind as good examples.
Again, thank you for reaching out.
I got out to watch the Benedictine game against Park last night. It was a non-conference regular season game on a Tuesday night, and it was cold outside.
Still, while it was cold outside, the gym was warm, and it just made me think about a few things…..
* I’ve always just loved being in a gym. It’s my comfort zone. I feel at home.
* Typically, I’ve found that I relate very well with people at basketball games. Clearly, there’s a common bond with the game. Maybe that’s it. Maybe that’s why I relate so well with people in the gym. Maybe it’s that simple: people that come to small college basketball games on a cold Tuesday night in a small town in Kansas have an obvious passion for the game of basketball, and we share that common bond.
With that said, the conversations often turn to many topics outside of basketball. Last night it was everything from football to lacrosse to family to home repairs and on and on.
* At the end of the night, the scoreboard showed that Benedictine won by 20. The Ravens played well and moved to 6-1 on the season (after defeating NAIA Division I #2 Oklahoma Baptist this past weekend).
After the game, I found myself talking with friends. Hanging out in the gym.
Basketball was what pulled us together last night. Basketball was the bond.
“I’ll be with her soon …” by John McCarthy | Jeff Pearlman -
Many thanks to an old college friend, Jeff Pearlman, for posting (onto his blog) a piece I wrote recently about Buck Farmer. Jeff has been a senior writer for Sports Illustrated, including multiple cover stories. He’s written multiple books, and is tremendously gifted as a writer and thinker.
I hope that you enjoy this piece…..