Religion and diplomacy do mix, Casey explains

Shaun Casey

Dr. Shaun Casey

It’s not often a career theologian finds work in the U.S. State Department, much less credits former Abilene Christian University professors for inspiration, but Dr. Shaun Casey (’79) is not the typical government employee.

On leave from his academic post at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., the former Optimist sportswriter works for John Kerry in the State Department’s Office of Religion and Global Affairs.

He brings a wealth of knowledge and practical experience to a part of the government seeking to better understand how religion and politics affect diplomacy between the United States and the rest of the world.

Casey is Kerry’s special representative for religion and global affairs, and explains what he does in this Q&A in the latest issue of ACU Today magazine:


April Anthony honored by health executives

April Anthony 400x400 96 editFormer Abilene Christian University trustee April (Bullock ’89) Anthony continues to earn accolades for her business success and leadership.

The Dallas resident recently received the sixth annual Innovator Award from the Healthcare Leaders Conference, an event attended by the top venture and private equity investors and CEOs from healthcare services and health information technology sectors.

It “recognizes outstanding operating executives, who as CEOs have made a dramatic impact on the success of their individual companies in terms of value creation; the implementation of sector-shaping business models and innovative business practices; culture and team-building; and their individual/organizational impact on the overall healthcare scene,” according to the conference website.

Previous recipients include Sen. Bill Frist, a nationally recognized heart and lung transplant surgeon and former U.S. Senate Majority Leader.

Anthony is founding CEO of Encompass Home Health and Hospice, named the No. 1 large company in the Dallas Business Journal’s 2014 “Best Places to Work” rankings. The publication’s 12th annual report highlighted companies placing an emphasis on those that establish competitive employee compensation plans, embrace tolerance and flexibility, and support innovation and ideas.

“This latest distinguished award is a great testament to April’s stellar career as a thought leader in her industry, marked by her business expertise, ability to build relationships and cutting-edge, innovative practices,” said ACU president Dr. Phil Schubert (’91).

 Anthony also is founding CEO of Homecare Homebase.

Home and Away: Collums returns to Conway

Ken Collums leads his team Saturday into familiar territory.

Ken Collums leads his team Saturday into familiar territory.

When Abilene Christian University rejoined the Southland Conference and the prospect of the football team eventually visiting University of Central Arkansas became apparent, Ken Collums figured he’d be on the sideline. The real question was, “Which one?”

Boone is the radio-TV voice of the Wildcats

Boone is the radio-TV voice of the Wildcats

In December 2013, Collums had just led ACU to a 6-5 record in his second season as head coach, having served the previous seven as the team’s offensive coordinator under his brother-in-law, Chris Thomsen (’00 M.Ed.). The record, itself, wasn’t so much to write home about until you consider it had been the Wildcats’ first year in NCAA Division I. It proved ACU could compete at a higher level. With rumblings that an on-campus stadium was imminent and high-profile opponents like Fresno State University and Air Force Academy were added to following seasons’ schedules, Collums had reason to be confident.

Ken CollumsThat’s when mama called.

UCA, Collums’ alma mater, was in the market for a head coach after Clint Conque bolted for Southland rival Stephen F. Austin State University; and director of athletics Brad Teague wanted to see if one of the program’s favorite sons was interested in coming home to take over.

“It was a full-blown interview,” Collums says. He wasn’t looking to leave ACU but UCA wasn’t just any offer. “That’s where I spent 12 years of my life.”

Collums had arrived on the Conway, Ark., campus from Vernon, Texas, as a freshman quarterback in 1991. He became the starter six games into the season because of an injury to the first-string signal caller. All he did was lead the Bears to the NAIA national championship, capped by a snow-blown 19-16 victory over Central State (Ohio) University in the title game. He went 32-14-1 in his four years in Conway, during which time he met the woman he’d marry, Robyn – a native Arkansan – and after which he became a graduate assistant and then assistant coach for UCA.

Collums led the Bears to a NAIA Division I national championship.

As a freshman, Collums directed the Bears to a NAIA Division I national championship in 1991.

As Collums was beginning his coaching career in Conway, Thomsen was on a similar track at ACU. Having married Collums’ sister, LeAnn – UCA’s Homecoming queen during that 1991 championship season – the Thomsens, who’d first met in Vernon, moved to Abilene. That’s where Chris, after matriculating at TCU and a brief stint in minor league baseball, finished his final season of collegiate playing eligibility at ACU and then became a G.A. and then assistant coach. In 1998, Thomsen coaxed Collums to ACU where he became the quarterbacks and wide receivers coach for then-head coach Jack Kiser (’71). But when Gary Gaines replaced Kiser, neither Collums nor Thomsen was retained.

It so happened that UCA also made a head coaching change during that offseason. Conque was their choice, and, though he didn’t know Collums personally, he offered him the chance to come back to Conway to coach his quarterbacks. Shaking Abilene’s dust off their feet, Ken and Robyn went back to Conway. Within two years, Ken was promoted to offensive coordinator and helped Conque revive the Bears program and build the foundation for the university to ascend to Division I in 2006.

Collums also returned a favor to his brother-in-law, bringing Thomsen to UCA as an assistant. But their do-si-do between Abilene and Conway didn’t stop. In 2005, ACU hired Thomsen, a former All-America tight end for the Wildcats, as its head coach; Collums was his first recruit. And his toughest.

“Abilene was in our rearview mirror,” says Collums. “I didn’t want to come back.”

He wasn’t alone.

Ken Collums

As a starting quarterback, Collums led his UCA team to a record of 30-8-3.

“We had two small children (Anna and Layne, at the time ages 3 and 1),” Robyn Collums remembers. “I told Ken, ‘I’m not going. I don’t know how you’ll see the kids, but the three of us are staying here.’ ”

Ultimately, Thomsen sold Ken on the chance to make their decade-long dream of creating a Christ-centered football program a reality. And they did, resuscitating a program that for 30 years had only experienced success in dribs and drabs into a steady stream of offensive explosions, playoff appearances and conference titles – all while mentoring and modeling to their players what it means to be men of God.

When Thomsen left ACU to join the coaching staff at Arizona State University after the 2011 season, Collums was the obvious choice to replace him. But because of his roots, he also was an obvious candidate for UCA’s vacancy in 2013.

Collums interviewed, then waited for an offer that never came. UCA instead went outside the family, hiring Steve Campbell, who had won a Division II national title as head coach at Delta State University before spending 10 years at Mississippi Gulf Coast College.

“I look at it as a blessing,” Robyn Collums says, “because it would’ve been a very tough decision. And we didn’t have to make it.”

But it did add an extra element of intrigue to an already emotional experience last November when Collums coached against his alma mater for the first time. Despite missing seven starters due to injury, including quarterback Parker McKenzie, ACU routed UCA, 52-35, to dash the Bears’ hopes of a conference title.

“For some reason,” Collums says, “God had his hand on the Wildcats that day.”

Saturday will be the first time Collums has been on the visiting team’s sideline at UCA’s Estes Stadium.

“This is very weird,” he says.

Collums has now been associated with ACU one year longer than the dozen seasons he spent at UCA. As Robyn prepares to go back home, she can’t help but reflect on the different state her family is now in – emotionally and geographically.

“Ten years later,” she says, “those kids are 13 and 11, and we wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

The feeling for ACU football fans is mutual.

Collums' team upset Central Arkansas last fall at a neutral-site game in Plano, Texas.

Collums’ team upset Central Arkansas last fall at a neutral-site game in Plano, Texas.

ACU Remembers: Dr. Leroy Garrett

Leroy Garrett by Kim Leeson 400x400 96Noted scholar, author and church historian Dr. Leroy Garrett (’42) of Denton, Texas, died Sept. 29, 2015, at age 96. A memorial service will be held at Singing Oaks Church of Christ tomorrow at 10 a.m.

He was born in Mineral Wells and married Ouida Pitts in 1944. She died in 2010.

Garrett was the author of books including The Stone-Campbell Movement: The Story of the American Restoration Movement, What Must the Church of Christ Do to Be Saved? and his autobiographical A Lover’s Quarrel: My Pilgrimage of Freedom in Churches of Christ. For more than 70 years, he was known widely for espousing unity among Christians. He published the Restoration Review journal from 1952-92 and traveled to more than 30 nations during his seven decades of ministry.

He earned a bachelor’s degree from Abilene Christian University, and graduate degrees from Southern Methodist University, Princeton Theological Seminary (Th.M.) and Harvard University (Ph.D.). He was a professor of philosophy at MacMurray College in Illinois, Bethany College in West Virginia, Texas Woman’s University, and Bishop College in Dallas. In retirement he was an adjunct professor at Richland College in Dallas, Dallas Christian College and the University of Dallas. He also directed a Lilly Endowment project to teach philosophy to gifted high school students.

Garrett’s final address at Abilene Christian’s annual Summit was delivered in 2013; he was the event’s opening theme speaker in 2008. He received a Change the World Award from ACU in February 2006 during his alma mater’s Centennial Celebration and was a generous contributor to student scholarships benefitting the Partnering in the Journey Campaign.

He served on executive committees of the World Convention of Churches of Christ and the European Evangelistic Society, and he received Pepperdine University’s Distinguished Christian Service Award in 1993.

A resident of Denton for 53 years, he was a member of the Singing Oaks congregation.

He donated most of his papers to ACU’s Center for Restoration Studies (search the center’s database here) and his body was donated to The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

Garrett was preceded in death by his wife, Ouida; his parents, B.J. and Annie Garrett; five brothers; one sister; a son, Philip; and a daughter, Phoebe. Among survivors are a son, David Garrett (’81), one grandson, two great grandsons, and a brother, William J. Garrett.

Browning twins reined supreme for 47 years

When freelance photographer Jeremy Enlow arrived in Lamesa, Texas, to shoot images of two famous girls’ volleyball coaches for ACU Today magazine last fall, fans in Follis Gymnasium treated him like royalty.

The word on the streets of the West Texas town was not that Patty (’67) and Tippy (’67) Browning were coaching their final home match but that a university magazine was coming to town to help chronicle the 47-year career of twin sisters who are nearly beyond compare. Enlow, who shoots images of a lot of ACU Wildcat teams each year, said Lamesa fans packed the stands for the match against rival Lubbock Estacado High School.

The Brownings, who are profiled in our latest issue, retired soon afterward, leaving behind a stellar record: their Golden Tornado teams won 937 matches, made nearly 30 appearances in the state playoffs and captured a Texas 4A state championship. Averaging more than 20 wins a year for nearly five decades was more than enough to earn the sisters’ co-induction to the Texas Girls Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

Freelance writer Scott Kirk (’78), who covered more than his share of high school sports during a fine newspaper sportswriting career, writes our profile of the Browning sisters and the community that loves them.

Students have the chops to back Temptations


(Front row, from left) Abigail Kellogg, Ann Lawson, Mary Potts and James Nix. (Back row) Jordan Morris, Grayson Hancock, Cedric Dario, Geoffrey Driggers and Noah Hancock.

When the legendary Temptations perform a concert Sunday night in the Abilene Civic Center, its horn section will be powered by a considerably younger set of musicians, all of them Wildcats and most young enough to be Otis Williams’ grandkids.

Time stands still for no one, even Williams, now 73 and the only original member of the group still performing with it. But the Temptations’ iconic music – like “My Girl” and “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)” – still proves timeless for fans who flock to hear them harmonize and see their velvet-smooth choreography, a testament to the beat that defined a generation of Americans more than 50 years ago and ushered in the era of pop music.

Temptations concert promoOriginally known as the Elgins, the Temptations were a product of Berry Gordy Jr.’s Motown Records label in Detroit, Mich., and one its flagship acts, along with the Four Tops, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, the Supremes, and the Jackson 5, among others. Motown’s glory days were the 1960s and 1970s when some of the world’s most popular music was recorded in a small house/studio on West Grand Boulevard.

The Temptations’ wide-ranging music styles – ballads, rhythm and blues, psychedelic soul, funk, disco, and rock and roll – provide a challenge for the nine undergrads and one alumnus invited to play such a key role in the concert.

“This is such a great opportunity,” said professor of music Dr. Steven Ward (’92), who helped choose some of the music department’s strongest students from among the Jazz Band, Orchestra, Jazz Ensemble, Wind Ensemble and Concert Band. All but one is a music major and the other majors in biochemistry.

The group includes sophomore Mary Potts and senior Abigail Kellogg (alto saxophone); sophomore Anna Lawson and Guy D. Gamble (’73) (tenor saxophone); junior James Nix (baritone saxophone); juniors Cedric Dario and Grayson Hancock, and sophomore Jordan Morris (trumpet); and sophomore Geoffrey Driggers and sophomore Noah Hancock (trombone). Nix is the lone biochemistry major.

Potts said her parents didn’t believe the news at first. “They kept asking, ‘THE Temptations?!’ After the initial shock, they were so excited, especially my grandparents. That was their kind of music. I’ve always loved Oldies music and I never ever dreamed of having this opportunity so it feels pretty amazing. I still can’t really comprehend how cool this is.”

Driggers admitted his parents were “a little freaked out at first” to hear of his participation. “Playing in this gig makes me feel like an actual professional musician,” he said. “Of course, I’m very honored to be chosen, too. The whole thing is sort of a self-esteem boost.”

“My saxophone teacher played with the Temptations in 1969 when he was my age,” said Kellogg, “so when I told him that I’m playing for them he was floored because his career is coming full circle with me.”

“The students were mostly excited at first,” Ward said. “When the book of music for the show arrived, its size was a bit intimidating but we’ll have had four rehearsals by the time Sunday arrives, and they’re doing great.”

“The biggest challenge so far has been the music,” Driggers said. “It’s difficult, range-wise, in several places. It’s also been hard not to brag to everyone I know that I get to play with the Temptations. People tend to stop hanging around you as much when you do that.”

Kellogg said she liked how “hip” the Temptations’ music has remained through the years.

“It’s not like stuff you hear on the radio now,” she said. “Don’t get me wrong; I jam to Taylor Swift but there’s something about the vibe a funk or Motown group can get that a solo artist can’t create as easily.”

Ward said most of the students had not played all the styles of music involved in the concert but several can draw on valuable experience in the house band at Sing Song. Still, they will have just one rehearsal with the Temptations and their rhythm section on Sunday before the concert that night.

Ward said he played with some amazing jazz artists when he was a student, including Ernie Watts of the former Tonight Show Band, L.A. studio musician legend Steve Houghton and jazz trumpet icon Jon Faddis. “Those experiences changed my life as a musician, but I didn’t get to do anything with a group as internationally known as the Temptations,” he said.

The Temptations’ have charted 32 Top 10 pop and R&B albums, 23 Top 10 R&B singles, won three Grammys and received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013. Rolling Stone magazine ranks them 67th among its 100 Greatest Artists of all time. Six members of the group – including Williams – were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989.

ACU’s director of orchestra and bands said the opportunity is remarkable but not unprecedented.

“It just continues a great history at ACU of giving our students the best possible experiences we can,” said Ward.

Purchase tickets here for the 7:30 p.m. Sunday concert by the Temptations in the Abilene Civic Center. 

Abilene A to Z books to help needy children

Abilene A to Z 5x4 96

ISBN 9780891123965

A new children’s publication from Abilene Christian University Press is designed to acquaint youngsters with Abilene history and culture, and for a limited time, you can contribute to help put books in the hands of several hundred local kids from low-income families.

Abilene A to Z is co-authored by Glenn Dromgoole and Jay Moore (’94), two local writers who may know Abilene better than just about anyone today.

Dromgoole is a former editor of the Abilene Reporter-News who is co-owner with his wife, Carol, of the downtown Texas Star Trading Co. book and gift store at 174 Cypress St. He is founder of the West Texas Book Festival and the author of more than 20 books. In 2013, he was named Abilene Outstanding Citizen of the Year.

Moore is a native Abilenian who teaches history at Abilene High School. He is the author of Abilene History in Plain Sight and producer of a similarly named popular series of videos about local history. He was named Outstanding Teacher of the Humanities for the State of Texas in 2013.

Through partnership with local service providers, ACU Press is working to distribute Abilene A to Z to low-income families and kids in our area. The 64-page softcover book sells for $12.99.

“Through our Texas books, ACU Press celebrates and supports our local community. Abilene A to Z is a special to us because it allows us to promote our city to its youngest readers,” says Jason Fikes, director of ACU Press and Leafwood Publishers. “When the idea came to make Abilene A to Z available to low-income families, I knew – others would want to join us in promoting literacy across the area.”

For information about contributing to the program, call ACU Press toll free at 877-816-4455.

ACU Press and Leafwood Publishers are imprints of Abilene Christian University.

Doctor’s healing, help known around the world

The new issue of ACU Today magazine includes a profile of perhaps Abilene Christian University’s most accomplished professional from the field of medicine: retired Dallas gastroenterologist B. David Vanderpool Jr. (’52).

Vanderpool – whose career includes work on groundbreaking medical procedures and presidencies of the Texas Medical Association, Texas Surgical Society and the American Board of General Surgeons – received the 2014 Dale and Rita Brown Outlive Your Life Award in May 2014.

His longstanding philanthropic and medical missions work in Eastern Ukraine have been stymied since 2014 by Russian-backed separatists who rebelled against the central government and occupied several cities. More than 8,000 have been killed in the fighting and more than 1 million have fled to neighboring countries or are considered IDPs (internally displaced persons).

Read more about Vanderpool’s life and legacy as a Christian physician who heals and serves people in great need around the world, from Dallas to Donetsk.

Room at the Inn: Abilene hotels are booming

Abilene's two newest hotels are adjacent to each other, just north of Interstate 20 and near campus at Exit 288.

Abilene’s two newest hotels are adjacent to each other, just north of Interstate 20 and near campus at Exit 288.

More than one friendly joke about Our Fair City has been cracked during weeks like this, when the 109th annual pilgrimage of sorts takes place to the four-day Summit (or Lectureship, depending on your vintage).

It’s that time again, when large numbers of people arrive from across the nation and around the world, drawn to “Little Jerusalem” or whatever nickname by which you have come to know Abilene Christian University’s hometown.

Truth is, Abilene has come a long way since Summit was held, in part, in a circus-like Big Top tent on the parking lot north of Edwards Hall, in Bennett Gymnasium and other spaces on campus. Moody Coliseum and the Onstead-Packer Biblical Studies Building serve as the major venues for Summit these days. And the city whose population nearly doubled from 1950 (45,570) to 1960 (90,368) has grown to more than 120,000 in 2015.

Anecdotal evidence of the growth is everywhere, from sprawling housing developments north and especially south of the city; to six colleges, universities and technical schools; three nursing schools; two Wal-Marts and a third on the way; restaurants and a small growing army of food trucks; and a hotel building boom that startles even those who live here.

With the recent addition of a pair of new Marriott businesses near campus – Towne Place Suites and Courtyard by Marriott (a second in town) – Abilene now has 3,421 hotel rooms on any given night, and another 100 opening next year. No less than a dozen hotels and motels are at Interstate 20 exits near ACU, including Residence Inn by Mariott, Hampton Inn and Suites, and Holiday Express Inn and Suites, with more on the way.

Travel to Abilene each year generates $469.1 million in direct visitor spending, says Nanci Liles, executive director of the Abilene Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Abilene hosts 3.5 million visitors a year, with the highest number of guests coming from the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Houston and Lubbock. Sixty-eight percent travel here for leisure and 32 percent for business and conventions,” she says.

Summit and the West Texas Fair and Rodeo share top billing this week, but several of the other events generating significant tourism dollars each year include the Western Heritage Classic; Texas High School Rodeo State Finals; Texas 4-H Horse Show; Texas High School Powerlifting; ACU’s Sing Song, Summit and Homecoming; and the Texas Youth Bull Riders World Finals.

Abilene also is a frequent host for state high school regional playoff games in several sports, especially football each November and December.

The Village at Allen Ridge, a planned development announced by ACU this summer, could change the face of one corner of campus in the next couple of years, and add to the city’s bonanza of hotel amenities. Located at the intersections of Ambler Avenue, Interstate 20 and Judge Ely Boulevard, the 95-acre masterplanned, mixed-use development would be a super-regional shopping, leisure, hotel and residential village with an impressive amenity package including a cinema, a 50-acre park with trails, and waterfront outdoor dining on a small lake.

The site was previously the home of ACU’s historic Allen Farm and is just northeast of where the university has plans to begin constructing a new on-campus football stadium in 2016 as part of the $75 million Vision in Action initiative.

ACU chancellor Dr. Royce Money (’64) jokes that one of the major accomplishments of his 19-year presidency was helping lure Cracker Barrel Old Country Store and Restaurant to build a franchise on Interstate 20 near campus. Based on the crowds gathered there at mealtimes this week, it would be hard to envision Little Jerusalem’s boomtown today without CB’s wooden rockers on the porch and biscuits in the oven, not far from yet another bright shiny new hotel.

Rhode runners cross country to ACU

Hackett sisters

The Hackett sisters – Alexandria (705) and Michaela (706) and – compete in ACU’s home meet Friday. Alexandria won, helping the Wildcats best Texas Tech University.

Let’s get one thing straight before I tell you the tortuous tale of how a couple of pencil-thin identical twins from Rhode Island saved a women’s cross country season at Abilene Christian University: there is only a 50-50 chance I’ll get right who said what. In other words, far more likely than it ever was that they’d be here competing for first place in the first place.

Boone is the radio-TV voice of the Wildcats

Boone is the radio-TV voice of the Wildcats

When I interviewed Alexandria (Allie) and Michaela (Mickey) Hackett, junior cross country team members from Cranston, R.I., I was only smart enough to make an audio recording of the conversation; not to note which one was talking when, which was a mistake. Because unlike the freckle mark on Mickey’s right cheek (mnemonic device: mark and Mickey begin with m), their voices have no such distinctions.

To hear them tell it, neither did their cross country careers after one season at ACU.

hacketts face to face 500x300 96

Michaela and Alexandria Hackett

“I wasn’t serious about running,” says (I think!) Allie. “I was just kind of doing it for fun. Our performances weren’t that great.”

In fairness, neither were ACU’s expectations. Former cross country coach Chris Ward, having noticed their times in high school races, emailed the twins to invite them to campus. They’d never heard of Abilene Christian. But, incredibly, this lifelong East Coast family was relatively familiar with West Texas. Allie and Mickey’s aunt, Ellie, had married a Texan and settled in San Angelo nearly a decade ago. The Hacketts began taking annual trips there when Allie and Mickey were 11, having no idea the girls would eventually matriculate just 100 miles away at ACU. During one such pilgrimage, the family detoured to Abilene for an unofficial visit. Though they weren’t offered scholarships, Allie and Mickey fell in love with ACU and decided to leave the cooler climes and cozy confines of Rhode Island for life as an NCAA athlete in the wide open, flat-hot Big Country.

The Hackett sisters celebrate being Wildcats in the snow back home in Rhode Island.

The Hackett sisters celebrate being Wildcats in the snow back home in Rhode Island, where the twins earned all-state and academic all-state honors in high school, and 12 varsity letters apiece.

“We kind of had culture shock freshman year,” Allie recalls. “It took awhile for us to get used to it. It was really difficult. We were tired. We visited our aunt and uncle a lot on the weekends.”

In those first few months at ACU, that extended family offered the Hackett twins a pat on the back; from a teammate came a swift kick that landed a little further down. Fellow freshman Diana Garcia-Munoz, a native of Aguascalientes, Mexico, who was on scholarship, performed like it, finishing as ACU’s No. 2 runner that season. And the Hacketts couldn’t help but notice.

“Diana definitely helped me,” Allie says, “because I was just chasing her during the runs. I made a decision that I want to be good. I found a new love and passion for it.”

With that old flame rekindled, the Hacketts hit the road and put their home track and field advantage to use in the summer before their sophomore year.

“Living in Rhode Island,” says Mickey, “we could run in the middle of the day because it’s perfect weather. And there are hills, which are better for training.”

Cross country is an eight-week sport that runs from the beginning of the fall semester through the end of October. That schedule demands athletes train on their own and return to school in shape and ready to hit the ground running. In 2014, head coach Keith Barnier could quickly tell the Hacketts had and others hadn’t.

“They saved our season,” Barnier says unequivocally. “As walk-ons, they came back in better shape than some of our scholarship runners, which elevated the whole team’s intensity and expectations. Now they’re propelling us to new heights.”

The 2015 season couldn’t have begun any better. Literally. At the Libby Invitational hosted by McMurry University in Abilene on Sept. 4, the Wildcats scored a perfect 15 points by taking the top five positions and, for good measure, had the next two fastest finishers, too. Garcia-Munoz was first, Allie second and Mickey fourth.

Then Friday, Sept. 18, on ACU’s home turf (Sherrod Residential Park) and facing Texas Tech University and teams from three other schools, Allie broke out in front from the opening gun and never trailed en route to her first collegiate victory. Mickey finished fifth.

Garcia-Munoz, whom the Hacketts credit with inspiring them to improve, has seen the favor returned.

“They make me better,” claims Garcia-Munoz, the 2014 Southland Conference Women’s Cross Country Student-Athlete of the Year. “Allie made a huge improvement last year. This year, it’s been Mickey. I see how hard they work as walk-ons, and I know I have to work at least that hard.”

Michaela (left) and Alexandria (right) with their parents, Bettina and Jim.

Michaela (left) and Alexandria (right) with their parents, Bettina and Jim.

The Hacketts are working hard, on and off of their feet. Their renewed commitment to running last season meant tightening up their schedules. Up each morning to train at 5:30 sharp, bed by 9 p.m. (or 9:30 if they’re at their part-time job at the ACU Calling Center). Each is getting a double major in accounting and finance and on track in the College of Business Administration’s five-year program to earn a Master of Accountancy degree. Like the sport in which Allie and Mickey compete, theirs is a daily routine built on self-discipline that somehow elicits in them a most unusual feeling.

“It’s fun,” Allie says, “because we’re enjoying track now.”

Almost any activity is more fun when you’re good at it. ACU’s women’s cross country team is good this year and has a chance to get better.

“We want to keep going,” Mickey says, “because we know the potential we have.”

“We have two new freshmen, Carnley (Graham) and Aubrey (Till), and they’re definitely up there helping us out,” adds Allie. “We’ve improved and Diana’s obviously improved, and she’s right with us. We’re all in a pack.”

Unlike most ACU teams during this four-year transition period into Division I, cross country can compete for the Southland Conference championship because the winners in those sports do not automatically advance to the NCAA playoffs. That gives the Hacketts and their Wildcat pack something significant to shoot for.

With confidence rising at an inverse proportion to their race times, the sisters believe the team will improve on its seventh and fifth place finishes at the last two conference championships, respectively. Will they go as far as to predict victory? For once, these twins who frequently finish each other’s sentences, don’t have identical answers.

Allie: “We can definitely be top three.”

Mickey (in a smiling whisper): “We can win!”

Allie: “We don’t want to jinx it!”

Mickey: “We can win!”

Allie: “I think we have a shot.”

Mickey: “We’re gonna do it!”

Wherever the Wildcats finish, they will be better because of what the Hacketts have brought to the team. Garcia-Munoz rightfully remains the face of ACU women’s cross country. But if you look a little more closely at the program’s face – around the right cheek – you can tell that Allie and Mickey are making their mark.