Neece’s teammates rallied around him, family

Many of Neece's former teammates and coaches gathered for dinner with him April 15.

Many of Neece’s former teammates and coaches gathered for dinner with him April 15.

Former ACU football letterman Doug Neece (’93) of Albany, Texas, will be remembered Tuesday at a memorial service in Abilene. His Wildcat teammates were a part of his family, and they made sure they didn’t wait too late to remind him of it.

More than 30 of them gathered April 15 to celebrate their friendship with the 43-year old Neece, who has battled cancer since Oct. 1, 2014, and died last Friday, Nov. 13. He was presented with an ACU football helmet and a signed letter from his teammates. An excerpt:

Neece was recruited to play running back for the Wildcats after earning high school all-state honors in Edmond, Okla.

Neece was recruited to play running back for the Wildcats after earning high school all-state honors in Edmond, Okla.

“Doug, I recently heard the true meaning of the word TEAM. The true meaning is FAMILY. It means brothers. It means sacrifice. It means laughter and it means pain. It means to lift when the other can’t. It means to kneel when the other needs the higher place. It means tears, it means prayer and it means memories – old and new. It means struggles and it means triumph. It means the arms to your left and the arms to your right. It means the steps taken before you and the feet behind you to catch you if you fall. It means a bond unbreakable, together forever and unconditional. Team means family. Team means love. Doug, we gathered here as a Team. Not just coaches, staff and players but as a real team, your team, members of a body so much stronger than most will ever know. We gathered for you as your family and we love you with all of our heart. We are here to lift and encourage, to laugh and to pray, to be there in your trials and to rejoice in your triumphs. Let this helmet remind you of all the battles your team fought with you and know there is never a war we won’t gladly fight again at your side.”

Neece played from 1989-92 for the Wildcats.

Neece played from 1989-92 for the Wildcats.

Those present included John Bunton (’94), Mike Chapman (’93), Tim Chapman (’93), Bryan Clark (’94), Joseph Crook (’93), Scott Dillon (’94), Chris Fanelli (’93), Mike Fuller (’92), Todd Hardy (’95), James Hunter (’98), Eric Herm (’96), Craig Jones (’93), Lance Landry (’94), Brian McCormick (’93), Dale McKinnon (’95), Robb McKinnon (’91), Matt McMillon (’92), Hurley Miller (’93), Joey Nanus (’90), Jason Patterson (’92), Oscar Shorten (’93) Cory Stovall (’94), Brian Thomas (’93), Rusty Whitt (’94), David Wright (’93), and former coaches Bob Shipley (’84), Jerry Wilson (’71) and Mark Wilson (’84).

Two of Neece’s sons play football for state-ranked Albany High School, which advanced to the Class 2A Division II state title game last year and is once more in the playoffs. The night his father died, Drew Neece, a quarterback, threw five scoring passes – and led his team to touchdowns on its first six possessions – in an emotional 54-17 win over Haskell. Dax Neece plays defense for the Lions, whose season continues Friday night against Van Horn in Midland.

Read Neece’s full obituary here. Survivors include his wife of 21 years, Kim (Bartee ’95); sons Drew, Dax, Brooks and Bennett Neece; his parents, Art and Jane (Berry ’65) Neece; and brothers Greg Neece and Brad Neece.

His memorial service will be 2 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 17, at Beltway Park Church – North Campus (2850 Texas Highway 351, Abilene, TX 79601).

Perfect match: Alums form cancer-fighting duo

Students register for the Delete Blood cancer donor drive in McGlothlin Campus Center.

More than 600 registered this fall for the Delete Blood cancer donor drive in McGlothlin Campus Center and other locations in Abilene.

Earl Young (’62) doesn’t take no for an answer. Or at least not well.

Then again, when you’ve already twice beaten the odds I’m talking crazy odds, like being struck by lightning while winning the lottery you’re probably not quick to accept others’ ideas of what can and can’t be done.

Boone is the radio-TV voice of the Wildcats

Boone is the radio-TV voice of the Wildcats

The man who won an Olympic gold medal at age 19 as a rising junior at Abilene Christian University also, thanks to a life-saving bone marrow transplant, beat leukemia more than half a century later. His chances of accomplishing each? One in 22 million. Young has been the catalyst behind the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities’ national swab drive to register marrow donors. It began Nov. 2 and continues through Nov. 13. ACU, as the instigating institution, got a head start with its campaign Oct. 29 Nov. 2.

If Young is the inspiration, the perspiration has come from Dr. Jan Meyer (87), ACU’s dean of leadership development. The CCCU initiative grew out of Young’s lap around an oval of Church of Christ-affiliated universities last school year when he engineered drives at Lipscomb University, Harding University, York College and Oklahoma Christian University, all culminating with an event at ACU in April.

But that barnstorming would never have happened without the brainstorming Young did with Meyer.

After joining forces with the Dallas office of Delete Blood Cancer, an international non-profit promoting marrow donor registration, Young made it his mission to grow the global database of willing donors from its total (at the time) of less than 25 million. The first target? His alma mater.

Young wanted to bring DBC to ACU for a swab drive marrow registration requires only a quick, Q-tip sampling of cells from the inside of the cheek and the sooner, the better. He approached me about the idea in the summer of 2014, stating his preference to have it that September. Seemed simple enough. But with a school calendar set months in advance and my hectic broadcast schedule conspiring against his desire to fast-track the plan, Young settled for April 2015.

But sprinters don’t sit back.

Getting wind from a friend that ACU and Meyer were hosting student development leaders from other Church of Christ-related schools in October, Young made a move. He asked me to connect him with Meyer, whom he hadn’t met, so he could request an audience with those university leaders. The two became fast friends and teammates.

In Meyer, Young found a fellow cancer survivor and a kindred spirited spirit. After months of tests for a variety of confusing symptoms, Meyer was diagnosed with stage 2 colon cancer in January 2000. Nine months, 20 chemotherapy sessions and one nearfatal infection later, she was still standing but in a different place.

“Our family knows cancer,” says Meyer, whose parents, brother and sister have all battled the disease. “We’ve lived it. We’re survivors. And when we look around and see people who don’t make it, we live with even more purpose and passion.”

Though the two-day conference schedule was already full, Meyer squeezed Young in. His message fell on fertile soil. Soon, many of those campuses began hosting swab drives with Young carrying the baton. It didn’t take long to produce results. Within two months of the drive at Lipscomb, three people who registered were identified as matches for cancer patients needing a marrow transplant.

The relay continued. Oklahoma Christian’s president emeritus Dr. Mike O’Neal suggested Young connect with CCCU, of which OCU and ACU and about 180 other universities worldwide are members. CCCU president Shirley Hoogstra, J.D., invited Young to share his vision with the council’s dean of students conference in June. With the endorsement and encouragement from ACU executive vice president Dr. Allison Garrett, CCCU agreed to have its member schools representing more than half a million students host drives during this 12-day period in partnership with Delete Blood Cancer and Young’s newly formed foundation known as Earl Young’s Team.

ACU’s drive, staged at the McGlothlin Campus Center, residence halls and the Oct. 31 home football game, crossed the finish line with 617 registrations. Added to the 599 who swabbed and signed up during the April event, ACU, led by Young and Meyer, has now been responsible for adding more than 1,200 to the international donor registry four of whom have already been contacted as matches.

When Meyer emailed the steering committee with the final tally, Young replied, “This is terrific. The largest percentage of any school we’ve worked with!”

Meyer answered, “We love you and want you to be proud of your alma mater.”

As you might guess by now, Young isn’t slowing down. He is now working with the Southland Conference to have its member schools host swab drives next semester and has his sights set on other conferences and the NCAA, itself, in addition to schools, churches and corporate America. And he’s using Meyer’s strategy for the ACU drives as the model.

Two ACU alums, diagnosed with a disease a decade apart, teaming up to help save others in the same situation.

“That’s why this is important to me in the same way it is to Earl,” Meyer says. “Paying it forward.”

“We’re kids of the King,” says Young. “That means we go big!”

Which means if he finds out you’ve read this story, there’s a reasonably good chance Young will ask you to host a drive at your place of work, worship or community. And the Olympic sprinter’s track record suggests he can run, and you can’t hide.

The Bookcase: Along the Way

With this post, we begin The Bookcase, an online series allowing readers of ACU Today a look at books authored, compiled, edited, illustrated or photographed by Abilene Christian University alumni, faculty, staff and students, as well as those produced by ACU Press and Leafwood Publishers, Abilene Christian’s two imprints. It expands on what we publish in each printed issue of the magazine.

We hope you enjoy the content and share it with others!

Conversations about children and faith draw us close to the heart of God. Among the people of God, these talks are justifiably nuanced and passionate. The authors of Along the Way lead everyone in the church – parents, grandparents, teachers, friends, ministers and leaders – in careful yet understandable dialogue about nurturing children spiritually. Along the way, we discover how the individuality of each child and the distinctiveness of their context call us to see each child’s walk with God as a unique journey of discovery. We also learn that sharing these paths with children changes and blesses us at least as much as it does them.

  • Dr. Ron Bruner (’10 D.Min.) is executive director of Westview Boys Home in Hollis, Okla. Decades of experience, scholarship, ministerial leadership, and life with his own children and grandchildren inform his understanding of children and faith. He has a B.S. in business from Oklahoma Christian University and an M.A. in ministry and D.Min. from ACU.
  • Dana (Kennamer ’81) Pemberton directs the nationally recognized teacher education program at ACU. While a passionate researcher on children’s spiritual development, she is “Teacher Dana” to the children (and young adults) at her home church. She has B.A. and M.Ed. degrees from ACU and a doctorate from The University of Texas at Austin.

ISBN 978-0-89112-460-3 • $19.99 •

ACU Press and Leafwood Publishers serve Abilene Christian University through publishing scholarly work, faith-building resources and regional books.

Learn more about books authored or edited by ACU alumni, faculty, staff and students in The Bookcase in ACU Today magazine’s latest issue:

Rare football game reboot set for Sunday

Wildcat rushing star Jimmy Hirth

Wildcat rushing star Jimmy Hirth

It takes a lot to postpone a scheduled college football game.

For the first time Saturday in 57 years, the Abilene Christian University Wildcats did not play as intended, with record-breaking rainfall and flood warnings as the culprits.

A two-day downpour in Central Texas has dumped upwards of 20 inches of rain in places such as Corsicana. San Antonio – where ACU opponent University of the Incarnate Word is located – saw a one-day rainfall record of more than 3.53 inches with up to 3 more inches possible.

The deluge has thrown a Texas-sized wet blanket over UIW’s Homecoming weekend. It also was enough for the Alamo City to, well, close the Alamo – it is Founders Day today – as well as major tourist attractions Seaworld, Six Flags Fiesta Texas and the local zoo.

UIW postponed men’s and women’s soccer matches and the university – whose Benson Stadium for football sits, elevation-wise, well below its main campus – decided to throw in the towel and agree with ACU officials to try again tomorrow in what could be the first Wildcat football game to be played on a Sunday.

Kickoff tomorrow is set for 2 p.m., assuming the remnants of Hurricane Patricia don’t cause even more problems; forecasts call for up to another foot of precipitation for the region.

Even bone-dry Abilene has seen more than 5 inches of rain in the last two days.

The last time an ACU football game was cancelled by weather was Sept. 21, 1957, when Commerce was hit hard by a four-hour downpour just before game time. The contest between ACU and East Texas State (now known as Texas A&M-Commerce) was mutually agreed upon by Wildcat athletics director A.B. Morris and Lion head coach J.V. Sikes to be cancelled because of risks to the “health of the players” and “damage to stadium equipment,” according to Abilene Reporter-News sportswriter Fred Sanner. The game was not rescheduled.

“Saturday’s cancellation shouldn’t have happened to anyone,” wrote Sanner, “unless it was the four game officials who tucked away their checks and drove home to spend the evening in a dry living room.”

Even more unhappy than the wet writer were the two chartered busloads of alumni from Dallas arriving just before kickoff, “only to find that the game had been called off and that the ACC team had returned to Greenville,” reported Sanner, who also cited the misfortune of family members of a player who had drove from Wichita, Kan., to Commerce, only to be disappointed.

The 1957 Wildcats finished 5-3-1 for head coach N.L. “Nick” Nicholson, including a win over North Texas and losses to Florida State and Southern Mississippi. They were powered by Jimmy Hirth (’59), who was ACU’s second leading career rusher when he graduated – and was inducted in 2001 to his alma mater’s Sports Hall of Fame.

The most well-known rescheduled ACU football game was in 1963, when the Wildcats and Fresno State University Bulldogs postponed their Nov. 23 matchup because of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy the day before in Dallas. The game was played instead on Nov. 30, with ACU winning 32-29.

10 Questions with Broadway actor Ben Jeffrey

Fred Berman as Timon and Ben Jeffrey as Pumbaa are as close off the Broadway stage as on it.

Fred Berman as Timon (left) and Ben Jeffrey as Pumbaa are nearly as close off the Broadway stage as on it in their performances in The Lion King.

One of Abilene Christian University’s most accomplished young graduates is Ben Jeffrey (’06), who has played Pumbaa in Broadway’s The Lion King since 2010. Jeffrey will be performing a one-man show, 1,700 Miles to Broadway, on Nov. 10, as the fall semester Lights Up! event to raise funds for the Department of Theatre.

Jeffrey has played Pumbaa in "The Lion King" since 2010.

Ben Jeffrey

What can someone in the audience expect from your one-man show at ACU?

First and foremost, I think they can expect a lot of fun. We love theatre because it’s many things; it teaches us, it moves us, it inspires us, but just as importantly, it’s fun! So I’m going to sing some of my favorite songs and tell some of my favorite stories about my experience on the great white way. Whether you’re a veteran theatre-goer or you’ve never seen a live show before, I think there’s going to be something there for everyone.

How did the idea for it – and the theme of 1,700 Miles to Broadway – get started?

I’ve actually been wanting to return to ACU for quite some time. My wife has never been, and so much has changed since I was there. However, while it’s possible to get time away from The Lion King, it’s not always easy, and the timing has never worked out. But this summer I went to see After Zoey, which was written by professor of theatre Adam Hester (’77) – it was divine – and while I was catching up with him, I told him I’d love to come back to ACU sometime soon. A few weeks later, Dawne (Swearingen ’95) Meeks called me because they were looking for a way to kick-start this semester’s Lights Up! fundraiser for ACU Theatre. The Lion King let me off for a few days, and we started planning a cabaret show.

The title and theme actually came about while I was making travel plans. On a whim, I Googled the distance from ACU to New York City (1,730 miles) and it got me thinking about how far I’ve traveled – geographically, intellectually, spiritually – since I was a freshman theatre major. That journey was facilitated in no small part by the education and support I received at ACU.

Now, I get to make the 1,700-mile trip back, and hopefully bring some of my favorite things about Broadway to the university and department that gave me so much, and that still hold a very dear place in my heart.

After five-and-a-half years of performances as Pumbaa, how do you look at the role compared to when you first began playing it in 2010?

It’s so strange, because we learn all these skills to bring a character and story to life, and they’re invaluable. And when I first started in the role, that process was exhilarating. Discovering who Pumbaa is, what drives him, what matters to him, why he has a good story to tell – that was thrilling. After more than 2,000 performances, the goal is the same: to keep re-creating that first time energy and feeling, as though I’m still telling the story for the first time. The process is a little different, because I know the show so intimately now. So instead of figuring out the show (like we did when we were first learning it), now we are constantly looking for new ways to keep the show fresh, alive and true to the story we’re telling. One of the reasons it’s lasted so long on Broadway (it’ll be 18 years on Nov. 17) is that it has a creative team and cast who refuse to become sedentary and succumb to mediocrity.

At 45 pounds, Pumbaa’s costume is reportedly the heaviest in The Lion King. How have you adapted to wearing it?

It’s no secret that Pumbaa likes to break actors. He even broke me in my first year, and I was out of the show for three months getting knee surgery. I’m actually grateful to Pumbaa and the surgery, because they forced me to take charge of my health. I lost weight to take the pressure off my knees, and have made the gym part of my job. Now, I still get sore and tired from time to time, but I’m able to lead a pretty active lifestyle in addition to the show.

Does Pumbaa’s onstage friendship with Timon (played by Fred Berman) translate to an off-stage one as well? 

If Fred ever reads this, he’ll probably make fun of me, because I’ll get all sappy about him. I hope everyone is lucky enough to work with and share a dressing room (or office or cubicle or whatever) with someone like Fred Berman. We joined the cast together, so we’ve been sharing a dressing room for five-and-a-half years. While it’s true we often fight like an old married couple, I consider myself very lucky to say that Fred is indeed one of my closest friends. He also is hilarious, and is a large part of the reason the show never gets boring for me.

Are you successful at leaving Pumbaa’s makeup and costume at the Minskoff Theatre at the end of the day, or does your wife, Christina, think you take any part of the character home with you?

Christina often tells me that I “Have a little Pumbaa” behind my ear. I think I’m pretty good at leaving work at work, but work, in the form of grease paint, doesn’t always return the favor.

You have performed as Babkak in Aladdin, another Disney stage musical on Broadway. How did that opportunity come along and what was it like?

That was a crazy experience, and I haven’t had that much fun in a long time! The usual Babkak was injured, and the guys who cover his role were already needed to cover other roles. I’d done some of the first readings of Aladdin when they were workshopping it to figure out if they would bring it to Broadway. They called me on a Tuesday and told me they wanted me to learn the show in a week and then go into performance! I buckled down and worked as hard as I could, and the cast and crew were more supportive than I could have asked for. In fact, when I had my “put-in rehearsal” (where I do the show in full costume, makeup, and sets, etc., but the rest of the cast doesn’t have to wear full costumes), the cast all made The Lion King costumes to welcome me into Aladdin. I didn’t get to spend a lot of time there because, fortunately, the fellow who played Babkak was able to heal quickly and return to work. Perhaps I’ll go back one day, but for now, I’m just grateful I got to perform in the show and meet that wonderful group of people.

Do you see yourself doing musical theatre for a career or exploring other forms of acting?

I love theatre and musical theatre, and they’ll always be my first love, but there’s a whole different kind of fun (and a slightly different set of tools) to use when you’re acting for the camera. I will be grateful to have a career acting in any medium.

Jeffrey portrayed Horton the Elephant in Seussical, the 2005 Homecoming Musical during ACU's Centennial Celebration year.

Jeffrey portrayed Horton the Elephant in Seussical, the 2005 Homecoming Musical performed during ACU’s Centennial Celebration year.

What did you learn during your time in ACU’s Department of Theatre that still resonates each day?

There’s a very long list, but here a few highlights.

If had to pick one central theme I picked up from ACU, it would be that theatre is an act of service. It’s not about showboating. It’s not about getting famous or rich. It’s not a highlight of the self; in fact, it is a letting go, a giving away, of self. In a way unique among the fine arts, we make the word flesh with our whole selves, our bodies, our minds, our voices, our spirit. As soon as you take that gift, that service, and make it about yourself, you’re missing the whole point of what good theater is. When people come to see a performance, whether it be The Lion King or 1,700 Miles to Broadway, my hope is that they leave with something they didn’t have before; and a part of that something will be a little piece of me.

I also learned, just as importantly, that you should be nice to everyone, all the time. There’s no reason to not be nice, ever. It’s easy. Just be polite. They call that being a grown up in the world. The stage hands, the dressers, the musicians, the ushers, the stage managers, the porters, all of them enable you to do what you do as an actor. So be grateful. They work just as hard (often much harder) than you do, and nobody is clapping for them at the end of their workday.

But most of all, I learned from my instructors by watching how they lived their faith as opposed to talking about their faith. What I’ve found in my career (and life) is that people don’t need me to tell them about Jesus very often. They don’t need to hear about how they’re sinning, or why what they believe doesn’t make as much sense as what I do, or even about how Jesus loves them no matter what they do or who they are or where they come from. They don’t need me to talk about that stuff. They probably need me to live it. They need me to be supportive when they’re hurting. They need to know I can be loyal and kind and trustworthy, regardless of what they do. That beautiful group of teachers at the ACU Department of Theatre almost never talked about that. They were too busy showing it to me by living it.

What’s your “elevator speech” to someone who asks about the ups and downs of your professional career since marrying and moving to New York City?  

After ACU, I went to Rutgers University in New Jersey (at the time, it was one of the top five schools in the country for a master’s degree in acting). I graduated from Rutgers in May 2009. I married in October 2009, and Christina and I moved to New York that November.

[ As a side note, I tell people it’s not a good idea to get married and move across the country to a horrible apartment in Brooklyn with no money, no jobs and no friends nearby. That’s a very bad idea. ]

When I got to New York, I had seven years of higher education in acting and almost no skills in any other job. I ended up working at Starbucks, which is a great company, but it’s a horrendously tough job in New York, and the cost of living is so high that a paycheck at Starbucks just doesn’t cut it to live. But it was all I had. I worked there for four months. Three months in, I called my dad because I was so depressed I couldn’t see straight. I said, “Dad, I have a master’s degree, and I’m making yuppies their lattes. I’m supposed to be more than this.”

And he said, “Well, Ben, I agree, you’re supposed to be more than some guy who makes lattes. The thing is, you already are. Working at Starbucks (or anywhere else) doesn’t give you your identity. You know where your identity comes from. And you can be everything you were ever meant to be, and still work at Starbucks. I don’t think you’ll stay there for long, though.”

What my dad was getting at was that I identify myself as one of God’s kids. If I really believe that, then I believe that being God’s kid is enough. I can work at Starbucks, as a garbage man, as a Broadway performer or as a contractor, and none of them would tell me who I am. You can’t identify yourself by your art. You are much bigger than what you do.

The rest of the story is that about three weeks after I talked to my Dad, I booked two television shows. A week later, I booked The Lion King.

Read the profile of Ben in ACU Today magazine’s Spring 2011 issue:

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.