Stillwater Ran Deep: Coach recalls OSU days

ACU women’s head coach Julie Goodenough

Stillwater, Okla., wasn’t Julie Goodenough’s first rodeo.

But heading back there 15 years later to lead Abilene Christian University into a women’s basketball battle against against her former team, Goodenough admits the bull was bigger than she thought.

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“I honestly had no clue,” she recalls, “about the vast difference between coaching in the Big 12 and the American Southwest Conference.”

In April 2002, after guiding Division III Hardin-Simmons University to 188 wins, seven conference titles and six trips to the national playoffs, Goodenough left Abilene for the bright lights and big expectations of the Big 12 Conference. At 33, she was the youngest head coach in Division I.

“I loved my job at HSU and had not really thought about leaving,” Goodenough says. “When the opportunity to coach at Oklahoma State presented itself, I was so excited and unbelievably thankful. Based on my success at HSU, I was totally confident I could turn the OSU program around.”

Goodenough was head coach at Oklahoma State University for three seasons.

The OSU program had been led the previous 19 seasons by Dick Halterman, who directed the Cowgirls to a conference title and seven NCAA Tournament appearances when they were members of the old Big 8. But when that league merged with four Southwest Conference teams to create the Big 12, wins in women’s basketball were tougher to come by. Suddenly, those Big 8 schools were tangling twice a year in conference with coaching legends Jody Conradt of The University of Texas at Austin and Texas Tech University’s Marsha Sharp, each of whom had won a national championship.

OSU went 39-57 in conference games during its first six seasons of Big 12 play. Halterman was on the hot seat, which was set completely ablaze by a flaming Coale. Sherri Coale had lifted the archrival University of Oklahoma program from women’s basketball obscurity to national prominence. No Sooner had OU reached the NCAA Tournament championship game in 2002 than OSU made a change. Halterman out, Goodenough in.

It didn’t take long for her to realize what and where she had gotten herself into.

“I had never had even one full-time assistant in my career,” remembers Goodenough. “At OSU I hired a full staff of coaches and also support staff. Recruiting the entire country was also foreign to me. My recruiting area had mainly been a 250-mile radius around the Big Country. I was definitely learning my job day by day.”

She also was instantly managing a multi-million-dollar budget after nearly a decade of the coupon-clipping necessitated by the limited resources of Division III. And if anything, Big 12 competition had grown even tougher. By the time Goodenough got to OSU in 2002, Kim Mulkey had put Baylor University on the map of women’s hoops and would win a pair of national championships over the next decade.

“It was a great experience to coach against Marsha Sharp, Jody Conradt and Kim Mulkey,” says Goodenough. “You’ve got to be so prepared. There’s not much margin for error.”

Especially not in the world of big-time college athletics. Goodenough’s teams struggled to slay those giants of women’s basketball. And after three seasons, OSU made a change. Goodenough was hired at age 33 and fired before turning 36.

“It feels bad,” says Goodenough, “being told you’re no longer wanted.”

Turns out Goodenough was wanted, just by someone else. After a year off, she was named head basketball coach at Charleston Southern University, where she spent six seasons before being hired to lead ACU into Division I. In her five seasons with the Wildcats – four of them against Division I competition – Goodenough’s teams have won three conference championships. Her record here is 104-43, and overall she is closing in on 400 career coaching victories.

And for a second straight season, with ACU in its final year of being ineligible for the Southland Conference or NCAA tournaments, Goodenough has taken the Wildcats to the most prestigious postseason event possible, the Women’s National Invitation Tournament, and a date with – of all teams – those Cowgirls of Oklahoma State. It will be her first time inside Gallagher-Iba Arena since she was the OSU coach.

The memories have come flooding back this week as she returns to the place that made her a Division I head coach for the first time. Not all of them are good. But they are enough, personally and professionally.

“My family loved Stillwater,” Goodenough reflects. “Our daughters both accepted Christ and were baptized there. At OSU, I learned how to coach at the DI level and did so by coaching against some of the greatest women’s basketball coaches ever. I made tons of mistakes which have helped me become a better coach today.”

When the WNIT bracket was revealed late Monday night, Goodenough acknowledged the past to the cheering crowd assembled but celebrated the present.

“I will always consider it a privilege and a blessing to have coached in the Big 12,” she said. “I will tell you, though, currently I have the best job in America.”

ACU plays Oklahoma State in round one of the Women’s National Invitation Tournament tonight at 7 p.m. in Gallagher-Iba Arena in Stillwater, Okla. The game can be heard on 98.1 FM in Abilene or on

Angels and Demons: Clothed in righteousness

Northwestern State University head basketball coach Mike McConathy sports his P4X shirt.

For two-and-a-half hours on a recent Saturday, Mike McConathy was the worst dressed man in college basketball. The men’s head coach of Northwestern State University had arrived at Moody Coliseum decked out smartly in a gray sport coat with crossing purple stripes, black slacks and a dark mock turtleneck. But just before his team tipped off against Abilene Christian University, McConathy slipped on a bright orange, long-sleeve, moisture-wicking athletic shirt.

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He never looked better.

The front of the shirt bore three prominent characters that convinced McConathy, quite the character himself in his 18th year leading the Demons, to commit such a fashion faux pas: P4X, the name of the foundation benefiting from funds raised during that doubleheader between ACU and Northwestern State.

P4X originated as the rallying cry for Rex Fleming: Pray 4 Rex. The son of ACU associate director of athletics for media relations Lance Fleming (’92) and his wife, Jill, Rex was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor in November 2010. His two-year battle engaged innumerable supporters from among the extended ACU community, the city of Abilene, various corners of college athletics and the worldwide web via social media.

Jill, Rex and Lance Fleming

When Rex passed in November 2012, the Flemings wanted to find a way to assist and comfort families fighting pediatric cancer in the same way they had been blessed. So in 2013, they established the P4X Foundation, tweaking the acronym from pray for Rex to play for Rex. Through a series of promotional events over the last four years, the P4X Foundation has raised more than $200,000 and partnered with healthcare organizations where Rex was treated, such as Hendrick Hospice Care and West Texas Rehabilitation Center, to create spaces where families can congregate, regroup and find strength. The foundation also has made numerous gifts to individual families at places like Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth.

The idea to designate that aforementioned Saturday, Feb. 11, as P4X Day at Moody was hatched in January and came together quickly. It began with a conversation between Lance Fleming and ACU associate men’s basketball coach Brette Tanner, who volunteered to reach out to the Northwestern State coaching staff, many of whom he has known from his years as an assistant at Stephen F. Austin State University. Even though ACU’s athletics department moved forward with plans to recognize the P4X Foundation that day, NSU as the visiting institution had no obligation to participate.

Not only did both McConathy and his women’s basketball counterpart Jordan Dupuy verbally agree to be part of the program, they each put their money where their mouths were. Each NSU team enthusiastically accepting the invitation to wear specially made warm-up shirts with their team colors (orange with purple lettering) similar to the purple and white versions ACU players would wear. And despite the fact that neither coach has a personal connection to ACU – in fact, Dupuy is in his first season with the Lady Demons and was making his first trip here – both sought out Fleming courtside and wrote a personal check to the foundation.

McConathy, his eyes glistening while listening to Fleming speak of Rex and living to tell his story, even told NSU sports information director Doug Ireland and the Demons’ radio announcer Patrick Netherton they need to get a team together for the P4X Foundation golf tournament in Abilene on May 15. Don’t bet against it. This is the same coach who drove to Huntsville, Texas, to attend the visitation services of a woman he’d never met: the wife of Kooter Roberson, veteran play-by-play man for NSU rival Sam Houston State University.

In his explanation that faith and good deeds go hand in hand, James, the brother of Jesus, wrote, “Even the demons believe.” It’s true. I watched it happen.

Rex was a familiar face at ACU sporting events his whole life, here standing behind (from left) his dad, Lance, Chris Macaluso and Grant Boone.

ACU Remembers: Judge Jack Pope

Judge Andrew Jackson “Jack” Pope (’34), retired Texas Supreme Court justice and 103-year-old giant of Lone Star State judicial history, died Feb. 25, 2017, in Austin.

Services honoring his life today at Austin’s University Avenue Church of Christ were followed by his burial at the Texas State Cemetery. Flags across Pope’s beloved home state will fly half-staff March 3-7 in his memory, at the request of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

Pope was born April 18, 1913, in Abilene and graduated rom Abilene High School. He was a speech major who starred on the Abilene Christian University debate team, played intercollegiate tennis and was elected student body president. He earned his juris doctor in 1937 from The University of Texas at Austin.

He met Allene Nichols in Austin and they wed June 11, 1938.

Pope’s law practice in Corpus Christi with his uncle, W.E. Pope, was interrupted when Jack enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve during World War II. He served on military legal staffs in Corpus Christi; Washington, D.C.; and San Diego, Calif., returning to Corpus Christi following the war. He went on to serve as judge of the 94th District Court (1946-51), as justice in the 4th Court of Civil Appeals (1951-64), as associate justice on the Texas Supreme Court (1964-83) and as the 23rd chief justice (1983-85) in state history.

Hailed as “the father of Texas water law,” Pope served longer than any Texas Supreme Court justice, authoring what is believed to be a record 1,032 opinions across his distinguished career.

Chief Justice Nathan L. Hecht considers Pope a judicial icon. “His hard work, scholarship, common sense, humor and integrity are legendary. No Texas judge has ever been more committed to serving the rule of law and the cause of justice. He was my mentor, role model, counselor, and most especially, my friend. Texas has lost a great, great man,” Hecht said.

Pope was committed to law reform, initiating new procedures for handling grievances against attorneys, changing venue rules and promoting the Texas Rule of Judicial Education. He was responsible for helping bring computer technology to all state appellate courts, wrote the first Jury Handbook for jurors, sponsored the creation of the State Law Library, and helped draft the first Judicial Code of Conduct. In 1984, he helped implement Texas’ IOLTA (Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts) program, which provides free legal service in civil matters to more than 100,000 needy families a year. In 2012, Gov. Rick Perry signed the Chief Justice Jack Pope Act (HB 1445/SB 635) to honor Pope’s IOLTA work more than three decades earlier.

“He devoted his life not only to the efficient administration of justice, but also to ensuring that justice is available to all,” former Chief Justice Wallace B. Jefferson said. “Jack Pope will be remembered as second to none in the annals of Texas law.’

Pope is a beloved figure at Abilene Christian, where he served on the Board of Trustees from 1954-83. The interdisciplinary Jack Pope Fellows Program at ACU was established in 1989 after proceeds from a gala fundraising dinner in Austin created an endowment to teach students about public service in the classroom, allow them opportunities to attend special lectures, gain practical experience, and volunteer in community-shaping projects.

He received many honors, including the top alumni award at ACU and The University of Texas School of Law. The Texas Center for Legal Ethics, which Pope co-founded in 1989, gives an annual Chief Justice Jack Pope Professionalism Award, presented to an appellate lawyer or judge who epitomize the highest level of professionalism and integrity. In 2010 the judicial section of the State Bar of Texas presented Pope with its inaugural Judicial Lifetime Achievement Award. On April 18, 2013, Pope was honored by the Texas House of Representatives with a ceremony at the capitol recognizing his 100th birthday, including the passing of a resolution in his honor.

He was preceded in death by his parents, A.J. and Ruth Taylor Pope; and his wife of 66 years, Allene.

Pope is survived by two sons, A.J. Pope III (’63) and his wife, Carla; and Allen Pope (’65) and his wife Karen; three grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

Memorials may be made online to ACU’s Jack Pope Fellows (or mailed to Gift Records, ACU Box 29132, Abilene, Texas 79699-9132). The Summer-Fall issue of ACU Today magazine will have more coverage of Pope’s life and influence.

Halbert-Walling Research Center opens

FROM LEFT: Board chair Dr. Barry Packer, Kathy Halbert, David D. Halbert, president Dr. Phil Schubert, sophomore Diego Zometa and Dr. Jeff Arrington cut a ceremonial ribbon Feb. 17 at the opening of Halbert-Walling Research Center.

The Abilene Christian University community came out in force Feb. 17 to celebrate the grand opening of the Halbert-Walling Research Center, one of the pillars of ACU’s Vision in Action initiative.

Hundreds gathered at the ceremony and toured the 54,000-square-foot facility that serves as the new home for the departments of biology, chemistry and biochemistry and the Body and Soul program for pre-health students. Its laboratories, classrooms and lecture hall boast state-of-the-art equipment and modern designs.

“Our science faculty, students and alumni already lead the way in national and international research and scholarship; it was time they had a home to match their immense talent,” ACU president Dr. Phil Schubert (’91) said at the ceremony.

Halbert-Walling is the second of the three science facilities being built or renovated as part of Vision in Action; the Engineering and Physics Laboratories at Bennett Gymnasium opened in August 2015, and the first phase of the Robert R. and Kay Onstead Science Center (formerly the Foster Science Building) was completed in December 2015. The second phase is expected to be completed by the end of 2017. The projects, totaling $45 million of the $95 million initiative, bring ACU’s science facilities into the 21st century.

Diego Zometa

“Moving into Halbert-Walling has felt like moving into the future,” said Diego Zometa, sophomore chemistry major from Sonsonate, El Salvador, at the ceremony. “Everything is up-to-date. Our labs are equipped with new technology, and I know we’re going to achieve incredible things in this space. I’m thankful the university invested in me and in the sciences.”

The opportunities for study and research that will be available in Halbert-Walling will provide students with competitive advantages as they enter the job market or continue their education, said Dr. Jeff Arrington (’82), associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Just as important, the relationships developed with their peers and with faculty will last for years.  

“It’s in the context of these relationships that we are able to teach about life, to share life and faith with our students,” Arrington said. “These relationships, formed so often in the special spaces and activities of our disciplines, are where we truly achieve the mission of Abilene Christian University.”

Guests begin to gather for the open house.

The building celebrates the past even as it looks to the future. A large mural on the first floor pays tribute to the trailblazing men and women of the sciences. It spotlights several ACU alumni, including: Dr. Kent Brantly (’03), known for his work fighting the Ebola virus in West Africa, and Dr. B. David Vanderpool (’52), a renowned pioneering surgeon and medical missionary.

“They are but two of many Wildcats who have contributed to their communities, and to the global community, through professional excellence and a passion for seeking to understand God’s creation,” Schubert said.

Also present at the grand opening among their many family members were David D. (’78) and Kathy (Gay ’78) Halbert of Colleyville, Texas, whose $15 million gift through the Caris Foundation spearheaded the facility’s creation.

Halbert-Walling is named for David’s grandparents, the late Dean (’30) and Thelma (Bernard ’33) Walling. Dean Walling was an ACU trustee from 1976-83 and founding chair of the National Development Council during Design for Development campaigns that built numerous iconic buildings on the campus in the 1960s and ’70s.

“Now, it’s David’s and Kathy’s turn to leave a legacy on campus,” Schubert said. “The Halbert-Walling Research Center is truly iconic, and I am personally so grateful for the Halberts’ leadership.”

Watch for an inside look at the Halbert-Walling Research Center in the Summer-Fall 2017 issue of ACU Today magazine.

The grandfather of David D. Halbert (center) was the late Dean Walling, a legendary leader among ACU trustees and benefactors. Dean and his late wife, Thelma, are namesakes of Walling Lecture Hall, a signature learning space on the new building’s first floor. 

ACU president Dr. Phil Schubert (middle foreground) visits with David D. Halbert.

Dr. Jeff Arrington, who also directs the engineering program and is an associate professor of physics and engineering, is interviewed by local media.

Missionaries, advocate honored at Alumni Day

Chelsea Buchholtz

Chelsea (Thornton ’01) Buchholtz still can’t believe she’s Abilene Christian University’s 2017 Young Alumna of the Year.

Just look at the previous recipients of the award, she told attendees at the Alumni Day lunch Feb. 19: 2016’s Gilbert Tuhabonye (’01), an inspirational speaker, author, running coach and philanthropist; and 2015’s Dr. Kent (’03) and Amber (Carroll ’06) Brantly, known for their work combating the Ebola virus in West Africa. Kent Brantly appeared on the cover of Time magazine and on NBC’s The Today Show.

The Today Show hasn’t called me,” Buchholtz joked as she accepted the award. “I sit in meetings and manage people all day.”

The chief of staff for the Texas Juvenile Justice Department does a bit more than that, as was clear from who came to pay tribute to her at the ceremony: Jeffrey S. Boyd (’83), justice on the Texas Supreme Court. The two worked together in Texas Governor Rick Perry’s office before Buchholtz moved to the justice department, where she serves as an advocate for the department’s employees who work with the children in the juvenile system.

Buchholtz became emotional as she accepted her award and took time to thank those who have mentored her along the way, including her father, Gary Thornton (’72), former Trustee and ACU professor of journalism; former chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court Jack Pope (’34); and Dr. Gary (’64) and Sylvia (Ravanelli ’67) McCaleb.

“This award today is really not about me at all,” she said. “It’s a reflection of my world, my circle of love. I am grateful that God surrounds me with people who influence me and who mold me and who practice great patience with me and try and shepherd me. I am the product of the influences of some really exceptional people.”

The Vanderpools

The Outstanding Alumni of the Year award went to Dr. David (’82) and Laurie (Stallings ’81) Vanderpool for their work as co-founders and chief officers at LiveBeyond in Thomazeau, Haiti. There, they bring medical and maternal health care, clean water, education, community development and the Gospel to the oppressed.

The Vanderpools flew in from Haiti for the event at ACU’s Hunter Welcome Center. They were joined by their three adult children: David (’10), who spoke about his mother; John Mark; and Jacklyn. The couple were junior high sweethearts, Laurie said, and planned to be medical missionaries from a young age. David’s time as a pre-health major at ACU helped set him on the path to where he is today, he said.

“Being surrounded by people at Abilene Christian University was a true iron-sharpening-iron experience,” David Vanderpool said. “So much of where we are in life is because we went to a Christian university that emphasized taking care of others. And how better to take care of someone than to share the Gospel with them and allow them to share in abundant life?”

Before the award presentation, ACU president Dr. Phil Schubert (’91) reflected on his time spent at the LiveBeyond compound in 2016.

“I spent a week alongside David and Laurie and other ACU alumni, serving the poorest of the poor in an often unforgiving land,” Schubert said. “It was a powerful, emotional, challenging and uplifting experience. And it was a blessing for me to be able to see David and Laurie in action, dedicating their lives to caring for the oppressed. They are a light in the darkness, and through them so many have come to know what it means to be loved unconditionally. They have come to know God.”

The Outstanding Alumnus of the Year award honors timely recognition of lifetime achievement that brings honor to the university through personal and professional excellence and service to the university, church or community. The Young Alumnus of the Year recognizes professional achievement and/or distinguished service to ACU. To be eligible, a recipient must not be more than 40 years of age at the time of selection.

Make alumni award nominations here and learn more about past recipients.

Texas Supreme Court justice Jeffrey S. Boyd was one of Buchholtz’s tribute speakers.

ACU Remembers: Wendell Broom

Beautiful Feet. That was the theme of the World Missions Workshop when Wendell Broom (’45) brought it to the Abilene Christian University campus in Fall 1972. Footprints painted on sidewalks across the campus led students and visitors to Moody Coliseum.

Broom died Saturday, Feb. 18, 2017, in Dallas at age 93, but his footprints can be found around the world in the mission fields where he served and in the lives of thousands of churches, missionaries and native preachers who were influenced by his life, work and pioneering development of missions as an academic program.

Services honoring his life are Saturday, Feb. 25, at 2 p.m. at Lake Highlands Church in Dallas (9919 McCree Rd., Dallas, Texas 75238).

Broom was born April 6, 1923, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, to Benjamin R. and Gladys Broom. He grew up there and attended Freed-Hardeman University, earning an associate’s degree in 1943 and a bachelor’s degree in history from ACU two years later, the first member of his family to graduate from college.

While a student at Freed-Hardeman he met Betty Billingsley (’45), who also came to ACU. The couple married after graduation and began their lifetime of service to the church in Wilmington, Delaware, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, before accepting a call to the Nigerian mission field where they served from 1955-60.

When the Brooms headed to Delaware, they took all their possessions in the back seat and trunk of their 1936 Chevy. Five years later when they moved to Nigeria they took their first four children – Wendell Jr., Mary Beth, David and Margaret – moving to a home with no electricity where water was hauled from a nearby river and meals were prepared on a wood-burning stove. Kathryn was born while they were there. Working with other mission families who joined the work, churches were planted, Nigerian ministers were trained and a fledgling Bible school begun by Broom’s predecessor, Howard Horton, in 1954 eventually grew to become Nigerian Christian Bible College.

Upon returning to the U.S., the Brooms resumed their work with Elsmere Church of Christ in Delaware and then three years with Keeaumoku Street Church of Christ in Honolulu. After completing an M.A. in church growth from Fuller Theological Seminary, the Brooms moved to Abilene where he worked with Dr. George Gurganus to build the first missions department among schools affiliated with the Churches of Christ.

As an ACU faculty member, Broom sponsored student mission organizations and taught annually in the Summer Seminar in Missions and Student Missions Workshops. He led the faculty spiritual reaffirmation in 1976-77 and conducted church growth studies of churches in Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Ethiopia, New Guinea, the Philippines, Thailand and Hungary.

In addition to his faculty role at ACU, Broom taught summer or extension courses in missions at Nigerian Christian Bible College, Harding University, Pepperdine University, Ghana Bible School, Nairobi Great Commission School, and Addis Ababa Bible School in Ethiopia.

ACU professor of Old Testament Dr. Mark Hamilton (’90 M.Div.), said Broom was one of the rare people who exude faith, hope and love in every encounter of their lives.

“Whenever you were with him, you felt a sense that grace was a reality, not just up in heaven, but here on earth, too,” he said. “My wife and I first knew Wendell and Betty Broom when were students at ACU and part of a group of 15 who spent Fall 1987 in Jerusalem under their tutelage. Like countless others who call them friends and mentors, we came to think of Wendell and Betty as heroes of faith. True, his taste in clothing was highly questionable, but even the loud shirts and flashy shorts proclaimed his total comfort with himself and trust in you. He felt no need to impress anyone, yet we all held him in reverence. I can still picture him leading our group up Mount Sinai just before dawn, with his staff in his hand. It was hard not to think of Moses and the people of Israel.”

“I hope to live my life one half as well as Wendell lived his. That would be enough,” said Hamilton, whose wedding to Dr. Samjung Kang-Hamilton (’88 M.R.E.) was officiated by Broom.

Broom served as an assistant professor of missions until his official retirement in 1988 but continued to teach missions classes until 1992. The next January he left for six months of teaching in Siberia. In “retirement” he continued an active teaching role in the mission fields, traveling to China, Kenya, Zimbabwe and the Pan American Lectures. He and Betty took each of their 11 grandchildren on international trips.

In 2001, ACU Press published 100 Years of African Missions: Essays in Honor of Wendell Broom. In that volume, Dr. Gailyn Van Rheenen, professor emeritus of missions, wrote an essay titled “Archery, Dentures, and Eagles: Missionary Metaphors of Wendell Broom,” an exposition on Broom’s gift for drawing fresh metaphors to clarify biblical priorities.

“His sermons take abstract concepts and give them soul and life,” Van Rheenen wrote. “ … helping us see beyond ourselves and our human dilemmas to tangibly grasp allegiance to God, the priorities of the Christian faith, and distinctive ministries in God’s kingdom.”

One of the most memorable metaphors began with a question:

“What do your children want to inherit from us when you die? Do our children want our false teeth? Our cane or walker? Do they want the medicines we need to survive? … Or, do they want the things that have brought us joy?”

“If our religion is something that we endure so that we will not burn in hell eternally, our children won’t necessarily want that inheritance. On the other hand, if Christ is our greatest pleasure, if doing God’s will is what makes us feel alive, if God’s Spirit is something we just can’t get enough of then that is what our children will want for an inheritance.”

Broom was preceded in death by his parents, his brother Charlie Broom (’51), and son-in-law Glen David Adams (’72).

He is survived by his wife, Betty, and their six children: Wendell Jr. (’74 M.A.) and his wife, Sharon (Beaty) Broom; Mary Beth (Broom ’72) Best and her husband, LeRoy Best; David Broom (’75) and his wife, Marvis (Adams ’74) BroomMargaret Broom Adams (’77)Kathryn (Broom ’80) Mick and her husband, Kenneth Mick; Jonathan Broom (’83) and his wife, Amelia Broom; Linda Cotham Broom; 11 grandchildren; and 11 great-grandchildren.

Super Man: Gabriel soars to NFL stardom

Gabriel’s career was rejuvenated this season after being released from the Cleveland Browns. (Photo by Michael Wade)

The straightest line between the points of Mesquite, Texas, and NRG Stadium in Houston is 250 miles. Taylor Gabriel (’15) took the scenic route.

Boone is the radio-TV voice of the Wildcats

Barely three years since completing his record-setting career at Abilene Christian University, Gabriel will be the latest Wildcat player to reach the Super Bowl when his Atlanta Falcons take on the New England Patriots Sunday in Houston. He follows former ACU greats Clint Longley (Cowboys, 1976), Wilbert Montgomery (Eagles, 1981), Cle Montgomery (Raiders, 1984), Dan Remsberg (Broncos, 1987) and Danieal Manning (Bears, 2007) into the NFL’s championship game.

Gabriel was a three-sport standout, playing basketball and running track, at Mesquite’s John Horn High School where he became all too familiar with adversity. When he was 16, his mother died suddenly of a brain aneurysm. Playing with her as his inspiration, Gabriel enrolled at ACU when the program was still NCAA Division II and left after the university’s first year in Division I as one of the finest receivers in school history. On Oct. 26, 2013, against New Mexico State University, Gabriel set the single-game record with 15 catches. He ranks second all-time in receptions (215), receiving yards (3,027) and touchdown catches (27); fifth in all-purpose yards (3,880); and, when you add his two rushing and two punt return touchdowns, sixth in total TDs (31). He also threw a touchdown pass for good measure.

Gabriel’s name is prominent in the Wildcats’ career record book. (Photo by Jeremy Enlow)

Working out for NFL team scouts at ACU’s Wally Bullington Practice Facility before the 2014 draft, both Gabriel and teammate Charcandrick West (’16) ran a wind-aided but no less blinding 4.27 40-yard dash. At just 5’8”, the diminutive speedster was simply hoping for a chance.

“I know I’m a little guy,” Gabriel acknowledged that day, “but I’m gonna go out there and fight, claw, bite somebody if I have to.”

His own size and that of his alma mater may have conspired against Gabriel on draft day. His name was never called. But two days later, he signed as a free agent with the Cleveland Browns and, against the odds, made the team’s opening day roster. (West would latch on as an undrafted free agent with the Kansas City Chiefs and square off against his fellow Wildcat twice in the next three seasons.)

As a rookie, Gabriel caught 36 passes, including a touchdown, and incredibly led the AFC with 17.3 yards per catch. He wound up having a better first year than the Browns’ most celebrated signee, Texas A&M University’s Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel.

Gabriel’s speed and quickness have helped propel Atlanta to the Super Bowl. (Photo by G. Newman Lowrance)

Gabriel’s numbers dropped slightly in 2015 as his team slogged through a 3-13 season, due largely to poor play by Cleveland’s three quarterbacks. The biggest highlight for one of the fastest Wildcats ever may have been when he walked: Gabriel completed his coursework online during the offseason and graduated from ACU.

Despite the promise he showed in his first two NFL seasons, the Browns, mired in mediocrity and in the midst of yet another head coaching change, cut Gabriel just before the first game of 2016. Within hours, he had signed with the Falcons whose offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan, had coached Gabriel during his rookie season in Cleveland. After sitting out the first week while adjusting to his new team, Gabriel gradually became a key cog in the Falcons’ offense. Beginning with a 33-32 victory over Green Bay Oct. 30, he scored seven touchdowns (six receiving, one rushing) in a seven-week span and emerged as an internet sensation (#TurboTaylor) with one dazzling play after another. And the more Gabriel played, the better the Falcons did. Atlanta went 11-1 when he caught at least two passes. (His new team seized upon his success and even took to Twitter with a knife-twisting mock, thanks to his old one for letting him go.)

Atlanta won its division and secured the NFC’s No. 2 seed, which earned them a spot in the second round of the playoffs where they defeated the 2014 Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. After the game, a video of the locker room celebration went viral with Gabriel in his No. 18 jersey front and center with Falcons owner Arthur Blank, who (by the looks of his moves) may have, like the former Wildcat, also attended a college that prohibited dancing. In the NFC Championship game the next week, Atlanta again defeated Green Bay, this time in a rout, 44-21, to earn the franchise’s second ever trip to the Super Bowl.

Cassie Brooks earned a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology from ACU in 2014.

Sunday, scores of ACU alumni and fans will wave their pom poms for Gabriel – most figuratively but at least one literally. His high school and college classmate Cassie Brooks (’14) is a former Wildcat track and field athlete and now an Atlanta Falcons cheerleader.

Gabriel can join Cle Montgomery as the only ACU alum to play on a Super Bowl champion, and Atlanta can claim its first NFL title. They’ve made it this far in no small measure because Gabriel keeps coming up big.

The Wildcat-turned-Falcon is still clawing.

Gabriel may be the smallest man in the huddle but makes big-time plays for Atlanta. (Photo by G. Newman Lowrance)

Dorrel answers new calling: ACU head coach

College football’s winningest active head football coach today accepted a new job as Wildcat leader, saying he’s ready for a fresh challenge in his career and feeling like he’s being called to Abilene Christian University for a higher purpose in his life.

Adam Dorrel and his wife, Erin, toured ACU’s Wildcat Stadium today as construction crews prepare it for opening in Fall 2017.

Adam Dorrel, whose Northwest Missouri State University team two days ago won its third NCAA Division II national championship in four years, is ACU’s 20th head coach since the Wildcats began playing intercollegiate football in 1919.

He will have new ground on which to lead his new team in Fall 2017, when Wildcat Stadium opens as the first on-campus football venue on the Hill in more than 50 years. ACU hosts Houston Baptist University on Sept. 16, 2017, in the stadium’s inaugural game.

The Wildcats will be full NCAA Division I members this fall after a four-year transition from Division II.

ACU director of athletics Lee De Leon

ACU director of athletics Lee De Leon

“After interviewing him, I found him to be a man who is intentional about incorporating his faith into his program and is committed to our mission of honoring Christ through excellence in academics and athletics,” said Lee De Leon, director of athletics. “Adam was the unanimous selection of our search committee, and I’m thrilled he accepted our offer.”

Dorrel carved a 76-8 record in six seasons as the Bearkats’ head coach, winning national titles in 2013, 2015 and 2016 – only the third Division II coach to win three championships. His winning percentage of 90.1 is the tops in the nation, besting Ohio State University’s Urban Meyer (85.5 percent).

His former team’s 30-game winning streak is the nation’s best, five more than the University of Alabama’s 25 straight victories.

ACU president Dr. Phil Schubert (’91)

ACU president Dr. Phil Schubert (’91)

A native of Maryville, Mo. – Northwest’s hometown – Dorrel was named American Football Coaches’ Association Division II Coach of the Year in 2013 and 2015, and is favored to win the award again in 2016.

“Adam is a proven champion who has grown up in and overseen one of the most respected and successful programs in college football,” Schubert said. “He will build a strong staff that understands our unique mission and uses our growing reputation as a university to attract quality student-athletes who want to be part of something truly special as we enter a new era of Wildcat football.”

Follow more coverage from today’s announcement here.


Adam Dorrel and his wife, Erin, and twin daughters Sam and Allie

ACU Remembers: Waymond Griggs

Waymond Griggs 250x300 96Waymond E. Griggs (’58), a member of Abilene Christian University’s Sports Hall of Fame and one of the top sprinters in the world during a standout collegiate career, died Nov. 30, 2016, in Abilene at age 80.

A graveside service will be held Monday, Dec. 5, at Hamby Cemetery in Jones County, Texas, under the direction of Elliott-Hamil Funeral Home (542 Hickory St., Abilene, Texas 79601).

Griggs was born March 25, 1936, in Benton, Ark., and graduated in 1954 from Camden (Ark.) High School, where he starred in track and field and in football. He married JoAnn Boley (’57) on Sept. 1, 1956.

As an ACU student he ran on 440-yard relay teams with Bill Woodhouse (’59), James Segrest (’59) and Bobby Morrow (’58) that set three world records (two in 1957, one in 1958) and won 16 titles at major collegiate relay meets such as the Texas, Drake and Penn Relays. With Griggs sharing baton duties and typically assigned to open each relay event because of his quick starting ability, the Wildcats posted a remarkable record of 36-4 in the 440-yard and 880-yard relay events during his collegiate career. His individual bests were 9.6 seconds for 100 yards and 20.8 for 220 yards.

Waymond Griggs 680x510 150Griggs earned a master’s degree from Southwestern Oklahoma State University and taught and coached in Odessa, Kermit and Midland public schools during a long career. His Odessa Permian High School teams won 13 district and five regional championships, and a 1993 state title. He also was a member of the Arkansas Track and Field Hall of Fame.

Preceding him in death were his parents, Lonnie W. Griggs and Dixie Belle Beard Griggs; and an infant brother, Norman Eugene Griggs.

Survivors include JoAnn, his wife of 60 years; sons Michael Griggs (’82) and Mark Griggs; two grandchildren; a sister, Patricia Kiser; and a brother, Tommy Griggs.

The 4x100 relay team of Morrow, Bill Woodhouse, James Segrest and Waymond Griggs set world records in 1957 and 1958. Morrow set world records on three other Wildcat relay teams, in the 100-yard dash, 100 meters (3 times) and the 200 meters (three times).

The 440-yard relay team of Bobby Morrow (top), Bill Woodhouse (left), James Segrest (right) and Waymond Griggs (bottom) set three world records in 1957 and 1958. 

Pit Stop: ACU returns to Lobos’ hoops haven

Pit color pic

This is University Arena, as The Pit looked about the time when it first opened in 1966 with a game between ACU and the University of New Mexico.

Dr. David Wray (’67) didn’t score the most famous two points in the history of the University of New Mexico’s legendary basketball arena known as The Pit. That distinction belongs, now and forever, to Lorenzo Charles whose unintentional alley oop dunk at the buzzer led North Carolina State University and fiery coach Jim Valvano to an epic upset over the heavily favored University of Houston Cougars in the 1983 NCAA Tournament championship game.

Boone is the radio-TV voice of the Wildcats

Boone is the radio-TV voice of the Wildcats

But Wray, a longtime bible professor at Abilene Christian University and currently the director of its annual Summit, did score the first two.

Or so he’s told.

“I was out there (Albuquerque) speaking at a church,” Wray recalls with a chuckle, “and a guy said, ‘I’m the sports information director at University of New Mexico and you scored the first two points (at The Pit).’ I didn’t remember.”

Dr. David Wray

Dr. David Wray

The Pit opened Dec. 1, 1966, with the Lobos hosting Wray’s Wildcats in that first game. This Wednesday, on the eve of the building’s 50th anniversary, ACU will be back to take on UNM for the first time since a 2006 exhibition game to mark the 40-year celebration of what has been one of college basketball’s most raucous and revered venues.

Originally known as University Arena, UNM students immediately began calling it The Pit because the playing surface sits 37 feet below street level. ACU got in on the ground floor as part of a two-game road trip the likes of which they may never see again. It began with the game against the No. 6-ranked Lobos and ended at the home of the defending NCAA champion University of Texas at El Paso Miners, who were No. 2 in the nation when the Wildcats arrived off a fine season of their own.

“We went out there confident,” Wray recollects, “because we’d been to the (small college) national tournament the year before. We’d beaten Oklahoma State University and taken on the Air Force Academy, so I don’t remember being intimidated or any talk about it being the first game in the new arena. What I do remember was how far it was from the dressing room down to the floor because it’s all underground.”

The Lobos dug a figurative hole when the game began, falling behind ACU and the offensive system head coach Dee Nutt (’50) employed known as California.

Wray provided a powerful presence under the basket for the Wildcats.

Wray provided a powerful scoring and rebounding presence under the basket for the Wildcats.

“We had a very disciplined offense,” says Wray, who was the only senior on that 1966-67 team. “We ran a lot of screens under the basket. You’d just be wide open, so it’s not surprising that I or one of the other forwards would’ve scored the first two points. It was amazing how we controlled the game in the first half.”

Indeed, ACU took a 27-25 lead into the locker room at halftime. But the Lobos, led by coach Bob King, whose success in turning around UNM’s moribund basketball program when he arrived in 1962 fueled the interest in and need for the new arena, rebounded in the second half to post an 11-point victory that prompted the Albuquerque Journal newspaper to write the next morning, “12,020 Watch NM Five Sweat.”    

Wray finished with 19 points, tying him with the Lobos’ all-America forward Mel Daniels for game-high honors. The Wildcats got 12 points from hotshot John Ray Godfrey (’68), who helped open ACU basketball’s new digs, Moody Coliseum, the following season by scoring 41 points, a home-court record that stood for nearly a quarter century.

Wray’s recollections of that night are more general than specific. Someone gave him a program from that first game, though at the moment he isn’t sure where it is. And his place in The Pit’s record book brings him no particular measure of pride.

“Basketball was really critical to me back in those days,” he says. “It’s nice, but you kind of leave all that behind.”

From The Pit to Summit, Wray rose within ACU’s College of Biblical Studies to hold a variety of influential positions, including his current one. What he has held on to from his days as a player is a deep appreciation for those with whom he took the court.

“We had phenomenal guys,” he says fondly. “Most have gone on to be elders and church leaders. We’ve been lifelong friends.”

Dee Nutt coached Abilene Christian the season before to the national tournament.

The season before, Dee Nutt coached Abilene Christian to the national tournament.