Dillard Hall to house sophomore women

Christian Village Exterior Edit 600x400 96Sophomore women living on campus will soon have a new housing option: Gayle and Max Dillard Hall.

Thanks to a major gift from Gayle (’57) and Max Dillard of Dallas, Texas, Abilene Christian University has purchased the apartment building formerly owned and operated by Christian Village of Abilene and is renovating it as a sophomore women’s residence hall.

The three-story Dillard Hall at 633 E.N. 19th St. will house about 170 students, serving as ACU’s 11th residence hall and providing much-needed living space for its growing enrollment. The university’s 2015-16 freshman class is its largest in three decades.

“Max and Gayle believe strongly in honoring women for the role they play in the development of the faith of their children,” said president Dr. Phil Schubert (’91). “Their gift is a tremendous blessing as it helps provide an important living space for women on this campus.”

Established by University Church of Christ, Christian Village opened in 1986 as a nonprofit independent living facility for seniors. Land for the project was donated by ACU. Residents often were alumni and retired faculty and staff, as were many of Christian Village’s trustees.

Seeing the facility’s future in jeopardy in recent years because of shrinking occupancy, Christian Village board members approached ACU in 2015 about the possibility of purchasing the property and restoring its initial connection to the university. The Dillards’ gift made this a reality.

“We’re very grateful to ACU for purchasing Christian Village’s building,” said David Swearingen, president of Christian Village’s Board of Trustees. “We can’t think of a better way for Christian Village to be used in the future – as a place for students to live as they prepare for life as young Christian adults.”

Gayle Dillard attended in ACU in the late 1950s, and together the Dillards have seen three children and three grandchildren attend the university. Max Dillard is managing director of The Dillard Group of Texas, LTD.

“Dillard Hall will be treasured for generations, and I am grateful for Max and Gayle’s leadership and dedication to ACU,” Schubert said.

Apartments at Dillard Hall will contain a living space, bedroom and kitchen for two to four students. The first two floors have an indoor commons area and the third floor has an outside deck.

The renovation includes new wiring, plumbing, flooring and furniture, said Kevin Roberts (’88), vice president of planning and operations.

“Dillard Hall is an exciting addition to our on-campus housing,” Roberts said. “It has fantastic living spaces and some much-needed public spaces. This combination will provide a wonderful place for our students to grow, live and learn.”

Dillard Hall will be open to students beginning August 2016.

We think ewe will love ElderLink story, art

Assigning writers and photographers/artists to ACU Today feature stories can be a bit of a Match Game at times, although not exactly like the long-running (1962-82) and often rollicking TV panel game show from years gone by.

Bobby Gombert

Bobby Gombert

Grant Boone

Grant Boone

Pairing Grant Boone (’91) and Bobby Gombert (’93) on “Flock Management” – a look at ElderLink’s first 15 years as an influential Abilene Christian University outreach to churches and church leaders – felt like the right thing to do, and we think you’ll agree.

Boone’s father, Nick, was the longtime song leader at suburban Nashville’s Madison (Tenn.) Church of Christ, for years the largest congregation of its heritage in the world. These days, Grant is the TV/radio Voice of the Wildcats and a broadcaster for CBS Sports, and a fine writer for our magazine’s print and online issues as his busy schedule allows.

He grew up in a home with strong ties to churches and their leadership as far back as the 1800s. His great-grandfather was former ACU and longtime Lipscomb University Bible professor Charles R. Brewer, whose brother was G.C. Brewer, another legendary Church of Christ evangelist.

Grant’s uncle (Nick’s big brother) is legendary pop music star Pat Boone, by the way.

Earth day celebration 7x4.38 96Gombert’s early skills as an illustrator were honed while serving as an editorial cartoonist for The Optimist, ACU’s student newspaper. Today he is a successful artist in Bulverde, Texas, a small city north of San Antonio.

His playful illustration of a shepherd tending his all-over-the-pasture flock of sheep is a fitting metaphor for the challenging work today’s church elders have in watching over and leading their serious-minded but easily distracted congregations.

ElderLink is one of several valuable resources offered by ACU’s Siburt Institute for Church Ministry, named for the late Dr. Charles Siburt Jr. (’68), who for many years was his alma mater’s vice president for church relations.

Siburt “could make you feel like you were the best minister God ever created,” recalled Granbury (Texas) Church of Christ peaching minister Dr. John Knox (D.Min. ’03). “Yet at the same time [he] had no tolerance for self-pity. Charlie could tell church leaders things about themselves that were very painful to hear. I quietly cringed more than once during meetings with Charlie and my leaders. But in response, those leaders would thank him and ask when he could come back. They intuitively sensed he had the health of the church in mind.”

ElderLink’s ministry of equipping and encouraging church leaders has been conducted in 10 cities through the years, from Texas, to Georgia to Oregon, even in Brazil. It will be held for the first time in Indianapolis, Ind., on April 23.

Read “Flock Management” by clicking on the viewer above.

The glass slipper fits: League title, WNIT bid

WBB Champs 1 600x400 96

Picked in a preseason poll to finish ninth in the Southland Conference, the Abilene Christian University women’s basketball team continued its Cinderella season Saturday, and they had a ball doing it.

The Wildcats began their final regular-season game at home with a 9-0 run, a 38-24 halftime lead and capped it with a celebration and an improbable conference championship. A 63-52 win over Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi sealed the deal.

Head coach Julie Goodenough’s team is 26-3 overall, 17-1 in the Southland, 14-0 at home and now awaits its next assignment: a first-ever berth in the Women’s National Invitational Tournament and a shot at even more heroics.

ACU’s only losses this season are to Kansas State, Texas Tech and Lamar universities.

The WNIT announces its field March 14 and first-round games begin March 16. The title game is played April 2. Semifinalists last year were UCLA, Michigan, Temple and West Virginia, with UCLA beating WVU 62-60 for the championship.

ACU won’t be eligible for the Southland’s postseason tournament until the 2017-18 season but became the conference’s automatic qualifier for the WNIT with its spotless record in regular season play.

Saturday, junior guard Alexis Mason scored 20 points and junior center Sydney Shelstead added 19 to lead the Wildcats over the Islanders.

Their 26 wins ties the second most in ACU women’s basketball history, matching the 1997-98 team that finished 26-5 and advanced to the finals of the NCAA Division II Southwest Region Tournament. Abilene Christian’s all-time record for wins was set by the 1995-96 team’s 31-2 record and third-place finish in the national tournament.

Court Adjourned: Six ready for senior moment

Parker Wentz

Parker Wentz

The scene unfolding before Joe Golding (’99) looked like a cross between Norman Rockwell and one of those cheesy, straight-to-Christian-bookstore feature films. In his first year as the men’s basketball head coach at Abilene Christian University, Golding had gone to Trinity Christian High School in Lubbock to recruit diminutive sharp-shooting point guard and straight A student Parker Wentz.

Boone is the radio-TV voice of the Wildcats

Boone is the radio-TV voice of the Wildcats

“He had his gym bag in one hand,” Golding recalls, “and a Bible in the other with his backpack over his shoulder. I thought, ‘You gotta be kidding me. This is too good to be true.’ ”

Wentz wasn’t. In fact, if he has been anything in his four years at ACU, Wentz has been good and true.

Saturday, in his record 119th game as a Wildcat, Wentz will be one of six seniors (four from the men’s team, two from the women’s) playing for the last time at Moody Coliseum. Each has been part of something significant.

Whitney (West) Swinford

Whitney (West) Swinford

The careers of the two four-year players among them, Wentz and Whitney (West) Swinford, are strikingly similar – and not just because their last names sound alike or that they’re approximately the same height. Both were instant impact freshmen during ACU’s final year in NCAA Division II. Swinford was named Lone Star Conference Freshman of the Year on a team that won 21 games and a share of the league title en route to the NCAA playoffs. Wentz started 10 games and was his team’s fourth leading scorer. They will be the last two to have played on each side of ACU’s transition to Division I.

Both are among the best three-point shooters in ACU history. Swinford’s 229 threes are second only to Ashley (King ’06) Bannon. With one regular season game left and at least one more in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament, to which ACU was officially invited Thursday, Swinford has an outside chance to become the Wildcats’ all-time outside shooting leader. Wentz has the highest career three-point field goal percentage (.429) and is third all-time with 257 made. His accuracy has been jaw-dropping, which should serve him well at dental school where the academic All-America candidate is headed this fall in preparation to join the family business.

Both leave a legacy of selflessness. Out of necessity, women’s head coach Julie Goodenough moved Swinford from her natural position off the ball to play point guard. When two of his backcourt mates missed almost the entire 2013-14 conference season for various reasons, Wentz played the point and led the Southland in minutes played per game with 38.6 out of 40. And despite being the player every opponent tried to neutralize, the high-energy guard who stands a generous 5 foot 9 inches tall still averaged better than 18 points in the final 15 games.

Both have been remarkably durable. Swinford has missed one game in four years (because of food poisoning in 2014). Wentz has missed none.

Both have been clutch. Swinford has buried huge threes and free throws, many of them on the road, in the closing seconds of games to turn losses into wins. Of the 403 shots Wentz has made in his career, the most memorable may be one that never went through the net. In ACU’s first Division I season, Wentz raced the length of the court against the University of Central Arkansas with five seconds left and lofted a layup that was blocked but ruled good because of defensive goaltending.

And both leave ACU in the double bonus, so to speak: Wentz got married last July, Swinford a month later.

Paris Webb

Paris Webb

The only other senior on the women’s team (which had none last year) is Paris Webb, a point guard from Midland in her second season with the Wildcats after transferring from Central Arizona College. When ACU stumbled out of the gates at 0-3 in conference play last season, Goodenough told her team the starting five for the following game would be based on the next two practices. Webb earned one of those five spots and had 10 points, four rebounds and four assists to rally ACU from a 10-point second half deficit on the road and beat McNeese State University, which helped rechart the course of a season that saw the Wildcats finish 17-12 overall and 10-8 in the league.

This year, on a team dominated by the best starting five in the Southland Conference, Webb was Goodenough’s most trusted reserve until leading rebounder Lizzy Dimba suffered a season-ending and heartbreaking Valentine’s Day ACL injury. As she did the year before, Goodenough inserted Webb into the starting lineup. ACU has won each of the five games since to clinch at least a share of the Southland title, which they can win outright with a victory Saturday. In those five games, Webb has twice set career highs with six assists and also established a new personal best with seven rebounds.

Austin Cooke

Austin Cooke

Now in his third season at ACU, Austin Cooke transferred, like Webb, from Central Arizona and immediately became one of Golding’s go-to guys. A 6’7” forward with a feathery stroke and tenacity on the boards, Cooke started his first 73 games at ACU then returned the starting lineup midway through the conference season. He led the team in rebounding in each of his first two seasons and has been a consistent long range threat, making 47 percent of his three-point field goals in conference games.

Jalen Little

Jalen Little

Jalen Little and Duran Porter came to ACU to play their final two collegiate seasons, but both command locker room respect like four year veterans. Each calls the other the team’s leader, and there is ample evidence to support both assertions. Little, a point guard from Colorado Springs, Colo. – by way of the University of Alaska-Anchorage and Otero Junior College in La Junta, Colo. – is the emotional catalyst. He keeps his finger on the pulse of the team by dividing his free time among his teammates. A true pass-first point guard eager to distribute the ball, Little’s scoring has increased as the number of games in his college career has dwindled. Last year, Little had just one game in which he scored 10 or more points. This season, he’s had six double-digit scoring games in his last nine.

If you can’t get along with Porter, a.k.a. “Du,” it’s probably your fault. Quick with a smile, the soft-spoken Southern gentleman from Macon, Ga., is everyone’s best friend. He played through an injury early last season that kept him from ever getting into peak physical condition, so his numbers weren’t much to look at. Not that he could’ve seen them anyway. A visit to the eye doctor last summer revealed that Porter’s vision was terrible.

Wearing contacts this season and 20 pounds lighter, Porter’s productivity has been a sight for sore eyes. He has scored at least 10 points in 13 games, including a career-high 17 in a narrow loss at the University of Nebraska; and he has more than doubled his blocked shots from last year, from 13 to 27.

The ACU men’s basketball program has begun to turn the corner, doubling its number of conference wins from four to eight with a chance to make it nine Saturday. And though his fabulous freshmen Jaylen Franklin (16.3 points per game) and Jaren Lewis (5.7 rebounds per game) lead the team statistically, Golding thinks his four players to be honored Saturday may be the most influential senior class in nearly 20 years because of how they have led the youngsters.

“They’ve been by my side every step of the way,” Golding says, “helping us change the culture of men’s basketball here. Saturday will be an emotional day. There will be a lot of flashbacks going through my mind.”

Including, no doubt, that first glimpse of the little big man in Lubbock who was every bit as good and true as the coach could’ve dreamed.

Duran Porter

Duran Porter

ACU trustee Alvarez in search of kidney

Abel Alvarez 600x400 96

For years, Abel Alvarez has had a heart for his alma mater and hands quick to lead students from his hometown to Abilene. Today, he needs a kidney.

The 1982 Abilene Christian University graduate, trustee and ACU’s 2015 winner of a Distinguished Alumni Citation has a rare blood type. It’s O negative, shared by only 9 percent of Americans, according to the American Red Cross, and always in short supply. That complicates an urgent need to replace the only kidney he has, one donated to him 28 years ago by a sibling. It’s now failing and he hopes to begin dialysis quickly, but other health issues could delay treatments by a month or more.

Alvarez is longtime minister of the Harvey Drive Church of Christ in the South Texas city of McAllen, a community hero for his work in local schools, an advocate for ACU’s expertise in mobile-learning technology, and one of the university’s most devoted volunteer recruiters of high school students.

“He has a deep desire for students of all nationalities and ethnicities to experience a transformative Christ-centered education that many of us who graduated from here experienced,” said former Students’ Association president Samuel Palomares (’11), one of the many students Alvarez recruited.

“When our alumni know students well enough to tell us, ‘This person would be a great fit for ACU,’  it helps us tremendously,” said chief enrollment officer Kevin Campbell (’00) in a story about Alvarez in ACU Today magazine. “He’s been a champion and advocate for us for many years, telling our story in the Valley to anyone who will listen.”

“The last time I needed a kidney was in 1988,” Alvarez said. “Through their prayers and other help, my friends in the ACU community made a big difference in my ability to survive a difficult period in my life. I hope an organ donor with my blood type can be found, and quickly.”

Alvarez said he deeply appreciates prayers on his behalf and asks for those with leads for an O-negative kidney donor to message him on his Facebook page.

Read “Willing and Abel,” an ACU Today magazine profile of Alvarez and his life’s work:


Scholarship campaign passes $50 million mark

The Harbers

The Harbers

Thanks to a $20 million commitment from Lacy (’61) and Dorothy Harber of Denison, Texas, Abilene Christian University’s Partnering in the Journey campaign has exceeded its goal to raise $50 million for endowed scholarships for students to assist in making college more affordable.

Partnering in the Journey now stands at $50,075,647 in commitments. The $20 million gift is one of the largest in ACU’s history and is the second-largest scholarship endowment gift.

“I want to thank Lacy and Dorothy for their leadership and overwhelming generosity to this university and to our students,” said Dr. Phil Schubert (’91) on Feb. 20 at the university’s annual President’s Circle Dinner. “It’s hard to put into words how meaningful and significant this gift is, but know this: Scholarships change our students’ lives. And our students change the world.”

Since the campaign was publicly launched in February 2012, and including gifts made since June 1, 2010, 105 new endowed scholarships have been created and 67 existing endowments received $10,000 or more in new funding. More than 700 households made first-time gifts to ACU’s endowment during the campaign.

The Harber Bible Endowed Scholarship Fund will be used to provide scholarships for students in the College of Biblical Studies.

“We are honored to be able to do this,” Lacy Harber said in a previous interview about the gift. “We are just stewards of this money for a short time. It’s not really ours. It belongs to God.”

Lacy and Dorothy were raised in the Abilene area, and Lacy attended Abilene Christian in the late 1950s.

The Harbers’ philanthropy extends to various institutions and causes, including Texas Scottish Rite Hospital, Texoma Medical Center, Wilson N. Jones Medical Center, the Salvation Army and Opportunity Village. In 2014, they received the prestigious Ellis Island Medal Honor, joining the ranks of former U.S. presidents, former U.S. Supreme Court justices and Nobel Prize winners who have been so honored.

“Lacy and Dorothy are living testimonies of the words of Jesus: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive,’ ” said ACU chancellor Dr. Royce Money (’64). “In the name of Jesus they have given freely of their time and resources to worthy causes in which they believe.”

The Harbers each received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree in May 2015 from ACU for the leadership they have demonstrated through lives of selfless service to others.

When funded through their estate, the Harbers’ scholarship will be one of more than 700 endowed scholarships directly benefiting ACU students. Every year, a portion of the interest generated from Abilene Christian’s endowment provides money for both restricted and unrestricted scholarships. As of Dec. 31, 2015, the university’s endowment had a value of $357.28 million.

All ACU freshmen receive financial aid, which makes endowed scholarships an important tool for attracting the best students and providing them valuable assistance toward earning a degree.

The average first-year ACU student’s financial aid package for 2014-15 was $24,000, which included a combination of scholarships, grants, work-study and loans. ACU offered more than 4,400 scholarships and grants valued at more than $34 million to the entering Class of 2015.

Kimble, Tuhabonye honored on Alumni Day

Dr. H. Jeff Kimble

Dr. H. Jeff Kimble

Abilene Christian University presented its two most prestigious alumni honors Feb. 21 in a ceremony celebrating the recipients’ respective drives for improving the world.

Dr. H. Jeff Kimble (’71), the 2016 Outstanding Alumnus of the Year, is the William L. Valentine Professor of Physics and founding director of the Institute for Quantum Information and Matter at California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., and the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics Distinguished Scholar for 2014-16.

The world-renowned physicist credits his career to his time spent at ACU under the tutelage of Dr. Charles Ivey (’65). Kimble was one of Ivey’s first physics students as he built the then-physics department from the ground up.

“It is disquieting for me to imagine what my life would be without ACU,” Kimble said, adding the university has “one of the country’s best undergraduate physics programs.”

Gilbert Tuhabonye

Gilbert Tuhabonye

“I’m very proud to be an alumnus of this department and ACU,” he said. “I should be holding this luncheon in honor of all of you.”

In a video tribute, Ivey was equally effusive.

“I hit the jackpot,” he said. “Imagine being a new professor and having Jeff Kimble as a student. I was the lucky guy who just happened to be here when your far greater talent came along.”

ACU president Dr. Phil Schubert (’91) described Kimble as a modern-day explorer who dedicates his life to answering the question, “What’s possible?” His research in quantum optics and quantum information science has led to improvements in the way humans communicate and compute.

“Jeff, thank you for reminding us that ACU students can change the world,” Schubert said.

Numerous students, faculty and staff from the Department of Engineering and Physics were in attendance to help honor Kimble and celebrate the successes of ACU’s science programs and new facilities. Craig Fisher (’92), director of alumni relations, specifically recognized associated professor of engineering and physics Dr. Josh Willis (’97), who took part in groundbreaking research that made global headlines three weeks ago: detecting the sound of gravitational waves as two black holes collided a billion light-years away, fulfilling the last prediction of Einstein’s general theory of relativity.

Representatives from the Department of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences were also out in force to celebrate one of their own, Gilbert Tuhabonye (’01) as the 2016 Young Alumnus of the Year.

Tuhabonye fought back tears as he accepted the award for his work as a track and field coach, motivational speaker and author, and co-founder of Gazelle Foundation, which funds and builds clean water projects in his native Burundi, Africa.

There, in 1993, Tuhabonye survived a horrific massacre in the long Tutsi-Hutu war in which he was almost burned to death during a brutal attack on his school. After eight hours of suffering, he escaped through a window and ran, on fire, to freedom.  

“He’s been running ever since … but he’s not running away from his past or from others,” Schubert said. “No – Gilbert runs toward hope and joy, and an ever-brighter future, and he invites everyone he can to come along with him for the journey.”

Tuhabonye was an NCAA Division II All-America runner while at ACU, where he majored in agribusiness, and is now the head coach for cross country and track at St. Andrews High School in Austin, Texas, and the leader of Gilbert’s Gazelles, a popular training group in the city. He tells his story in the 2006 book, This Voice in My Heart, and on Sunday spoke of his motivation for not dwelling on his past and instead finding ways to make a difference in the world.

“Yes, I survived, but what is my calling on Earth to help others?” he asked.

Since its founding in 2006, the Gazelle Foundation has provided access to clean water to 60,000 people in Burundi, Tuhabonye said.

“It’s not about me,” he said. “It’s about the people who believe in me, like ACU did. Think about the transformation of a village – it takes lots of people. It doesn’t just take Gilbert.”

“What started here at ACU changed the world,” Tuhabonye said. “Thank you, ACU.”

New issue of ACU Today takes flight

The newest issue of ACU Today magazine mailed recently. And while our cover story has never before been tied to Second Glance, the one-page essay near the end of each issue, this one is not your everyday subject.

“The Songbird who gives ACU voices their wings” is about one of the most beloved women in university history, voice teacher Jeannette (Scruggs ’50) Lipford, who played the Bird Woman in Mary Poppins, the 2015 Homecoming Musical.

The person who has perhaps taught more voice lessons than any person at ACU stole the show in the Civic Center with her flawless portrayal and heavenly voice on “Feed the Birds.” Facebook was buzzing over the weekend with posts about it by her friends and fans.

Other content in this issue – which, including online-only Bonus Coverage – is our biggest ever at 168 pages:

  • “Holy Lands” by Paul A. Anthony (’04) takes a look at the Fall 2014 semester Dr. Mark Hamilton (’90 M.Div.) spent in Jerusalem at the famed Albright Institute of Archaeological Research. It’s also a love story, as Jerusalem is where Mark and his wife, Dr. Samjung Kang-Hamilton (’88 M.R.E.), first dated. The couple, who teach in ACU’s College of Biblical Studies, returned to Israel for their 25th wedding anniversary. An additional 12 pages of Bonus Coverage includes an essay by Mark and images by photojournalist Jonathan Bloom.
  • Elise (Smith ’83) Mitchell is the 2015 Outstanding Alumna of the Year. A profile of her by Deana (Hamby ’93) Nall is followed by others written by associate editor Katie (Noah ’06) Gibson: Distinguished Alumni Citation recipients Reg Cox (’84), Drs. Dave (’98) and Amy (Berry ’95) Fuller, and Abel Alvarez (’82) .
  • Groundbreaking for Wildcat Stadium and a look at the progress on two new science buildings are the high points in an update on the Vision in Action initiative.
  • Dr. Jack White (’71) of Walnut, Calif., is profiled by Sarah Carlson (’06) as recipient of the 2015 Outlive Your Life Award.
  • ElderLink’s role in helping church leaders around the world is profiled in “Flock Management,” a story by Grant Boone (’91) and illustrated by Bobby Gombert (’93).
  • Our first installment of a new feature – ACU 101 – gives readers an inside look at one of the university’s most well-known traditions. It’s Sing Song, which celebrates its 60th anniversary next weekend.
  • Another new feature – #ACU – celebrates the social media engagement students, faculty and alumni have with each other and Abilene Christian. It also aggregates some of our favorite posts on Facebook and Twitter in recent months.
  • Other Bonus Coverage this issue includes images from Homecoming and Ode to Joy, a collection of some of our favorite images capturing memorable moments of great happiness in ACU history.
  • The Second Glance essay about Lipford is accompanied in Bonus Coverage by an essay by Mary Poppins director Kari Hatfield, and images from the production by Paul White (’68).

Watch this blog in the days to come for backstories of some of these major articles in the new issue.

Enjoy the full issue by clicking on the viewer above.

Pep and perks: Wildcat Club returns to ACU

Wildcat Club Logo FC

ACU recently re-launched its official fundraising organization for Athletics, which dates back to the late 1920s.

In deciding what to call its new donation-generation organization, the Abilene Christian University Athletics program has opted for an oldie-but-goodie: the Wildcat Club.

Boone is the radio-TV voice of the Wildcats

Boone is the radio-TV voice of the Wildcats

Announced by director of athletics Lee De Leon on Jan. 27 and spearheaded by senior associate director of athletics Dave Kinard, the Wildcat Club will make it easy for alumni, fans and friends of ACU Athletics to give to the program. The more you give, the greater the rewards, such as first dibs on seats in the new football stadium, tickets and transportation to selected road games and other perks.

If the name sounds familiar, that’s because it is. This latest incarnation hearkens back to Wildcat Clubs of old. Like Great Depression old. The Oct. 10, 1929, edition of The Optimist includes a story about a campus bonfire being lit (intentionally) by the “Loyal Wildcat Club,” a group created to “further the pep” among students. All were welcome and, in fact, expected to join.

In the late 1940s, another Wildcat Club formed, according to an April 1949 Optimist article, with a stated purpose of trying “to help the school in athletics as much as they possibly can.” Comprised of former letter winners and friends of the college, that version of the club staged events and funded a variety of projects that enhanced the department, including the conversion of a campus dormitory into student-athlete housing and the purchase of a new 14-passenger Mercury automobile to replace the broken down athletics bus affectionately known as the Grey Goose.

November 1952 Optimist Article Wildcat ClubIn 1950, the Wildcat Club commemorated the 25th year of A.B. Morris’ coaching tenure by hosting a banquet at the Hotel Windsor in downtown Abilene. The guest speaker for the evening was Morris’ former coach at Texas A&M University, Dana X. Bible.

In 1958, the club took on its boldest initiative to date: a $20,000 upgrade to the track stadium, which included the addition of two dressing rooms and a press box. Those were halcyon days for the Wildcat “cindermen,” so called because the track surface in those days was made of packed cinder. Two years prior, team member Bobby Morrow (’52) had won three Olympic gold medals in Melbourne, Australia, becoming one of the world’s most famous figures and inviting attention to Abilene Christian like the college had never experienced before. Among those who noticed was California quartermiler Earl Young who graduated in 1958 and two years later would earn an Olympic gold medal of his own.

Through the 1960s, the Wildcat Club sponsored ACU Athletics’ annual banquet, at which senior letter winners were presented a graduation gift. In the early 1970s, head football coach Wally Bullington (’51) launched a luncheon series at the Thunderbird Lodge to let Wildcat Club members and guests hear from assistant coaches and players each week during the season.

In the mid-1980s, the Lettermen’s Association was created in an attempt to keep former student-athletes better connected to and involved with the university. The Wildcat Club kept meeting each week during the football season well into the 1990s, but the Lettermen’s Association eventually became the program’s dues-paying organization and functioned as the club once did.

January 1958 Optimist Article Wildcat ClubUntil now. In December, ACU Athletics notified all former letter winners that the Lettermen’s Association will grant instant, automatic and free membership to anyone who played for the Purple and White. The purpose, like when the group was originally founded in 1986, will be to keep all Wildcats updated on the latest exploits of the current crop.

The Wildcat Club, thus, becomes the new fundraising vehicle for ACU Athletics. De Leon thinks the name has a ring to it. Hopefully several.

“Money raised from the Wildcat Club will absolutely determine wins and losses,” De Leon said. “The more our supporters give, the more resources our teams will have to compete for championships.”

Right now, the playing field on which Wildcat teams are competing isn’t level. For example, once ACU moved up from Division II to Division I in 2013, the number of scholarships it can award increased significantly. But can and will are two different matters.

Take football. In Division II, head coach Ken Collums had 36 scholarships to divvy up among his players. Division I FCS (Football Championship Subdivision) schools are allowed 63. Good news, right? Right, but only if ACU can generate the money necessary to cover those extra 27 scholarships. Multiply 27 by the cost of tuition, room and board, and you begin to see the financial need. And that’s just football. The university has carefully invested in this Division I transition, but it can’t cover all of the costs and stay within budget.

And it shouldn’t have to. Every other university in the Southland Conference and nearly every other in Division I has a fundraising organization to raise money for scholarships, facilities and other projects. Now ACU has one of its own, and none too soon. Collums and other ACU coaches are entering most games with fewer scholarship players than their opponents, yet still finding ways to win at a remarkably successful clip. The women’s cross country team won a Southland Conference championship last fall. The women’s basketball team leads the league with four games to go. Imagine the results if each of the Wildcat teams were fully funded.

The goal for the Wildcat Club is to reach 500 members by June 1. That would be a great start, but think bigger. What if, through the Wildcat Club, former ACU football players banded together to get Collums up to 63 scholarships? What if former Wildcat basketball players created a fund to allow Julie Goodenough and Joe Golding (’99) to fly their teams to a couple of conference games a year so their players wouldn’t have to roll back in by bus from some distant Southland outpost just in time for an 8 a.m. class the next morning? Competing on the Division I level has already given ACU national exposure like it hasn’t seen since the days when Morrow and Young were winning Olympic gold. But with that exposure comes the need for fans of the university to step up in support.

Don’t misunderstand: ACU has always had generous donors, as evidenced by the recent lead gifts to construct Wildcat Stadium and install AstroTurf on the baseball and softball fields. But someone has to follow that lead. The Wildcat Club gives everyone who cares about ACU Athletics the opportunity to do that.

Everything old is new again.

Further the pep and join the club today!

Stadium to build a true home field advantage

Sam Denmark, Quentin Bryant, Ken Collums, Dr. Barry Packer Dr. Phil Schubert, April Anthony and Lee De Leon participated in the ceremonial groundbreaking.

Sam Denmark, Quentin Bryant, Ken Collums, Dr. Barry Packer Dr. Phil Schubert, April Anthony and Lee De Leon participated in the ceremonial groundbreaking.

“Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to bring Wildcat football back to the Hill. We’re doing it today,” said Abilene Christian University benefactor Mark Anthony (’86), drawing the biggest ovation of a sunny, warm February groundbreaking Friday that felt more like football season than a week removed from Valentine’s Day.

Head coach Ken Collums

Head coach Ken Collums

Feb. 19 was a day ACU football fans will love to look back upon: the start of something big and the continuation of a collegiate football legacy dating back nearly a century.

With the football team, cheerleaders, Big Purple Band and several hundred fans present at Wally Bullington Football Practice Facility, the start of long-awaited construction on Wildcat Stadium was celebrated Friday with speeches made and shovels of dirt turned over, symbolically, as a collegiate football program’s new leaf.

ACU first played football in 1919 but hasn’t regularly hosted games on campus since the 1942 season. For 56 years, its home games have been played several miles away at the Abilene Independent School District’s Shotwell Stadium.

Mark’s wife, trustee April (Bullock ’89) Anthony, told ACU Today magazine in 2014 of sitting next to president Dr. Phil Schubert (’91) a year earlier during the Homecoming game, following conversations with her husband about helping build a true home field advantage for the football team and changing the campus gameday atmosphere.

Athletics director emeritus Wally Bullington, head coach of ACU's 1973 NAIA Division I national champion, looked on during the ceremony.

Athletics director emeritus Wally Bullington (’53), head coach of ACU’s 1973 NAIA Division I national champion, looked on during the ceremony.

She leaned over and told Schubert, “Man, I sure am tired of driving down the street from campus to get to the football stadium.”

Soon after, the Anthonys resolved to make a cornerstone contribution of $15 million to the project, part of their ACU-record gift of $30 million. Games at the new Wildcat Stadium will be played on Anthony Field.

The ceremony also included comments from Schubert, athletics director Lee De Leon, sophomore linebacker Sam Denmark and head coach Ken Collums. Sophomore defensive back Quinten Bryant and board chair Dr. Barry Packer (’78) led prayers.

Mark Anthony

Mark Anthony

“Wildcat Stadium will have an impact on countless people for decades and decades to come,” said Collums. “I can almost hear third down right now. It’s going to be awesome.”

Schubert said David (’78) and Kathy (Gay ’78) Halbert also have recently made a significant gift to the stadium in honor of David’s lifelong friend, the late All-America defensive back Chuck Sitton (’77).

“ACU is in our DNA and we are proud to be ACU graduates,” Anthony said, giving credit to Bob and Kay Onstead for showing he and April “how to give and how to give humbly. They demonstrated a Christian principle to us, with an unselfish heart.”

Anthony cited three reasons why giving to the Vision in Action initiative and the football stadium, in particular, is important.

“First, we love ACU and know this university was instrumental in preparing us for the rest of our lives. ACU equipped us spiritually, socially, intellectually, and it showed us the power of Christian fellowship. We want others to experience what we experienced,” Anthony said.

“Second, we believe in having a first-class facility that matches the quality of our faculty, our staff and our students here on campus. This is going to be a first-class facility,” he said.

“And finally, we hope and pray that our giving will inspire the next generation and future generations to make their own notable contributions as servant-leaders to this university.”

As construction begins, fundraising continues on Wildcat Stadium. To contribute, visit the online giving site.

Wildcat Stadium, seen in a recent architectural rendering, will host its first game during the 2017 season.

Wildcat Stadium, seen in a recent architectural rendering, will host its first game during the 2017 season.

Wildcat Stadium will seat up to 12,000 fans for games on Anthony Field.

Wildcat Stadium will seat up to 12,000 fans for games on Anthony Field. The venue will be on Ambler Avenue, just west of Judge Ely Boulevard and Crutcher Scott Field.