Masters degree: Purple and White see green

Later in life, PGA great Byron Nelson (center) mentored Tom Watson (right). Both were Masters champions.

Former ACU trustee and PGA great Byron Nelson (center) mentored Tom Watson (right). Both were Masters champions.

Unless you’re a children’s show dinosaur or Gotham’s Joker – and that surely eliminates a sizable chunk of you – purple and green aren’t much of a match.

Boone is the radio-TV voice of the Wildcats

Boone is the radio-TV voice of the Wildcats

But through the years, Abilene Christian University’s primary color has interwoven significantly with the trademark tint of the Masters Tournament, the 79th edition of which is being played this weekend at famed Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga.

Begin with Byron Nelson, perhaps not golf’s all-time greatest player but certainly the author of two of the game’s most hallowed records: 11 straight wins and 18 victories overall in his sublime season of 1945. Eight years earlier, Nelson was an up-and-coming touring pro from a Church of Christ family in Fort Worth when he claimed the fourth-ever Masters. Just 25 years old at the time – the same age as this year’s favorite Rory McIlroy – it was at that point his most important victory. He took the tournament again in 1942, winning an 18-hole playoff against Ben Hogan. In a statistically absurd twist of fate, both men had risen from the same caddyshack at Glen Garden Country Club in Fort Worth and would go on to hall of fame careers.

Byron Nelson dominated professional golf for decades.

Byron Nelson won 18 tournaments – and 11 straight – in 1945.

Nelson retired to his ranch in Roanoke, Texas, after the 1946 season. In addition to tending to his cattle, he devoted his post-playing days to a variety of philanthropic and non-profit activities, including serving as a member of the ACU Board of Trustees from 1965-74 and establishing an endowment in 1984 that made golf a scholarship sport at ACU.

During Nelson’s tenure as an ACU trustee, 33-year-old Abilenian Charles Coody opened the 1971 Masters with a 66 and rallied with two late birdies to overtake young hotshot Johnny Miller and hold off a hard-charging past champion Jack Nicklaus to win by two strokes. A decade later, Coody’s daughter, Caryn (Coody ’85) Hill, transferred to ACU where she met her husband, James Hill (’83).

Abilene Christian also has a history behind the scenes at the Masters and, in fact, in creating those scenes so many have witnessed through the years. In 1977, ACU senior Lance Barrow (’77) worked his first Masters as part of the CBS Sports production crew. Nearly 40 years later, Lance Barrow (77) is in charge of those telecasts as CBS Sports’ coordinating producer of both golf and NFL games on the network, which every three years includes the Super Bowl. In fact, in the now 60 years that CBS Sports has televised the Masters, Barrow is one of only two men to have ever produced the tournament’s telecasts. The other is Frank Chirkinian, a sports television pioneer and the man under whom Barrow learned the trade.

Barrow is one of only two executive producers to mastermind televising the Masters tournament for CBS Sports.

Barrow is one of only two executive producers at CBS to oversee televising the Masters tournament, one of the most-watched sports events each year.

Golf fans will remember the 1996 Masters as the year three-time champion Nick Faldo reeled in a Shark. The so-nicknamed Greg Norman held a six-shot lead going into the final round in search of his first green jacket, only to shoot 78 and lose to Faldo by five. History may not recall that was also the first Masters covered by a pair of ACU journalism graduates: Doug Ferguson (83), born on the Friday of the first of Jack Nicklaus’ six wins in Augusta, and yours truly (91).

Two years later, Ferguson, like Barrow, reached the pinnacle of his particular profession when he became the chief golf scribe for The Associated Press. “AP Golf Writer” sounds way too generic and understated for the significance of the position. Because of how far that news service reaches, Ferguson is generally considered the most widely read golf writer in the world. And one of its best. Repeatedly honored for his work, including receiving the Gutenberg Award from ACU in 1999, Ferguson was president of the Golf Writers Association of America from 2007-09.

Jeev Singh helped ACU win the 199_ NCAA Division II national title, then qualified for the Masters in ____.

Jeev Milkha Singh of India helped ACU win the 1993 NCAA Division II national title and played in the Masters from 2007-09. Among his nine career wins are the Volvo Masters, Scottish Open and a ninth-place finish at the 2008 PGA Championship.

The Masters that may have had the deepest shade of ACU purple was 2009. Four-time winner Tiger Woods, No. 1 in the official world golf rankings at the time, was grouped the first two days that year with Jeev Milkha Singh (96), who won an individual and team national championship for the Wildcats in 1993. That was Singh’s third and – to date – last appearance at Augusta National. He remains the only ACU player to have competed in a Masters.

By that Sunday, the spotlight had shifted to two men with roots in the Restoration Movement and an entertaining Angel. Kenny Perry, a deacon at the Franklin Church of Christ in Franklin, Ky., bogeyed his final two holes to fall into a playoff with 2007 U.S. Open champion Angel Cabrera and Chad Campbell, the younger brother of then-ACU golf coach Mike Campbell (’91). With a couple of good bounces and great shots, the effervescent Argentine Cabrera won the playoff. But as Campbell contended, Barrow directed the CBS cameras toward Mike. From the 18th tower, announcer Jim Nantz repeatedly mentioned Mike and ACU with an estimated 42 million viewers watching nationwide.

Steve Gwinn (’89) and Boone with Gary Player, who has won the Masters famous green jacket three times in his career.

Steve Gwinn (’89) and Boone with Gary Player, who has won the Masters’ famous green jacket three times in his career.

This week is my 10th Masters to cover and sixth straight as part of the CBS broadcast team. I will again anchor coverage of Amen Corner, the iconic stretch of holes 11-13, Thursday through Sunday for, and DIRECTV.

My dream scenario for ACU has been for a former Wildcat to win the Masters, Barrow to produce the telecast, Ferguson to write the worldwide recap of record and me to call the winning putt. So far, it hasn’t been in the cards, and, sure, the deck is stacked against a player from the Purple and White ever winning a green jacket. But when it comes to cards and decks, just remember: sometimes Jokers are wild.

Grant Boone's CBS Cart at Masters 600x600 96

Zane Williams to follow Aaron Watson at Opry

Watson has the current top-selling country album in the world.

The week of March 7, 2015, Watson had the current top-selling country album in the world.

In a place where country music history runs deep, a little ACU tradition is starting to emerge as well.

Earlier this month, Aaron Watson (’00) became the third former Abilene Christian University student to play the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tenn.

Zane Smith makes his Grand Ole Opry debut April 25.

Zane Williams makes his Grand Ole Opry debut April 25.

Later this month, Zane Williams (’99) will become the second Wildcat in a matter of weeks to make his debut on the storied stage from where WSM radio broadcasts the Opry around the world.

Williams – like Watson – is one of the most popular country recording artists in Texas, and is featured on the “Troubador, TX” TV series.

Williams will perform Saturday night, April 25, in a show headlined by Opry member and bluegrass legend Ricky Skaggs. Watch this blog for an upcoming “10 Questions with Zane Williams” Q&A and more information about his performance.

Other former ACU students to play the Opry are Holly Dunn (’79) and Ronnie Dunn (’76). Holly was an Opry member for 20 years (1989-2009) and helped host TNN’s “Opry Backstage” from 1998-2000.

VIA News: New stadium will open with a bang

Hurdles at New Elmer Gray Stadium 600x400 96With the crack of a starter pistol, a ceremonial first lap at Abilene Christian University’s new Elmer Gray Stadium will be covered by some of those who made the old stadium of that name legendary in the annals of track and field.

Olympic relay gold medalist Earl Young (’62) will take the baton and break the tape about noon this Friday, April 10, officially opening the new stadium, which along with serving ACU’s legendary track and field program, will be the first permanent home for the much newer – though still quite successful – women’s soccer team.

The grand opening is scheduled to begin at 11:45 a.m., shortly after ACU’s daily Chapel assembly dismisses. It’s the first in a series of events that will culminate with the second annual Wes Kittley Invitational, a track and field meet on Saturday featuring teams from ACU, Texas Tech and TCU, among others. A special induction ceremony for the ACU Sports Hall of Fame will take place Friday night, honoring five Wildcat track and field stars.

Friday’s grand opening will provide students and visitors a chance to run a lap on the new purple track surface, as well as try out their kicking prowess against ACU soccer goalie Sydney Newton. Free hot dogs and drinks also will be provided.

The stadium was built as part of ACU’s Vision in Action initiative, a $75 million transformation of campus that includes three new science facilities and two on-campus athletics stadia. The original Elmer Gray Stadium, built in 1954, was named for ACU’s first participant in the U.S. Olympic trials; Elmer Gray (’32) and his family provided the funds for the stadium to be renovated with the university’s first all-weather track, and it was named for him in 1969. Crews have been demolishing the facility this week to make way for Wildcat Stadium, a new on-campus football facility for which fundraising is ongoing.

Funds for the new Elmer Gray Stadium were provided by April (Bullock ’89) and Mark Anthony (’86), whose $30 million gift in 2014 helped launch the Vision in Action initiative and stands as the largest in ACU history.

VIA News: New track as fast as it is purple

A purple running surface makes new Elmer Gray Stadium easy to spot in this aerial image from late January. The older Gray Stadium can be seen at top right.

Its purple running surface makes new Elmer Gray Stadium easy to spot in this aerial image from late January. Powell Fitness Center and the original Gray Stadium can be seen at top right. Between the new stadium and Wells Field (home of Wildcat softball) are field houses for track and field (left) and softball/soccer. Ambler Avenue is to the north and Campus Court is on the west.

Keith Barnier may not sleep well April 10, the night before Abilene Christian University hosts TCU and Texas Tech University in the biggest triangular track and field meet in ACU in more than half a century, but it will have nothing to do with the purple – and fast – running surface at new Elmer Gray Stadium.

Unlike his predecessors prior to the late 1960s, no Wildcat head coach today need lose a minute of shuteye obsessing over the grooming of a porous cinder track on which his team would have to compete before the next nightfall.

James Segrest, Bill Woodhouse, Waymond Griggs and Bobby Morrow practiced and competed on Elmer Gray Stadium's cinder track, and together tied or set three world records. Morrow was part of nine world records.

Waymond Griggs (’59), Bill Woodhouse (’59), James Segrest (’59) and Bobby Morrow (’58) practiced and competed on Elmer Gray Stadium’s cinder track, and together tied or set four world records in the 440-yard relay.

Running surfaces have come a long way since former head coaches Oliver Jackson (’42) and Bill McClure (’48) used a tractor to drag a heavy wooden implement behind it, water the surface, and then roll and pack it smooth in an effort to outfox the dry West Texas wind and drain downpours that could otherwise turn a fast track into a mushy quaqmire.

“The cinders were watered the night before a meet just enough to soften the surface and yet leave it tight: just the right amount of moisture and packing was necessary,” said former quartermiler Earl Young (’62), who set five world records and helped the U.S. win a gold medal in the 4×400 relay in the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome. “Coach Bill McClure was in charge of this grooming of our track and he was a perfectionist.”

“On cinder tracks in wet conditions, the water puddled and if you were not in the lead you got splashed by the lead runners,” said Don Conder (’56) of Lubbock, a member of ACU’s world-record-tying 880-yard relay team in May 1956. “The surfaces at the Texas Relays (Austin), Drake Relays (Iowa), Coliseum Relays (Los Angeles), California Relays (Modesto), and ours were all as good as you could get at that time.”

ACU upsets Villanova University at the 1962 Penn Relays as Earl Young beats Frank Budd at the finish line of the 4x400-yard relay.

ACU upsets Villanova University at the 1962 Penn Relays as Earl Young beats Frank Budd at the finish line of the 4×400-yard relay, run on a cinder track.

Young said you would think the Penn Relays, which hosts several thousand runners from high school and college to Olympic development divisions, would have had a substandard cinder track. “But not so,” he said. “It held up because of the outstanding grooming of the running surface.”

To underscore the advantage today’s modern surfaces give runners, consider that Philadelphia’s legendary annual Penn Relays – held for the first time in 1895 – saw a six-second improvement in the college division’s 4×400 relay winning time after switching from a cinder to all-weather track in 1967.

Young said that without such care – and good drainage in wet conditions – cinder tracks could become crusty, hard or loose, and create inconsistent conditions for athletes. “I always preferred a well-maintained surface because it was easier on my legs. It had some ‘give’ to it,” Young said.

Conder said lane lines on cinder tracks had to continually be re-chalked when blurred by wind or rain.

ACU sprint sensation Bobby Morrow (’58) ran a 9.1-second wind-aided time in the 100-yard dash in June 1955 at the NAIA national championships at McMurry College, set on what Conder called a very loose cinder track. Morrow was a freshman that season who helped his team win its third national title in four years. That the Wildcat sprinter could perform so splendidly on a slow running surface – 9.1 in 1955 would have been a world record under today’s wind restrictions – makes fans of the sport shake their heads in amazement.

Morrow (right) breaks the finish line tape at a race on a cinder track in 1956.

Morrow (right) breaks the finish line tape at a race on a cinder track in 1956.

Morrow became known as the world’s fastest man after tying or setting nine world sprint records and winning three gold medals in the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia.

“I have always wondered what times he and we may have run if we had the type surfaces they have now,” Conder said.

“Coach Jackson always said that all-weather tracks were on average one to 1.5 seconds faster to a 400-meter runner,” Young said. “There is no question the surface benefits all runners. I remember stepping onto the track in Atlanta for the 1996 Summer Olympic Games and you could just tell by walking on it that it was built for speed.”

Both the 100-meter (won by Donovan Bailey) and 200-meter (Michael Johnson) dashes in Atlanta resulted in new world records. Johnson also added a gold medal in the 400.

Don Conder ran on a 880-yard Wildcat relay team with Bill Woodhouse, James Segrest and Bobby Morrow that tied a world record in 1956.

Don Conder ran on an 880-yard Wildcat relay team with Woodhouse, Segrest and Morrow that tied a world record in 1956.

The last Olympics to be held on cinder were the 1964 games in Tokyo, Japan. ACU’s old Elmer Gray Stadium track was converted from cinder to an all-weather surface in 1969, thanks to a gift from the Gray family. The surface was re-done in 1978 and renovated again in 1990.

The new Elmer Gray Stadium running surface is a world-class, full-pour polyurethane product built by Beynon, a Maryland-based company that installed identical tracks at Big Ten Conference universities Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa; and Duke, North Carolina, Wake Forest and North Carolina State of the Atlantic Coast Conference, among others.

Beynon tracks can be found throughout the Big 12, Big 10, Pac 12, Southeastern and Atlantic Coast conferences. The last two U.S. Olympic trials (2008 and 2012) were held on a Beynon track at historic Hayward Field at the University of Oregon in Eugene, Ore., and will be again in 2016.

A cinder track today at the Penn Relays would likely never hold up like a synthetic one, as the three-day track and field carnival attracts 22,000 runners in various events. Averaging more than 44,000 spectators a day, only the Olympics and world championships draw larger crowds.

Morrow beats a Texas Relays field of sprinters from UT and __ in Austin in 1957.

Morrow runs 9.3 in the 100-yard dash to beat a Texas Relays field of Longhorn, Baylor and ACU sprinters in Austin in 1957 on the cinder track at Memorial Stadium. Wildcat runners swept the 100 dash at the Texas Relays from 1955-58.

Jacob’s Dream lands on ‘The Texas Bucket List’

Jack Maxwell and “The Texas Bucket List” host Shane McAuliffe

Jack Maxwell and “The Texas Bucket List” host Shane McAuliffe

Jacob’s Dream, the popular sculpture site at Abilene Christian University, will be featured regionally Easter weekend on a new episode of “The Texas Bucket List” TV show.

The show can be seen in Abilene on KTXS-TV at 5 p.m. Saturday, April 4, and on more than two dozen other Texas stations. See your local cable provider for a date and time where you live.

Host Shane McAuliffe and producer Nick Smeloff made a visit to campus last fall to scout the 34-foot-tall bronze landmark and immediately went to work shooting footage. The show’s segment includes an interview with artist Jack Maxwell (’78) and several ACU students.

ACU student Simone Leonard was interviewed for the show.

ACU student Simone Leonard was interviewed for the show.

“The Texas Bucket List” began in 2011 after McAuliffe – who has worked in broadcasting in Abilene, Corpus Christi, Austin and Bryan/College Station – started the concept at KBTX-TV in College Station.

Jacob’s Dream was dedicated in 2006 to recognize the generosity of the late Grace L. Woodward and her family of Kerrville, Texas. The inspirational site, which features four 8-foot-tall bronze angels ascending and descending a ladder to heaven during a dream described in Genesis 28, annually attracts visitors from around the world. It also includes a baptismal pool and is a daily destination point for classes, devotionals, weddings, baptisms, and the work of photographers and videographers shooting images of individuals and families.

“The Making of Jacob’s Dream,” a 2007 documentary tracing development of the sculpture, received four Telly Awards and an Emmy nomination:

This short video provides a bird’s-eye tour of the sculpture:


Helton chosen to lead Alberta Bible College

Stan Helton 400x450 96Dr. Stanley N. Helton (’92 M.S.) was selected this week to be the next president of Alberta Bible College in Alberta, Canada. He begins work July 1.

Helton will become the sixth Abilene Christian University graduate to serve in 2015 as president of a college or university, joining Dr. Phil Schubert (’91) of ACU, Dr. John Tyson (’81) of Rochester CollegeDr. R. Gerald Turner (’68) of Southern Methodist University, Dr. Tim Summerlin (’68) of Schreiner University, and Dr. Brent Wallace (’03 M.A.) of North Central Texas College.

Helton was previously a research associate for the Haggard Center for New Testament Textual Studies in New Orleans and minister of the Word at First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Hammond, La. From 2006-09 he was dean of Western Christian College in Regina, Saskatchewan.

He earned three graduate theology degrees from ACU: a M.S. in doctrinal and historical studies in 1992, a M.Div. in 1999 and a D.Min. in 2009. Helton also has a B.A. degree in biblical studies from Oklahoma Christian University (1988) and a Th.M. (2012) and Ph.D. (2014), both from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

Alberta Bible College was founded in 1932 and is one of Canada’s oldest Bible colleges and degree-granting institutions of higher learning.

Smitty: A man for all seasons

Don Smith was a master recruiter of talented student-athletes.

Don Smith was a master recruiter of talented student-athletes.

On the recruiting trail, Don Smith (’53) was relentless.

Boone is the radio-TV voice of the Wildcats

Boone is the radio-TV voice of the Wildcats

I found out firsthand one night in 1990. Smith and I had just broadcast Abilene Christian University’s football game against Texas A&M-Kingsville University. It was the Wildcats’ 10th straight loss and “Smitty,” as he was affectionately known around ACU for the better part of half a century, was looking to bury a spoon and his sorrow in a tub of ice cream.

Riding shotgun with then-sports information director Garner Roberts (’70) at the wheel and me in the backseat, the legendary Wildcat player and assistant coach called the shots in search of a treat. We went three-and-out in our initial attempts before Smith directed us to a gas station along a darkened Texas highway that had a freezer full of ice cream cups, the kind you’d find in a school cafeteria with the pull-tab top and the wooden pseudo-spoon attached. Rock hard from having been in there for who knows how long, the dairy dessert didn’t budge. Smith’s utensil splintered into kindling on contact. As did the next one. And the next. Undaunted, he persisted until the ice cream finally softened.

Smith, a talented player for the Wildcats, made friends easily with his own players.

Smith, a talented player for the Wildcats, made friends easily with his own players.

A litany of ACU football players can relate.

For 13 seasons from 1968-81, Smith criss-crossed the country in passionate pursuit of young men to play for the Purple and White. And like that South Texas ice cream, they usually melted under Smith’s unyielding love and encouragement.

“He’s as good as we’ve ever had,” says Wally Bullington (’53), director of athletics emeritus and Smith’s boss as head football coach from 1968-76. “He never met a stranger and could find something good about every kid he recruited.”

One of those kids was Greg Feasel (’81). Now the executive vice president and chief operating officer of Major League Baseball’s Colorado Rockies after playing professional football for parts of eight seasons, Feasel was recruited by Smith out of Barstow, Calif. His younger brother, the late Grant Feasel (’83), would follow him to Abilene and then to the NFL.

“It was the first time I was ever away from home,” Greg says. “I was a transfer. I went to Abilene and didn’t know anybody, and my parents were 1,200 miles away. Don and his wife adopted me first and then Grant. He was there all the time, whether it was taking us to church or helping us find an odd job. Anything I needed, he was always there.”

Literally. Don and his wife, Barbara (Fleming ’50), lived in the athletics dorm at the time, A.B. Morris Hall, giving them closer access to the players and allowing them to serve as surrogate parents to the Feasel boys and numerous others.

Some of Smith’s recruiting tales are epic. Like his – and, arguably, the program’s – biggest catch, Wilbert Montgomery (’77). Bullington had gotten wind of Montgomery’s exploits as a high school running back in Greenville, Miss., from a family member. By the time Smith showed up to make his pitch for Abilene Christian, so had other schools, including Jackson State University, which already had a back of some renown on its roster: future college and pro football hall of fame member Walter “Sweetness” Payton.

Montgomery delivers his induction speech in 1996.

Former Wildcat star Wilbert Montgomery delivers his induction speech in 1996 at the College Football Hall of Fame.

Smitty didn’t want Jackson State or anyone else sweet-talking Montgomery. So one day, as the story goes, while Smith was at Montgomery’s house visiting, he spotted a coach from another school coming up the walk. The former fullback wanted to meet the opposition head on. Montgomery suggested a slip screen through the back window. A then-collegiate record 76 touchdowns later, Montgomery had himself become a Wildcat legend. He went on to NFL stardom with the Philadelphia Eagles and in 1996 was enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame.

Smith wasn’t against using a back window for a great escape. What he couldn’t stomach was a closed front door, which he found when courting Montgomery in Mississippi.

His daughter, Donna (Smith ’75) Saffel, says because Smith grew up in California, he hadn’t experienced the extreme racial tension of the deep South. “I remember how upset he was when he came home from recruiting Wil,” Saffel says. “Dad did not see color; he saw a human being.”

And what those players saw in Smith was the kind of man they could trust with their own family. With the Montgomerys, as with the Feasels a few years later, one brother led to another. Cle Montgomery (’78), a wide receiver, soon joined Wilbert at ACU. His love for Smith began before he ever made it to campus.

It was July 1974, and Smith had driven to Greenville to pick up Wilbert for his sophomore season and Cle for his freshman year and take them back to Abilene. Somewhere in Arkansas, they stopped to get something to eat but were turned away because of the color of the Montgomerys’ skin. The incident made Smith’s skin crawl.

Don Smith 650x650 96“He cried,” Cle recalls, “and then he nearly got in a fistfight (with the restaurant owner). The rest of the trip he kept telling us how sorry he was. He just saw everyone as God’s children.”

Cle credits the coach with his success on and off the field. With Smith’s encouragement, Cle graduated from ACU in four years while playing at a high enough level to make the Lone Star Conference’s 75th anniversary team and then, like Wilbert, the NFL. He played six seasons, winning a Super Bowl with the then-Los Angeles Raiders in 1983.

Smith was a two-sport star and coach. In addition to playing alongside Bullington on ACU’s 1950 undefeated football team, he helped the Wildcats’ track and field team win a national championship and other prestigious relay titles. In a touch of irony, Smith later coached Cooper High School in Abilene to the 1964 state title with only five athletes and no relay team.

Smith stepped down as an ACU assistant football coach in 1981 to go into private business but couldn’t get the game out of his system. He became head coach at Abilene Christian High School later that decade, a post he was in when I broadcast ACU games with him. During one season in which his team wasn’t playing particularly well, I asked him if his team had played the night before. Smith’s zinger of an answer?

39B_11647.psd“Not much.”

To me, Smith was larger than life – “the jolliest man I’d ever met,” says Cle Montgomery – which is why his death in 2002 left such a mark. The next year, the ACU football program began the Don Smith Memorial Golf Tournament in his honor to raise money for recruiting.  This year’s event is set for Saturday, April 18, at Diamondback Golf Course in Abilene. The night before, participants are invited to the ACU scrimmage at Shotwell Stadium and a gathering afterward at Sharon’s Barbeque hosted by current head coach Ken Collums and his staff.

Recruiting is the lifeblood of any college football program. At ACU, the challenge is even greater. Like Smith, Collums is looking for more than just good players.

“We are fully committed to growing these guys into the kind of men who will love God first and eventually their wives and kids,” Collums says. “It is our No. 1 priority. We are doing our best each day to add to the incredible foundation laid long ago by men like Don Smith.”

I hope you’ll join us for this year’s event on April 17-18. We’ll talk some football and share a few stories about Smitty. I can’t guarantee you’ll play well. But I can promise you won’t have to look hard to find the ice cream. Get the full scoop here.

VIA News: Halbert ‘proud’ of building

Halbert-Walling Research Center groundbreaking

FROM LEFT: ACU provost Dr. Robert Rhodes, Students’ Association president Beau Carter, David D. Halbert, Kathy Halbert, Board of Trustees chair Dr. Barry Packer and ACU president Dr. Phil Schubert participated in the ceremonial groundbreaking for the new Halbert-Walling Research Center.

Dean Walling (’30) – scientist, entrepreneur, benefactor – was “larger than life” to his grandson, David D. Halbert (’78).

“The older I get,” Halbert said Tuesday at the groundbreaking ceremony for the new science facility that will bear both men’s names, “the larger he gets.”

David Dean Halbert

David D. Halbert

Now the legacy of both men and their families will be quite large indeed, as the 54,000-square-foot Halbert-Walling Research Center will soon rise from the rubble of the former Chambers Hall, alongside which Tuesday’s ceremony took place. The building is named for Halbert and his wife, Kathy (Gay ’78), whose $15 million cornerstone gift for the facility is the third-largest in ACU history, and for Dean and Thelma (Bernard 33) Walling, who were instrumental in the transformation of campus 50 years ago during the Design for Development campaign.

Halbert paid tribute to his grandfather as “a man of integrity, a man of vision and courage” in his remarks.

“The courage my grandfather had inspired me to do what I have done – trying to live up to his legacy,” said Halbert, who has started and grown businesses in the science and medical professions, selling them for billions of dollars while funding the Caris Foundation, which he and Kathy co-founded to provide medical services for impoverished people across the globe.

The Halbert gift was one of three to catalyze the Vision in Action initiative, which will result in five new facilities for science and athletics on the ACU campus. It’s the biggest transformation of campus in five decades, when the Design for Development campaign overseen by Walling led to the construction of McGlothlin Campus Center, Moody Coliseum, Brown Library and others.

Lydia Brown

Lydia Brown

ACU president Dr. Phil Schubert (’91) hailed not only David but also Kathy and the rest of their family – children Kristen (’04) Barstad, Patrick (’07) and Michael (’11) and their spouses – for their generosity.

“This is truly not just a gift from David and Kathy,” he said. “This is a gift from the entire Halbert family.”

Schubert referenced Halbert’s reputation as intimidating and exacting as he recalled their first meeting after Schubert’s 2009 inauguration.

“It was about three hours long,” he said, “and about two hours and 58 minutes of that was him challenging me to have big, bold visions for this campus. … Every time I left a meeting with David Halbert, I felt challenged.”

Lydia Brown, senior biology major from Tucson, Ariz., described her experience in ACU’s science programs, calling her decision to attend “the best decision I’ve made in my life so far.”

“Mr. and Mrs. Halbert, thank you,” she said. “This investment is going to change more lives than you’ll be able to understand. Thank you for being willing to invest your money in something that makes a permanent difference.”

Hundreds of Wildcats serve their neighbors

More than 250 members of the Abilene Christian University community – students, parents, alumni, prospective students and trustees – turned out on Saturday to serve their neighbors in the inaugural statewide Wildcats Serving day.

Events were held in Abilene, Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio, coordinated by university relations director Craig Fisher (’92) and his team of university relations managers in those markets. Among the services rendered, Wildcats helped organize a Family Fun Day with Impact Church of Christ for a fifth-ward apartment complex in Houston, served at the CitySquare thrift store in Dallas and volunteered at Global Samaritan Resources in Abilene.

Among the participants: a high school senior who drove from Denton to the Wildcats Serving Dallas event at the Community Enrichment Center event in North Richland Hills.

“It was a great day for the ACU community across Texas,” Fisher said. “We were able to come together to serve and to make a difference for others. We thank all of the nonprofits for their willingness to partner with us.”

Photos from the events (Fort Worth still to come) are available on the ACU Alumni Relations Flickr page.

VIA News: Gray Stadium demo begins Monday

Elmer Gray Stadium old 600x400 96Demolition of old Elmer Gray Stadium, a venerable U.S. track and field venue for decades at Abilene Christian University, will begin at 9 a.m. Monday, March 30. It will make way for the eventual footprint of the proposed Wildcat Stadium and a return to on-campus football games for the first time since World War II.

Elmer Gray was the first ACU student-athlete to compete in the U.S. Olympic Trials for track and field. He finished fifth in the semifinals of the 800-meter run in 1932.

Elmer Gray was the first ACU student-athlete to compete in the U.S. Olympic trials for track and field. He finished fifth in the semifinals of the 800-meter run in 1932.

Just to the southwest, new Elmer Gray Stadium is taking shape as construction crews prepare it for an April 10 grand opening (11:30 a.m.) and an inaugural track and field meet the next day.

The second annual Wes Kittley Invitational on April 11 will bring the most high-powered full-team competition to campus since 1960, when ACU, the University of Michigan, Ohio State University and the University of Texas faced off in a quadrangular meet before a standing-room-only crowd. This year’s meet, which features ACU along with Texas Tech University and TCU of the Big 12 Conference, begins at 3 p.m.

Construction on the new stadium, which is shared with the Wildcat women’s soccer program, will still be a bit of a work in progress for its opening. And throwing events will take place across Ambler Avenue but all others will be held on the new running surface at the venue along Campus Court, north of Edwards Hall.

Gray Stadium’s full-pour polyurethane performance surface is purple and was installed by Beynon, whose handiwork can be seen in track and field stadiums at major universities throughout the Big 12, Big 10, Pac 12, Southeastern and Atlantic Coast conferences.

The stadium is one of five major building projects that are part of ACU’s $75 million Vision in Action initiative.

Watch this blog for construction updates and special features about ACU’s legendary track and field program – named “Texas Sports Dynasty of the Century” by Texas Monthly magazine in 1999 – and the old stadium where national champions and Olympians thrilled fans for generations.

ACU and Texas Tech will be joined April 11 by TCU in the biggest full-team track and field meet on campus in decades.

ACU and Texas Tech will be joined April 11 by TCU in the biggest full-team track and field meet on campus in decades.