10 Questions with Opry-bound Zane Williams

ZaneW_BW_vertical (4)A native of Abilene, Zane Williams (’99) nearly gave up his dreams of a music career, nine years after pursuing it in Nashville, Tenn, following graduation. After a return to Texas, his instinctive feel for songwriting began to open doors.

His poignant album title cut, “Hurry Home,” won the $20,000 Maxell Song of the Year honor in the John Lennon Songwriting Contest in 2006, when two of his songs also won Merlefest songwriting categories. He has since moved near the top of the Texas Music Chart with hits from albums “Overnight Success” and “Texas Like That,” his newest. There, his name came be found among fellow alum Aaron Watson (’00), relative newcomers and legendary groups like Asleep at the Wheel.

Recognition for the former Abilene Christian University mathematics major has continued to add up since he became a featured artist on the award-winning “Troubador, TX” TV series when it began three seasons ago.

He is married to Jodi (Smith ’99) and the couple has two children. His mother is former Graduate School dean, associate provost and mathematics professor Dr. Carol Williams and his father is Dr. John Williams, former professor of foreign languages.

We caught up with him as he prepares to make his performing debut on the Grand Ole Opry this Saturday night (listen live online at 7 p.m. CST on WSM 650 AM or on SiriusXM’s Channel 66, “Willie’s Roadhouse”), when Williams will become the fourth former ACU student to play the hallowed venue. Others are Holly Dunn (’79)Ronnie Dunn (’76) and last month, Watson. Holly was an Opry member for 20 years (1989-2009) and helped host TNN’s “Opry Backstage” from 1998-2000.

Williams has opened concerts for Martina McBride and Alan Jackson, and this Saturday night he joins Grammy and Academy of Country Music award winner Ricky Skaggs on stage at the Opry.

What music do you listen to on your tour bus and why?

No tour bus for me. Ha! I listen mainly to new music: a lot of my peers in the “Texas” country music scene, plus some mainstream country and pop mixed in. Recently it’s been new albums from Taylor Swift, Aaron Watson, Wade Bowen, William Clark Green and many others.

You are the fourth ACU former student to play the Opry, and the second in a matter of weeks to make his debut there. Whom have you asked for advice about this opportunity and what did they say?

I asked Aaron Watson, and he told me to do my thing. Ha! That’s something I know how to do.

Most artists refer to their Opry debut as the highlight of their music career. What thoughts are running through your head about standing behind the famous WSM microphone?

I’m mainly just gonna focus on the crowd and selling the song to them in that moment. If I let my mind wander and start thinking about other things, that’s when I might start forgetting lyrics.

Assuming you can give a shout-out from the Opry stage to friends, fans and family, who would you name and why?

My family for sure – my wife Jodi and kiddos foremost. Family comes first and they have sacrificed the most to get me here. My management team second, for all their hard work and belief.

Inside the Grant Old Opry House (photo by ________)

Inside the Grand Old Opry House (Photo by Chris Holo / Holo Photographcs Inc.)

The Opry is described by some as country music’s largest live jam session, both on stage and backstage. Whom do you most hope to meet while there, and why?

I’m sure there will be a ton of talented musicians, but I’d be most interested in meeting the person with the authority to invite us back. Ha!

Texas music legend Ernest Tubb, nicknamed The Texas Troubador, made history when he became the first musician to play an electric guitar at the Opry in the 1940s. What do you most want Nashville’s music industry to know about Texans and the country music they make?

I’d like the Nashville industry to understand that lyrical authenticity and sonic polish don’t have to be mutually exclusive. I think Texas can learn from Nashville about sonic quality and musicianship, whereas our strong suit tends to be authenticity and singing from the heart.

Where in Texas do you enjoy playing most, because of its history or reputation or ambiance, and why?

Love and War in Texas (locations in Grapevine and Plano) is where I played my first show when I moved back to the DFW area, and it just feels like home. The food is incredible, the ambience is laid back and Texas-inspired, and the fans there are all about the music.

You made your first major mark in country music as a songwriter. Which gives you more satisfaction, writing or performing, and why?

To me they go hand in hand. I’m not happy doing one without the other … when I write a song, I can’t wait to share it with folks and watch them enjoy it! When they’re out there singing along, it’s like the cycle is complete.

Where are some of the most interesting places you’ve written a song?

Oh, the laundry room. The bathroom. The unheated garage. Those are all the places I used to have to go when I had a song idea late at night, so that I didn’t disturb anyone. Now I have a separate building in the back yard, and I’m so thankful.

What are some of the lessons you’ve learned from being featured on “Troubadour, TX”?

Your music can be great but you still won’t be successful if no one hears it, and getting it out there takes a team of passionate people behind you. I’m thankful for all the folks at “Troubadour, TX” who worked so hard to tell my story and help me out.

ACU Remembers: Harold Lipford

Harold Lipford obit photoFormer Abilene Christian Schools administrator and ACU fundraising professional Harold Thomas Lipford (’50) died April 18, 2015, in Abilene, Texas, at age 92.

A memorial service will be held at University Church of Christ on Wednesday, April 22, at 2 p.m. with a private burial service at the Texas State Veterans Cemetery in Abilene. Services are under the direction of Piersall Funeral Directors (733 Butternut St., Abilene, Texas 79602). Visitation with the family will be immediately following the service in the Family Room of the church.

Harold was born Sept. 28, 1922, in Fort Worth, where he graduated from Polytechnic High School in 1940. He was a sergeant in the U.S. Army Air Corps, serving from 1942-46 as a supply clerk supervisor in World War II. Following the war, he also served in Wiesbaden, Germany, in the Army of Occupation. He married Jeannette Scruggs (’50) on Sept. 3, 1948, in Abilene.

He attended Texas Wesleyan University from 1941-42 and graduated from ACU in 1950 with a Bachelor of Science in Education degree. He earned a Master of Education degree in administration from The University of Texas at Austin in 1956 and an Ed.S. degree from Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of Education and Human Development in 1970. He also did graduate work at Baylor University.

Harold taught English and music in the Ozona public schools from 1950-52, served as associate minister of the Columbus Avenue Church of Christ in Waco from 1952-61, and taught Bible and music at Lipscomb Academy in Nashville, Tenn., from 1961-66.

Harold and Jeannette Lipford

Harold and Jeannette Lipford

In 1966 he became an assistant professor of education and superintendent of ACU’s Campus School, and was named elementary principal and high school choral director in 1973-74 when it became Abilene Christian Schools. He joined ACU’s development and public relations staff in 1975 as regional director of development and the Annual Fund. For years he coordinated ACU’s Visiting Committee programs and its Christian Education Sundays program. He was honored as the university’s Outstanding Staff Member for 1985 and retired in 1992 as director of university campus events after 26 years of service to his alma mater. ACU students named him one of the 1993 Homecoming Parade grand marshals.

He was instrumental in establishing Mission Church in Abilene in the 1990s. Harold served as a deacon at Abilene’s University Church of Christ, where he and Jeannette have been longtime members. While an ACU student, he sang with the A Cappella Chorus and on the men’s quartet. He was active in ACU’s Alumni Choral Reunion, and he and Jeannette performed with the Over the Hilltoppers group at Abilene Christian’s USO Show at Homecoming 1990 in Moody Coliseum. The Lipfords also supported the Abilene Opera Association.

Ruby Guy and Harold Lipford were chosen grand marshals of the 2003 Homecoming parade.

Lois Marie Reed (left) and Harold Lipford were chosen grand marshals of the 1993 Homecoming parade.

Harold and Jeannette are beloved by thousands of talented students who found in the Lipford home an open door, a welcoming spirit, a love for God, and deep appreciation for the musical and theatrical arts. Harold quickly turned strangers into friends, mentoring them with words of encouragement and a gentle spirit. Behind the scenes, he quietly loved and served people without recognition. He was a Renaissance man who enjoyed learning new things and an artist who used his painting, pottery and gardening skills to bless others. Ever the teacher, he instructed and inspired others without being judgmental about a person’s ability, ethnicity nor station in life. He had an engaging sense of humor, loved animals and was meticulous in managing the details of each day.

He was preceded in death by his parents, W.C. and Mabel Lipford; a brother, W. C. “Sonny” Lipford Jr.; a sister, Jo Evelyn Lipford (’53); and a daughter, Susan Lipford (’77). Among survivors are his wife of 66 years, Jeannette; daughters Cindy (Lipford ’76) Hudson of Nashville and Amy (Lipford ’80) Wright; Croatian daughter Svjetlana Vuksic (’97); five grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.

Memorials may be made online to the Jeannette and Harold Lipford Endowed Music/Theatre Scholarship (or mailed to Gift Records, ACU Box 29132, Abilene, Texas 79699-9132).

Baseball team still slinging stones at Goliaths

ACUBaseballTCU_April15_22175 600x400 96The Abilene Christian University baseball team is 6-9 in the Southland Conference as it prepares to host Sam Houston State University this weekend at Crutcher Scott Field. That’s the same Bearkat squad that traveled to Austin earlier this week and shutout The University of Texas, 5-0.

But don’t let the Wildcats’ overall record (8-26) fool you. If they keep slinging, they will land a stone on the forehead of one of the Goliaths on its schedule before long.

ACU has played Top 20 opponents four times this season, losing all four by one run late in games with the Big 12 and Southeastern conference powerhouses:

  • April 15 vs. No. 1-ranked Texas A&M University in College Station: Lost 3-2 when the Aggies (34-3) of the SEC scored the go-ahead run in the bottom of the seventh inning in Blue Bell Park. ACU pitchers struck out A&M hitters 11 times in the game.
  • April 14 vs. No. 19th-ranked Texas Tech University in Abilene: ACU loaded the bases in the bottom of the ninth inning but couldn’t answer the Red Raiders’ go-ahead run in the top of the ninth in Tech’s first baseball game at ACU since 1976.
  • April 6 vs. No. 2-ranked Texas Christian University in Abilene: Lost 4-3 when the defending Big 12 champion Horned Frogs scored the go-ahead run in the seventh inning and then used its powerful bullpen to seal the win at Crutcher Scott Field.
  • March 3 vs. No. 5-ranked Texas Tech in Lubbock: Lost 6-5 in the bottom of the 16th inning after taking a 5-4 lead in the top of the frame. The Wildcat bullpen of Nate Cole, Nick Palacios, Austin Lambright, Ladgie Zotkya, Kevin Sheets and Brandon Lambright combined to pitch 10 innings of three-hit shutout baseball with 10 strikeouts.

The lineup of formidable opponents continues when head coach Britt Bonneau’s team plays Texas Tech again on April 21 (in Midland); TCU in Fort Worth on May 12; No. 5-ranked Arizona State University on May 19 in Tempe; and University of Arizona on May 21-22 in Tucson. The season ends in Tucson with a game against the University of Hawaii on May 23.

Ideas on stage at university’s first TEDxACU

Dr. Lauren Lemley, associate professor of communication and director of the ACU Speaking Center and graduate studies, is director of TEDxACU.

Dr. Lauren (Smith ’05) Lemley, associate professor of communication and director of the ACU Speaking Center and graduate studies, is director of TEDxACU.

Abilene Christian University’s first TEDx event begins this morning in Cullen Auditorium, where its “ReThink” theme features 13 speakers making short presentations of “ideas worth spreading”.

Started as a conference in California 1984, TED has grown to support those world-changing ideas with many initiatives. At a TED conference, the world’s leading thinkers and doers are asked to give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes or less. On TED.com, talks from TED conferences are shared with the world for free as TED Talks videos, and a new TED Talk is posted every weekday. TEDx initiative grants free licenses to people around the world to organize TED-style events – like TEDxACU – in their communities with TED Talks and live speakers.

ACU’s inaugural event features:

  • Jeff Rogers (’02)graphic designer and illustrator, Brooklyn, N.Y., “Maybe You Don’t Have to Choose”
  • Rabbi Phyllis Sommer, director of congregational learning, Am Shalom, Glencoe, Ill., “Dead is Dead: Euphemism and the Power of Words”
  • Victoria Sun (’15), senior youth and family ministry and music major, Abilene, Texas, “Who Do You Think I Am?”
  • Nika Maples (’96), speaker and author, Fort Worth, Texas, “Maybe You Don’t Have to Choose”
  • Chip Townsend (’07), owner, Team Chip Tae Kwon Do Centers, Abilene, Texas, “Changing the World One Kick at a Time”
  • John Siburt (’96), president and chief operating officer, CitySquare, Garland, Texas, “Build Ships: Sink Isms”
  • Dr. Stephen Baldridge, assistant professor of social work, ACU, Abilene, Texas, “The More You’re Taught, the Less You Know”
  • Dr. Rusty Towell (’90), professor of physics, ACU, Abilene, Texas, “Why Making Energy From Dirt Might Save the World”
  • Sean Adams (’94), sportscaster and speaker, Austin, Texas, “The Real Importance of Sports”
  • Jeff Christian (’94), minister, Bering Drive Church of Christ, Houston, Texas, “How My Tribe Created My TEDx Talk”
  • Tom Craven, retired manager of the Entertainment Division, Walt Disney World, Windermere, Fla., “What Disney Can Teach Us About Inspiration, Creativity and Having Faith in Your Team”
  • Jack (’78) and Jill (Thompson ’78) Maxwell, artists, Abilene, Texas, “Double Vision”

Sessions begin at 8 a.m. and run through 5 p.m.

Craven spoke Thursday to Abilene civic leaders and to students in ACU’s Lynay group at a luncheon sponsored by the university’s Center for Building Community.

Sun won an earlier competition among Abilene Christian students to choose a speaker for TEDxACU.

See the Fall-Winter 2015 issue of ACU Today magazine for coverage of TEDxACU.

ACU Remembers: Karen Griffith

Griffith_Karen 200x300 96Abilene Christian University staff member Karen Leigh (Wood ’06) Griffith, 62, died April 12, 2015, in Abilene. A memorial service will be held Thursday, April 16, at Woodlawn Church of Christ (3185 N. 10th St., 79603) at 10 a.m., with burial following in Hamby Cemetery. Visitation is today at Elliott-Hamil Funeral Home (5701 Highway 277 S., 79602) from 5-7 p.m.

Griffith was born Oct. 11, 1952, in Dallas and graduated from Abilene High School in 1971. She earned an Associate of Applied Science degree from Texas State Technical College in 1997 and a Bachelor of Applied Studies degree from ACU in 2006. While a student at TSTC, she served as Student Association vice president at the Abilene campus and president at the Sweetwater campus.

She was a longtime champion volunteer at Woodlawn Church of Christ, where she served as children’s minister and mentored countless people. Griffith began work at ACU in 1997 as a records specialist in the Registrar’s Office and was student services specialist in the Depot at the time of her passing. One highlight of her 17-year career on the Hill was being named ACU’s Outstanding Staff Member of the Year in 2001 for her devotion to customer service and to the Abilene Christian students who admired her personal and professional care for them.

She was preceded in death by her father, Glynn Wood. Among survivors are her mother, Olivia; a daughter, Kristi (Griffith) Bearden; a son, Zachary Griffith (’07); a brother, Roger Wood (’76); sisters Kathy Cooke (’78) and Lisa Ortiz; and a grandson.

Saturday’s meet the biggest at ACU in 55 years

A stand-room-only Elmer Gray Stadium crowd in 1960 watched Earl Young and the Wildcats battle Michigan, Ohio State and Texas.

A standing-room-only Elmer Gray Stadium crowd in 1960 watched Earl Young and the Wildcats battle Michigan, Ohio State and Texas.

The most high-powered meet in 55 years – featuring three full NCAA Division I teams – will christen Abilene Christian University’s new Elmer Gray Stadium this Saturday, harkening memories of ACU’s longtime history near the epicenter of the track and field world.

Competition Saturday in the second annual Wes Kittley Invitational between teams from ACU, Texas Tech University and Texas Christian University will begin with field events at 11:30 a.m. and running events at 4:30 p.m. Kittley (’81) is the head coach of the Red Raiders whose ACU teams won 29 NCAA Division II national team titles from 1985-99. He was Big 12 Conference Men’s Coach of the Year in 2014.

Old Gray Stadium’s ground was especially hallowed March 26, 1960, when an overflow crowd packed the stands to watch the Wildcats finish second to teams from the University of Michigan, Ohio State University, and The University of Texas at Austin.

Roberts chronicled ACU sports events as SID from 1973-98.

Roberts chronicled ACU sports events as SID from 1973-98.

Former longtime sports information director Garner Roberts (’70) ranks the event No. 2 among the top meets ever held at the original Gray Stadium, which is nearing the completion of demolition a few meters northeast of its new home.

Roberts summarizes the 1960 quadrangular meet in a recent post on acusports.com:

“Four Olympians were featured in this early-season outdoor competition before a standing-room-only crowd of more than 6,000 fans. The Wolverines of the University of Michigan, fresh off their victory in the Big 10 indoor championships, came to 65-degree Abilene from 9-degree Ann Arbor to upset the favored Longhorns from University of Texas, defending Southwest Conference champion who had already won the 1960 Border Olympics and San Angelo Relays. Michigan scored 61 points to 51.5 for ACC, 39 for Texas and 22.5 for the Buckeyes of Ohio State, competing without its two fine high jumpers who were at the U.S. Olympic trials with OSU’s NCAA championship basketball team. The four coaches are future Hall of Fame selections by the coaches association – Oliver Jackson of ACC, Clyde Littlefield of Texas, Larry Snyder of Ohio State and Don Canham of Michigan.

Jackson coached Morrow and Wildcat relay teams that set world records as collegians.

Jackson coached Morrow and Wildcat relay teams that set world records as collegians.

The Wildcats won both relays (40.7 and 3:13.5) anchored by Earl Young, and Jackson’s team also got wins from Frank Taylor in the 440 (49.0), Calvin Cooley in the 220 hurdles (22.5) and Thomas O’Neal in the two-mile (9:38.0). Longhorn Olympian Eddie Southern (47.1) defeated world 440 record holder Glenn Davis (47.4) in a special 440 with ACC’s Bobby Morrow (48.3) third, and Jimmy Weaver (10.4) upset ACC’s Bill Woodhouse (second) and Southern (third) in a special 100 meters. Michigan’s fine sprinter Tom Robinson won both dashes (9.6 and 20.9) in the scored collegiate meet, and Olympian Bill Neider threw 63-7.5 to challenge his world record of 63-10 in the shot put set one week earlier in Palo Alto, Calif.  Texas failed to win a running event in a meet for the first time in more than 10 years.

The Abilene Reporter-News wrote, ‘The crowd was probably the biggest in the history for a track and field meet here. The stands on both sides were filled, and several hundred more were filed around the outside fences and looking from atop buses and automobiles at the grand collection of athletes.’

The Michigan coach told reporters, ‘This was the greatest first performance outdoors for us. I have no complaints. It was a terrific meet.’ ”

Bill McClure succeeded Oliver Jackson as Wildcat head coach, carrying on the tradition of record-setting performances in track and field.

Bill McClure succeeded Oliver Jackson as Wildcat head coach, carrying on the tradition of record-setting performances in track and field.

The head coaches that day were on their way to becoming legends in the amateur/collegiate sports world.

Wildcat collegians coached by Jackson (’42) set or tied 15 world records and won four Olympic gold medals, and he was inducted to the Texas Sports Hall of Fame. Canham later championed collegiate sports marketing as one of the longest-tenured athletics directors in Michigan history (1968-88), preceding head football coach Bo Schembechler. The annual Texas Relays in Austin are now named for Littlefield, who was Longhorn head track and field coach for 41 years, and head football coach for six seasons. Snyder coached the Buckeyes from 1932-65 and among his top athletes was the great Jesse Owens. He also was assistant coach of the U.S. Olympic team in 1952 and head coach in 1960.

The No. 1 Gray Stadium event on Roberts’ list, by the way, took place the same year when it was the venue July 15-16 for the 1960 U.S. Olympic trials for women in track and field. Among participants was 20-year-old sprinter Wilma Rudolph, who went on to win three gold medals in the 100, 200 and 400-meter relays at the Games in Toyko that fall.

Those were the same events in which Morrow (’58) won gold medals four years earlier for the U.S. men’s team in Melbourne, Australia.

TCU and Texas Tech will be preparing Saturday for next month’s Big 12 Outdoor Championships, and ACU for the Southland Conference Outdoor Championships. Texas Tech has already broken 20 of its school records during 2015 competition and TCU is known for its top sprinters and relay teams. Western Texas College and South Plains College also will enter student-athletes in Saturday’s meet.

Billy Olson practiced and competed at old Gray Stadium while preparing for the 1980 Olympics and record-setting performances in the pole vault.

Billy Olson (’81) practiced and competed at old Gray Stadium while preparing for the 1980 Olympics and record-setting pole vault performances around the world.

Albert Lawrence (’85), a standout sprinter for the Wildcats, won an Olympic silver medal while competing for his native Jamaica.

Albert Lawrence (’85), a standout sprinter for the Wildcats, won an Olympic silver medal while competing for his native Jamaica.

Tim Bright (’_-) was a three-time U.S. Olympian in the decathlon and pole vault.

Tim Bright (’83) was a three-time U.S. Olympian in the decathlon and pole vault.

Delloreen Ennis (’99) was a three-time Olympian 100-meter hurdler for Jamaica who finished fourth in the Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia.

Delloreen Ennis (’99) was a three-time Olympian 100-meter hurdler for Jamaica who finished fourth in the Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia.

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 Masters.com, CBSSports.com 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.