"My days at Drury were during the latter half of the Great Depression of the 1930s," recalls Jack James, a Drury basketball star in the years between two world wars. "Our attitude and perspective may have been much different then than those of a later time. I doubt that scholar-athlete tradition was a defined target of thought. Athletic ability was viewed mostly as a means to generate an opportunity to go to college."
James asserts that the primary aim in those days was to better one's life through education. Not so different from today, except for that day's economy. "Athletic participation was an opportunity for competition; development of athletic abilities was merely incidental. Clearly, the higher authority of scholar-athlete was scholar. Education was deemed, at least in my family circle, the better way to improve on the circumstances of the 1930s," he says. James took his Drury geology degree to the University of Missouri-Rolla for the masters degree and then went to the University of Missouri-Columbia for the PhD.
He immediately was appointed assistant state geologist. He quickly became an internationally recognized and respected geologist and later became an equally respected and successful entrepreneur, founding Kurtz Material Corporation in Pennsylvania. Today he has retired to Virginia, where reports are that he is as respected and competitive on the golf course as he was on the basketball court or in business board rooms.
Was student life made easier because of athletics? "Easier, I'm not sure; more gratifying, perhaps," says Jack. A two-time Missouri All-State basketball honoree, James readily earned the recognition given athletes. In his first game at Drury, the freshman from Branson scored 10 points. Boosted by the talents of Springfieldian Jim Ewing, the team went on to win the 1937 Missouri Collegiate Athletic Union (MCAU) title and played in the national tournament. The 1938 season saw a repeat MCAU title and national competition. What was Jack James' role? He was the guard who gave every other guard bad dreams, reports a Drury Mirror of the day.
Jack was the second James to be part of the "Taney County connection;" his brother Bob was the first. Also included in that tremendous surge of scholar-athlete talent were Eugene "Peaches" Westover, Dave Moore, Harry Basore and Ben Parnell. Parnell, now a Drury trustee, recalls legendary coach A.L. Weiser's dry wit: "During this one game, Jack and Peaches had fouled out. Coach Weiser looked down the bench asking who was left. Peaches said, 'Parnell.' Coach said, 'let's put in the bench.'"
A forceful coach, Weiser was equally powerful in the classroom. Says James: "My coach was a professor who 'slaved' in the classroom as well as in the gym. He required that we adhere to the demands of the academic regime. It was not negotiable."
Those who could not toe the line felt the consequences, says James. "Not uncommonly, students of considerable athletic ability but with failed academics were not permitted to compete. [Weiser] demanded, but he also encouraged; he was prone to chide and he was a sly disciplinarian. He guided, in his wry manner, our conduct on campus and our deportment off campus. To my coach, Albert Weiser, an athlete was first a student, not just a 'jock,'" remembers James.
Jack also remembers the comradery characteristic of a Weiser team. "The lessons learned from the discipline of determination and just pure doggedness imposed by athletics, the training by Coach Weiser on conduct and deportment, and the role model presented in human relations by his example in patience, class and unstinted mutual respect have been important, pervasive and life-long." James recognizes how those qualities affected him: "I firmly believe this training has been invaluable and has correlated to all aspects of my life."