Drury Athletics moves into the new millennium proudly carrying a torch of excellence. The torch was lit in Drury's earliest days, but sputtered a bit before finally starting to glow brightly as the twentieth century progressed. Frank Clippinger's The Drury Story reports that "most of the earliest attempts at starting athletics were begun by groups of individual students seeking recreation." Baseball was played from the college's first days, albeit in "desultory" fashion, says Clippinger. Tennis and basketball were popular intramural sports in the early days too. A football team formed in 1890, and played its first intercollegiate game in 1891. As athletics received more institutional support, the panther was adopted as Drury's athletic mascot in 1896. The Mirror noted:
The Bear may be strong, but he is slow and clumsy; the Lion does his work in one blow or he fails; the Tiger is fierce but may be subdued; the Panther is strong but quickness is his very nature. He camps on the trail of his enemy and at the opportune moment he strikes, but if the first blow fails he is not discouraged but fights harder and more fiercely than before...
Yet from its very start, Drury understood that athletic endeavors supported academic ones. A student petition sent to Drury's first president Rev. Nathan Morrison during the 1886-87 school year politely requests "of the Faculty the privilige [sic] of organizing a base-ball league, not of such a nature as to interfere with our regular college work." Drury's 1898 catalog codifies the concept: "athletics, in their proper place, when used as a means of recreation and a stimulant to classroom work, are sanctioned and encouraged."
The early 1900's saw massive improvements to field and gymnasium facilities, with a concurrent rise of participation and success in athletics. Drury won a state football title in 1914, the Missouri Intercollegiate Athletic Association basketball championship in 1915, and a state baseball championship in 1916.
Drury's First Legend
This superb standard was cemented during the remarkable career of Coach Albert "A.L." Weiser, who arrived at Drury in the fall of 1927 and stayed for an extraordinary 31 years. His creation and leadership of a high-class athletic program has been recognized by his enshrinement in three different sports halls of fame.
Weiser also led Drury's athletic program through the Great Depression. The financial challenges facing Drury during that period were so extreme, the board of trustees considered eliminating athletic programs altogether. As a compromise, faculty and trustees voted to eliminate football. It has never returned.
Under Weiser's guidance, Drury basketball saw sustained success: from 1934 to 1939, the team won 75 of 94 games, and claimed three Missouri College Athletic Union (MCAU) championships. Coach Weiser's era of excellence was followed by the inspired guidance of Athletic Director Bill Harding ('54) who, along with his successor Dr. Edsel Matthews, led Drury's programs into national prominence. Both of these men have also been recognized by their induction into two sports halls of fame.
In 1988, Bruce Harger, PhD, took the reins of Drury's athletics and exercise and sport science programs. His approach combines a love of sport with a strong desire to make sure athletes understand the scientific underpinnings of their activity. The interplay between the two makes his best athletes more intellectually curious, and his best students more appreciative of their athletic achievements.
The Team Keeps Growing
Thousands of students, coaches and assistants have contributed to Drury's success; recognizing and reviewing the entire cast behind more than 100 years of Panther excellence would be impossible. This magazine contains only a few glimpses - records, profiles and summaries that highlight some of Drury's successes in the athletic and academic arenas. The wonderful record established by Drury student-athletes is epitomized by a generous handful of NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship winners, the 1979 men's NAIA national champion basketball team, numerous national championships in swimming and diving, the nationally ranked 2000 men's tennis and golf teams and the 42 members of Drury's Athletic Hall of Fame.
Today's Panther athletic program is marked by recent growth in a variety of important areas. In the past twelve years, Drury has added three women's teams - swimming and diving, soccer and basketball - and a men's soccer team. These additions make Drury fully compliant with Title IX participation and scholarship requirements.
Drury's evolving league and conference affiliations also have helped strengthen athletics. In 1994 Drury finished a transition out of the NAIA and became a full-fledged member of NCAA Division II. Since then, Drury's soccer teams have moved to NCAA Division I; the women's team plays in the prestigious Missouri Valley Conference. In 1999-2000, Drury was a founding member of the new Heartland Conference. Drury President John Moore is president of the conference.
Facilities have been enhanced in recent years with everything from new buildings to new scoreboards. The Hutchens Health, Physical Education and Recreation (HPER) building is home to the eight-lane Breech pool and diving center. Its quality is a testament and a stimulus to Drury's ongoing success in aquatic sports. Constructing a new pool allowed Drury to convert the old Atha swimming pool building into a well-furnished fitness center. The lighted and irrigated Hutchens soccer field, expanded locker rooms, several electronic scoreboards and advertising venues, an intramural gymnasium, two racquetball courts, a large athletic training room, three classrooms, 10 team locker rooms, new office space, refurbished tennis courts, exercise science research laboratories and a new basketball floor in Weiser gymnasium are all recent additions. Finally, to run a growing collection of programs, the department has expanded to include 15 full-time staff, three part-time coaches and eight graduate assistants.
Academics Are Not an Enemy
Equally important is that this growth and expansion has served to enhance Drury's academic excellence rather than hamper its success. Over 90 percent of athletes who complete their fourth year of eligibility at Drury have received diplomas. Of 148 student-athletes in 1999-2000, 38 made it on the Dean's List. In recent years each team has earned impressive grade point averages. Athletes from every team have received scholar-athlete recognition. The swimming, tennis and volleyball teams have received national recognition for their prowess in the classroom. Since joining the NCAA, Drury has seen five student-athletes receive highly competitive NCAA Postgraduate Scholarships.
With student-athletes, as with students at large, a key goal is making sure each person graduates. In this regard, Drury is highly successful. In the NCAA's most recent report on student-athlete graduation rates, Drury stands head and shoulders above the Division II average. Seventy-eight percent of Drury student-athletes who arrived in the fall of 1993 graduated in six years or less. The NCAA-II average graduation rate is 49 percent. As an example of Drury's record of success, consider Drury's basketball team. Since 1980, 76 men have played Drury basketball as seniors. Only one has not graduated.
Two themes echo through Panther history. First, make each athlete the best he or she can be. Second, never sacrifice academic excellence in the pursuit of athletic excellence. Studying on the sidelines during a break in practice, cracking the books on the bus ride to an away game, making sure term papers are finished early instead of turned in late - all are as familiar to Drury athletes as a post-game shower.
As Drury athletics carries the torch of excellence into the new millennium, the performance of each team will set benchmarks for future improvement. If the programs are going to keep improving, coaches and players must remember the tradition upon which their work rests. That tradition can be a powerful motivating force. Drury athletes in turn must remember to use the intelligence that earned them a ticket to Drury in the first place. A smart athlete is a better athlete in any sport.
Rare is the Drury student-athlete who can practice his or her sport as a pro after college. Instead, Drury's best athletes show an eye-opening ability to combine classroom learning and athletic conditioning synergistically. The lessons of sport - teamwork and self-discipline - help build the momentum that pushes each person toward success.