A special publication of The Murray State News
MURRAY STATE UNIVERSITY Hoop hall history The history of Racer basketball
Thereâ€™s a horse in our stadium! The Violet Cactus story
Nearly a century of presidents The 14 presidents of Murray State
4 Gateway 2019 Edition
Letter from the Editor
As I write this, I am preparing to graduate and become an alumna of Murray State - a University I am so proud to attend and a community I am thankful to be a part of. As I was preparing the editorial for Gateway, I knew I wanted to reflect on tales of the past. So often they go unnoticed, and I have discovered so many are worth sharing. Every college and university has a history that led to its founding, as well as students, who have come and gone, to carry on traditions and keep educational institutions alive and well. I’ve learned that the series of events that formed what is now our beloved Murray State University is a story unlike any other. Behind Murray State’s founding are rich, community-rooted stories of advocates of education, who fundraised and fought to have a teacher’s school built in the western part of the Commonwealth. I learned the Murray community we know today had the same community of supporters in 1922. There’s more to this magazine than just how Murray State came to be. Can you pass Murray State trivia? Where were your favorite hangouts in Murray when you were a student here? Where were the Racers playing basketball? You might just go back in time and reminisce on your college days. You may even be in my shoes, thinking how you can hang onto these memory-filled college days just a little longer. Either way, I’m sure you’ll have a smile on your face and a heart of joy, reflecting on our Racer history. As our University comes up on its 100th anniversary, let’s remember the founders, presidents and students who have made Murray State the successful institution it has been for 97 years. Journalists report facts, but they also document history so one day generations can look back on what’s happening. For me, documenting current events is one of my favorite parts of the job. Though, I don’t want to forget to study the days and people who came before me. There are rich narratives in our libraries, and I hope Gateway 2019 serves as a reminder to never forget to rewind and read stories from our past, especially when the past plays a valuable role in the present. I hope you reading these accounts and stories that encompass hope, resilience, joy and success. I hope these are the stories that make you proud to be a Racer.
Ashley Traylor Editor-in-Chief
2019 Gateway Staff
Editor-in-Chief Ashley Traylor Designers Savanna Hatfield Lauren Edwards Bryce Anglin Editorial Ginni Sisemore Blake Sandlin Destinee Marking Gage Johnson Katelyn Taylor Advertising JMC 426 class
Photography Brock Kirk MacKenzie O’Donley Richard Thompson Nick Bohannon Copy Editors David Wallace Erynn Church Jenna Carnes Faculty and Staff Dr. Stephanie Anderson Robert Valentine Orville Herndon
5 Gateway 2019 Edition
Ta b l e o f c o n t e n t s 06
Thereâ€™s a horse in our stadium: The Violet Cactus story
Leaving a legacy: A feature of Rainey T. Wells
History and traditions of Murray State theatre
Clegg Austin shares memories and fatherâ€™s contributions to Murray State
The founding of Murray State: From farm to normal school
Hoop hall history
Gilbert Graves: Stadium drive named after football player
Nearly a century of presidents: The 14 presidents of Murray State
Quiz your Murray State knowledge
Blast from the past: Alumni reflect on their Murray State fun-filled experiences
An heir to the court: the legacy of Mel Purcell
Who is Dunker?
There’s a horse in our stadium! The Violet Cactus story Story by Gage Johnson Photos from Pogue Special Collections and Brock Kirk There are over 5,300 colleges and universities in the country, and each one has its own special traditions that set them apart from the others. While Murray State has a multitude of traditions, from the shoe tree, Tent City, All Campus Sing, Homecoming and many others, one that stands out among them all is Racer One. At a home football game in 1976, the words “Clear the track!” were shouted through the PA system following a Racer touchdown. All of a sudden, “And here comes Violet Cactus!” was shouted as well, and off went a thoroughbred horse by the name of Violet Cactus. Violet Cactus arrived at Murray State in 1974 as a donation. The then 10-year-old thoroughbred was given to the Racers by Cecil Seaman, who donated Violet after her racing career came to a halt because of a broken bone. A year later it was decided that a thoroughbred horse would become the school’s mascot, and allowed Violet Cactus to ride again. The only difference is this time it would be on a track to herself. For 10 seasons of Murray State football, Violet Cactus triumphantly rounded the track after each Racer touchdown. This tradition would become one that would be memorable to anyone who witnessed it.
7 Gateway 2019 Edition is shouted as Racer One takes off from Dave Winder is currently in his 14th where Violet Cactus is now buried, adjayear of working with Racer Athletics, cent to the north end zone in Roy Stewart and he also played baseball for Murray State from 1983-1987. Stadium. Anna Thomas Even after all the time “It’s one of the most was the Racer One he spent within college amazing things I’ve jockey in the 2017athletics, Winder is seen at any place in 18 football season, still fond of the Racer college athletics,” One tradition so dear to and understands the Dave Winder magnitude of the Murray State football. longstanding “It is one of the most amazing things I’ve seen at any place tradition. “It’s not everyday you get to see a in college athletics,” Winder said. “I get horse running around the football field,” goosebumps just talking about it.” Thomas said. “I think it has a huge imSadly, after Violet Cactus turned 20 pact at the football games. As a fan, it’s a years old, the trusty steed passed away. huge excitement to watch Racer One run After her passing, it was decided that around the track.” Violet would be made forever a part of While there will never be another VioRacer Football. Every year a new horse takes the track, let Cactus, with the Racer One tradition bearing the name Racer One, ridden by a and the statue dedicated in her honor, she will be the most memorable horse to take student jockey. After every Racer touchthe track at Murray State. down, “And here comes Racer One!”
Violet Cactus holds a special place in the hearts of Murray State fans. Every time the Racer football team scores a touchdown, the current Racer One will take off from where Violet Cactus is buried, letting her legacy live on forever.
Photo: 2018 Racer One
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Leaving a Legacy A feature of Rainey T. Wells Story by staff Photo by Nick Bohannon
Murray would not be the same city without its University. And Murray State is most certainly “Murray’s University.” The story is interesting and so is the tale of the man at the center of the birth of Murray State: Rainey T. Wells. After WWI, the return of peace, coupled with the return of soldiers from Europe, inspired hope for greater prosperity. Calloway County was no different from any place else in America, but the local economy was agricultural and that set limits on growth. It also inspired youth to look elsewhere for opportunity: no land, not much future. So, in 1922 when the O’Rear Commission was established to find a place for a new teacher’s preparation school in western Kentucky, excitement rose in Murray. Several communities prepared for the Commission’s meeting in Louisville. The little farm town of Murray was regarded as the least likely to succeed. But, no one had considered Wells. Wells was a Calloway Countian personally devoted to the idea of education as the key to progress. As head of the Murray delegation, he waited his turn to address the Commission. Each of four or five larger, more prosperous towns preceded him, and each promised great things if the new school was sent to their town. At last, Wells rose to address the body. After modest comments about his town and with praise for the others, he announced he had not come to tell anyone what Murray would do; he had come to show what had been done. With that, he presented the Commission with two
checks for $50,000, each drawn on one of Murray’s two banks. The money had been contributed by 1,300 individuals and businesses and represented the modern equivalent of nearly two and one-half million dollars. But, Wells wasn’t finished. He dropped on the table the deed for 400 acres of land and a fine house, already fit for the school’s first president. A letter from the local school board pledged the use of the high school’s new auditorium and classrooms for the Normal School’s first year. Finally, he presented the pledge of homeowners to welcome students into their home at no cost — so anxious was the town for this opportunity to support education in the West. At that point, the choice was simple. Murray was the new seat of the western Normal School and has been producing teachers for the Commonwealth ever since. After a variety of name changes to reflect its growing diversity of programs, it now reigns in the top tier of public universities nationwide. The town still loves the University for which it fought in 1922. The University is part of Murray, and Murray is part of the University today. And so is the memory of “The Founder” and second president, Rainey T. Wells.
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History and traditions of Murray State Theatre Story by Katelyn Taylor Photos by MSU Theatre and Office of Development In the theatre world it is common to place a ‘ghost light’ center stage to appease the spirits that perform in the dark when the stage is empty. It’s something that is commonly done across the globe to avoid an accursed performance. In Johnson Theatre, the practice is no different. The ghost is fondly referred to as Vincent. The history and tradition in Johnson Theatre doesn’t lie solely in ghosts, superstitions or even the faint dust of glitter that never seems to leave. It lies in the excellence and ability that is provided to its students, past and present. From the beginning Theatre at Murray State has had a long and sometimes lost history on campus. Stories and dates are caught in the minds of alumni and staff who have come and gone in the past 94 years, often without written record. However, a little digging into the
record reveals that theatre started with the oldest continuing student organization on campus: Sock ‘N Buskin. This student-founded and operated organization began in 1925 and has continued every year since. As a theatre and service organization these students began putting on an average of two productions a year. The traditions of Sock ‘N Buskin have grown to include honoring outstanding performance and providing service for the theatre department. “We work hard every year to provide service to the theatre department and to bring in students from any background or experience level in order to continue the tradition and lasting impact that theatre leaves in our lives,” Wayne Hogue-Shields, president of Sock ‘N Buskin, said. In the 1920s, any theatre performance on campus was either a voluntary act, part of a class or an impromptu event from a student organization.
The University made theatre a minor in 1939 and a major in 1960. “Right now is an exciting time for the program because despite the moves we have been through and the places we’ve gone,our program continues to expand its staff and offerings for the students,” Hogue-Shields said. “Planning for not only our future, but for that of our students is of utmost importance for our department.” Old-and not so old-traditions Campus Lights is another long-running tradition at Murray State. Established in 1938 as a way to fund Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, Campus Lights has continued throughout the years. It currently funds scholarships to bring especially talented music students to the University. During World War II, the sisters of Sigma Alpha Iota took over the theatrical tradition while the men of Phi Mu were on the battlefields. Decades
13 Gateway 2019 Edition later, Campus Lights has transitioned from variety shows to Broadway-style shows, such as Into the Woods, Hairspray, Sister Act and most recently, Mamma Mia!. A more recent tradition of the theatre is the annual Shakespeare Festival. Since its inception in 2001 by professor Warren Edminister, the festival has hosted The American Shakespeare Company, formerly known as Shenandoah Shakespeare performing crowd favorites such as Hamlet, Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet. In 2010, English professor Rusty Jones took the helm and, with the rest of the festival committee has worked hard to expand the number of shows and workshops available to schools and to the general public. In 2019, the festival moved in a new direction by creating its own full production of Shakespeare’s rollicking comedy Much Ado About Nothing staged by Murray State’s own theatre department. “The festival has become indispensable to this area,” Jones said. “Not only for its cultural value, but teachers from up to one hundred miles away regularly bring their students to Murray because Shakespeare’s works help students build vocabulary, increase their critical thinking skills, and improve their appreciation for the masterpieces of western culture.”
Where do we go from here? “It all started at Murray State on the Robert E. Johnson stage in the fall of 1983 when the curtain fell on our production of ‘That Championship
Season’,” actor and film producer, W. Earl Brown said. He remembers that moment on stage where everything really connected for him. “I had the distinct thought, ‘I have to do this for the rest of my life,’” Brown said. It was then and there the seed was planted.” Brown has been featured in Preacher, The Last of Us, The Lone Ranger, Bates Motel, There’s Something About Mary and Charmed and was a major figure in the long-running HBO series, Deadwood. In 2017, he returned to Murray State in the role of Big Daddy in Tennessee
Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Another notable alum of the program is Chrishell (Stause) Hartley, who graduated in 2003 with a Bachelor of Arts in theatre. Hartley can be found weekdays on NBC’s Days of Our Lives and the Netflix original, Selling Sunset that premiered on March 22, 2019. “My time at the Murray State Theatre Department was so important in giving me the tools and the path to achieve my dreams as an actor,” Hartley said. “I am still friends with the faculty and the whole University left such a lasting impression on me. I really value the time I spent at Murray State.” Veteran performer Buddy Powell, Daniel Van Thomas (Revelation Trail) and production specialist Colin “Roadie” Buckingham also join other Racers in Hollywood. Dean of the College of Humanities and Fine Arts, David Balthrop commends the students. “We have a long list of alumni who work professionally in areas not so much in the public eye, but who are just as prominent in their fields,” Balthrop said. No matter where the theatre folk go when they leave Murray, they all leave knowing that the theatre they fell in love with on this campus, its history and traditions, can only continue to grow and capture the hearts of those yet to come.
15 Gateway 2019 Edition
‘May our love for alma mater only have commenced’ Clegg Austin shares memories and father’s contributions to Murray State
Story by Destinee Marking Photos courtesy of Clegg Austin
You may not find someone with closer ties to
Murray State than 1953 alumnus Clegg Austin. Clegg has been a Racer since he was born in 1932. At the time, his parents, A.B. and Lucille Austin, lived in Ordway Hall, a men’s dormitory. Lucille was among the first graduating class of Murray State Normal School and A.B. was the first dean of men in Ordway Hall from 1929-1935, as well as a social science instructor. A.B. graduated from Emory University, but the Graves County native moved to Murray and went on to produce key components of Murray State’s history. Clegg said in 1932 his father was asked by Murray State’s President Rainey T. Wells to write the words to the school’s official alma mater and fight song.
“I believe he was asked to do it because he was just gifted at writing things,” Clegg said. Wells was a close friend to the Austin family. Clegg said Wells introduced his parents to each other. Growing up and attending Murray State, Clegg said he was surrounded by many notable Murray State figures, such as fourth President Ralph H. Woods and sports legend Bennie Purcell. He said collaboration between the Murray community and campus used to be the norm. “I say ‘I don’t understand Town & Gown,’ and when people ask why, I say ‘I was raised Town & Gown,’” Clegg said. Some of his fondest memories as a student, Clegg said, involved spending the majority of his time here
Alma Mater In the heart of Jackson’s Purchase ‘Neath the sun’s warm glow Is the home of Murray State Finest place we know. CHORUS: May we cherish thy traditions Hold thy banner high Ever guard thy name and glory Live and do or die.
even though he didn’t live on campus. “I lived at home from 1950 to 1953,” he said. “I would go out on the corner, and I could hitchhike. I would hitchhike to the college, and I would come home late at night. No one knew I didn’t live here [at Murray State] unless I told them.” When Woods was president of Murray State, Clegg said he would invite A.B. to come to campus and give pep talks to students before big events like football games. “My dad was good at talks and speaking,” Clegg said. “And in those days, Lovett Auditorium was big enough, everybody could be in there and have a pep rally.” A.B.’s character, Clegg said, truly showed through his words. In February 1944, the editor of the Murray Ledger & Times invited A.B. to write a piece about community responsibility. In this particular piece, he wrote it is the community’s responsibility to provide places for young people to meet and socialize under proper supervision. “Many older people expect young folk to become good auto-
matically without providing them with the facilities with which goodness, in part, is attainable,” he wrote. “If they are not provided a place, they will seek alleys, old stores, basements and such places -- under conditions which may not be the best.” When A.B. passed away in 1954, Woods wrote a letter in memory of him. “His heart was in the Jackson Purchase; he helped to make it the fine place we know,” Woods wrote. “Mr. Austin endeared himself to all the students, faculty and friends of Murray State College. His influence will long live on this campus, in this community and in the hearts and minds of all who knew him.” After graduating from Murray State, Clegg attended the University of Louisville for medical school. He returned to Murray though because as he puts it, “it’s home.” “I love it,” he said. “I like the school, I like the lakes, and to be honest, I like the seasons.” Clegg practiced pediatrics in Murray until his retirement in May 2018.
Though we leave thy walls forever Many miles go hence May our love for Alma Mater Only have commenced. Repeat CHORUS
Fight song Let’s fight, Murray! On to the goal! We will watch ‘em take the ball down the field. As we fight for our Alma Mater brave and bold, We’ll charge on to victory, our flag waving high! March, men, march on down the field, Place the ball o’er the line For Thoroughbred’s fame and old Murray’s name And everything that’s right -- Fight! Fight!
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97 years of progress The founding of Murray State: From farm to normal school Story by Ashley Traylor Photos from Pogue Special Collections Murray State has a rich historical founding: a history of pioneers who were passionate about bringing education to life inside the classroom and a selfless community at the forefront of fighting for a teacher’s college to be established in Murray. “It is time for grim determination and a high resolve to remedy educational conditions in Kentucky,” Gov. Edwin P. Morrow said to the Kentucky legislature in 1922. “Education is an investment.
Ignorance is a tax. Hold fast to the good. Take no backward steps.” His words came after the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Kentucky appointed an Educational Committee to survey Kentucky’s public school system. The committee found Kentucky’s public schools were unsatisfactory. In the early 1920s, a need for “more and better training schools” existed because, at this time, only two schools trained white elementary teachers: Eastern
State Normal School in Richmond and Western State Normal School in Bowling Green. The committee pointed out that Kentucky had a shortage of teachers and not enough institutions to train them. “Approximately 1,450 elementary teachers are needed annually to take the place of those who quit teaching each year,” according to the committee’s report. “To meet this demand, the two state normal schools graduated from the advanced courses in 1920-21, 114
20 Gateway 2019 Edition prospective teachers, a half of whom are headed for high school positions...At that rate, it would take the output of seven such developed normal schools merely to fill the place of teachers who have left service.” For these reasons, the Committee suggested the General Assembly establish two additional normal schools. “The new schools should be located where they will do the most good,” according to the committee’s report. “One should probably be located in the Big Sandy Valley and the other in the western part of the state, east of the Tennessee River.” On January 10, 1922, Senator of the 34th district, Brigg H. Harris introduced Senate Bill 14 for the establishment of the two schools and on March 8, 1922, Morrow signed
same day, March 8, 1922, Morrow signed the bill to establish the normal schools. Every Murray citizen came together and donated money to the campaign. It did not matter how big or small Education is an investment. their contribution was, Ignorance is a tax. Hold fast they gave what they to the good. Take no backhad because they knew every dollar made a difward steps. ference. The subscrip -Gov. Edwin P. Morrow tion books contained the names of more than 1,100 persons who contributed Morganfield, Murray, Owensboro, any amount from $5 to $2,500. Paducah and Princeton. Before March ended, $100,000 was The citizens of Murray banded guaranteed. The Bank of Murray together to prove to the Commonand First National Bank wrote two wealth why their close-knit town $50,000 checks. deserved to be the location of the Soon after, the commission held new teacher’s school. a hearing for a representative of A local judge, Rainey T. Wells, each of the towns or cities being spearheaded a campaign for the considered for a normal school town to raise $100,000. On the the bill. Many towns in Kentucky were interested in having the normal school: Benton, Clinton, Henderson, Hopkinsville, Mayfield,
21 Gateway 2019 Edition
Rainey T. Wells believed in education, and he pushed for an educational institution in the western part of the Bluegrass. It was Wells’ wise and inspirational words that convinced the educational committee to choose Murray, as the site of a normal school, despite the size of the town.
location to give the advantages of their location. They drew for the order, and Murray drew last to pitch their sell. Wells addressed the commission making several arguments about the logistics of the normal school. He said the classes could take place at Murray High School, until new facilities could be built. He also spoke to the quality of people living in Murray, and for his last argument he laid down on the table the two $50,000 checks. “It is not what the people of Murray have promised to do but what they have already done that counts,” Wells said. Murray showed their financial suuport once, and they did it again when they found out they needed to raise $16,000 to pay for the site where the normal school would be, and they did. The total contribution made by the citizens of Murray and Calloway County was $116,000. Friday, Sept. 1, 1922, marked the day Murray’s community would change and grow for the better, as Murray was chosen as the site of Western State Normal School. Little did they know, they would give hundreds of thousands of students the opportunity to further their education at an accredited four-year university one day. The Murray State Normal School would be built on the site known as the Houston-Wells site. Wells’ contributions to the town did not end with his leadership or his persuasive speech to the commission. Wells reserved his residence and about two-acres of land on Main Street, and he gave the commission an option to buy the residence and lot on or before July 1, 1926, but they did not take it. The Wells’ home was not bought until the 1930s, but before it was bought and ever since, it has served as the home of Murray State’s presidents. Murray State Normal School officially opened Sept. 24, 1923, and during that afternoon, 87 students were enrolled and six classes were filled. This day was only the beginning of the quality education that would happen within the bounds of Murray, Kentucky.
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HOOP HALL HISTORY Story by Blake Sandlin Photos from Pogue Special Collections and TimeToast.com
Twenty-five OVC Championships, 988 wins and 16 NCAA tournament appearances through 93 seasons speaks volumes to the storied tradition and longevity of Murray State men’s basketball. Perhaps equally profound is the history of the arenas where that legacy was first etched. Five arenas have been home to Murray State basketball since its genesis in 1925. While the hardwood may have changed over the years, to this day each hoop hall remains an instrumental part of the illustrious history of the Racers. Even before we knew them as the Racers, Murray State was competing on the court. In 1925, Murray State was a teacher’s college called Murray State Normal School. Wilson Hall was one of the campus’ first buildings, and housed a library, bookstore, classrooms and two gymnasiums for Murray State’s men’s and women’s basketball teams. The men’s team competed on the main floor, while the women’s team played upstairs. The first team was captained by legendary Racer Head Coach Carlisle Cutchin, a Mayfield teacher with a passion for athletics. Cutchin was recruited to the school and served in a plethora of capacities. Not only did he coach basketball, but he also served as the foot-
ball coach, organized the physical education department and was a mathematics and history teacher. When the team was first assembled, 40 players came to tryout. Cutchin fielded tryouts and ultimately settled on a final roster for the inaugural season of Racer basketball. They played their first game in Wilson Hall on Jan. 17, 1926, suffering a 31-14 defeat to a Missouri college called Will Mayfield. But it wouldn’t take long for Cutchin’s boys to cement their first win. In the third game of their inaugural season, Murray State would claim a 27-25 win over Hall-Moody, the first for a program that would one day possess one of the most unrivaled winning traditions in the country. Murray State competed in Wilson Hall for two seasons, 1925-26 and 1926-27, compiling a 20-14 record. The gym could hold up to 800 spectators, who would watch the basketball games from a balcony. In 1928, the school would finally inherit some identity when Murray State president and visionary Rainey T. Wells officially nicknamed the school the Thoroughbreds after being inspired by the success of the legendary thoroughbred racehorse Man o’ War. That same year, following the short stint in Wilson, Murray State basketball moved to it’s new home on
24 Gateway 2019 Edition on campus in Lovett Auditorium. The more than $176,000 facility served a myriad of purposes, functioning as an auditorium for music and drama, classrooms for learning, offices for working and, of course, a court for playing. That move saw a slew of success for Murray State, as Cutchin led them to winning seasons in nine of the 10 years spent in Lovett. Most notably, Cutchin’s 1935-36 team cemented the highest winning percentage in a season in Racer history at .920 after a 23-2 campaign. It was during this era of Racer basketball where a rivalry with a school 120 miles east of Murray grew to fever pitch. Men’s basketball, football and baseball each developed a heated rivalry with Western Kentucky University in the 1930s. For many players and students, a win versus Western could salvage an irreparable season. “You could have a bad season, but a win against Western could cure all ills,” former Murray State player Dean Akridge said. The Racers competed in Lovett Auditorium for nine years before making the move to the Carr Health Building. Still in use today, the Carr Health Building housed as many as 2,000 fans during its heyday, an astronomical projection for anyone who has stepped inside its crowded confines. In the book “Banner Years” the late Murray State Hall-of-Fame point guard Bennie Purcell noted that fans would be turned away by the local fire marshal. Akridge, who played from 1950 to 1954, described the gym as incredibly intimate, especially when a rival came to town. “Carr Health had bleachers on two sides and the out-of-bounds line and the wall were only about three or four feet from the basket so it was crammed in pretty tight,” Akridge said. “When you got to play Western or Eastern or some of those big name schools, the gym would be full of people. People would be talking about it a week or two before the game.” During the heart of the Western Kentucky rivalry, Akridge said students and fans would flock for tickets to the spectacle months before. The Racers called the gymnasium home for 17 seasons total while accruing a 141-38 record before they adopted a new residency. “Carr Health wouldn’t seat but [2,000] people,”
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26 Gateway 2019 Edition crowds, so we needed a bigger place to play. So that’s before accepting the job at Murray State in 1978, what instigated [a new building].” enjoyed the intimacy of the packed arena. Even while the Racers were competing in the lat“It was cozy,” Greene said. “It was a great place to ter years of Carr Health, University President Ralph play. There wasn’t a bad seat there, that’s one thing. Woods and Director of Athletics Roy Stewart were You’re close enough to the court to see everything plotting a new facility. In the spring of 1953, the two you need to see, then of course they put chairback began seeking a new place for the team to play that seats in there. I think one time when I first got there would manage to accommodate the massive crowds there wasn’t chairback seats.” the Racers were bringing in. Greene even recalled times when the gym used According to to be fairly Banner Years, smokey because Stewart hatched of the popcorn “It was a great place to play. There wasn’t the idea to utimachine in the a bad seat there, that’s one thing. You’re close lize the sloped arena; however, ground immediminor obstaenough to the court to see everything you need ately adjacent to cles like smoke to see, then of course they put chairback seats the Carr Health didn’t stop the in there. I think one time when I first got there Building in his faRacers, and there wasn’t chairback seats.” vor by building a the fans, from “sunken” gymnashowing up big. - Ron Green sium that would In his second not only create year as a coach, a unique, bowlMurray State shaped arena, but executed the would save thousands in construction costs. largest turnaround in history with a 23-8 season Stewart’s vision was well received, and in March after finishing 4-22 a year before. 1953 state finance authorities approved plans to Greene noted the best crowds at Racer Arena build a 6,000-seat arena that would ultimately cost would occur when the state or border rivals would $372,000. come to town. Insert Racer Arena, which would become the “Racer Arena, when we won 23 games, got pretty fourth home of Racer basketball beginning in 1955. cozy,” Greene said. “I’m not sure what our best This facility, originally called the field house is the crowds are here now, but our best ones used to be longest home arena for Murray State, as the team Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee.” played there for 44 seasons, compiling a 503-135 His fondest memory of the arena, which is still record. in use today and home to Murray State’s volleyball Like the past arenas, coaches and players that team, was a time when famed sports broadcaster preceded it, Racer Arena and the sports figures that Dick Vitale visited for a TV game when the Racers called it home are marred in rich tradition. Of the clashed with Bradley University. Vitale made a con44 seasons spent there, only nine teams recorded descending comment to Greene about the appearlosing seasons. Murray State Hall of Fame coaches ance of Racer Arena, and Greene handled the rest. like Cal Luther, Steve Newton and Ron Greene were “We were standing up there at the top [of Racer among the legendary coaches who called the gymArena] and popcorn was popping and smoke was nasium home. going, and the crowd was absolutely full,” Greene Greene, who coached at Mississippi State and remembered. “It was a very cozy place to play. Dick was recognized as the SEC Coach of the Year a year walked up to me and said, ‘Coach, cute place you’ve
got here.’ And I said, ‘Dick, it’s going to get a whole lot cuter in just a few minutes.’” That quip practically embodies the bulldogged tenacity the Racers adopted during their four decades at Racer Arena. That’s why, in 1998, it became so hard to leave it all behind. Evidenced by the sell-out 6,154 fans that attended the Murray State’s final game in Racer Arena against Tennessee State, the final regular season was defined by unprecedented grandeur. Racer greats like Purcell, Howie Crittenden, then-NBA star Popeye Jones and even a trumpeter at mid-court were in attendance to celebrate in emphatic, yet nostalgic fashion on the 457 wins recorded in Racer Arena. Murray State didn’t disappoint, delivering a 81-76 victory to the raucous crowd. That game wouldn’t in fact be the Racers’ last home game, because they would later play Tennessee Tech in the first round of the OVC tournament at the arena for the official final game. When one door closes, another door opens. Such is the case, quite literally, for Racer Arena and the new home that would follow in succession.
The Regional Special Events Center (RSEC) was intended to not only satisfy the need for a prestigious basketball facility, but also to reach a broader audience for the gamut of events. Akridge, who would later serve on Murray State’s Board of Regents following his basketball career, played a critical role in approving the monumental addition to Murray. “We said we need a building that will have concerts, commencements and hold shows and different things, and coincidentally it will have a gym in it,” Akridge said. “So we approached it from a different angle. We said, ‘Some people don’t care about basketball.’” Constructed in June of 1998 for $20 million, the RSEC has a capacity of 8,602 and has been the home of Racer basketball for 21 seasons. In 2010, the arena was renamed the CFSB Center after the bank made a historic $3.3 million donation, the largest donation in Murray State athletics history. As decades pass, teams change and arenas evolve, the illustrious tradition fans have come to expect from Murray State basketball will remain eternal.
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Gilbert Graves Stadium drive named after football player
Story by Gage Johnson Photos from Pogue Special Collections and Richard Thompson Football is a dangerous sport. Anyone who takes the field knows that. However, on Thanksgiving Day in 1924, the game became more dangerous than anyone watching Murray State football could’ve imagined. “It was a perfect day for football,” former Murray State punter Auburn Wells said in a 1924 The Murray State News article The Racers were taking on West Tennessee State Normal, of Memphis, and a few hundred fans filled the stands of Moore Field, the old football stadium. It was then that the 135-pound quarterback Gilbert Graves took the field for Murray State. Little did he know
that this would be the last drive of his life. As the ball was snapped Graves took off, and a pile-up occured at the line, leaving Graves at the bottom of it. On the play, Graves suffered a broken neck, and after being hospitalized for a few days, he passed away. ‘T’ Sledd, one of Graves’ first cousins and the manager for the football team until 1969, recalled the tragedy that struck Moore Field in a 1924 The Murray State News article. “As I recall it, Gilbert led the play through the line,” Sledd said. “There was big pile-up and Gilbert was under it. We, of course, never blamed anyone, and it couldn’t be helped.”
In 1925, the first-ever Murray State yearbook, The Shield, was dedicated to Graves. Forty-four years after the unfortunate accident, it was decided that a memorial would be made in remembrance of Graves. To go along with the memorial it was decided that the road and roundabout outside of the stadium would be known as Gilbert Graves Memorial Drive and Gilbert Graves Circle. The president of the Alumni Association at the time, Max Hurt, and Executive Secretary Mancil Vinson, expressed an emotional approval of the motion to remember Graves in a past interview. â€œWe pledge our whole-hearted support of this Alumni Association in giving recognition to one of our great deserving men of Murray.â€? While nothing could ever repair the damage done to the Graves family on Nov. 27, 1924, Graves will forever be remembered as a part of Murray State history.
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1923 John W. Carr John W. Carr served as Murray State’s first president from 1923 to 1926. During this time, Murray State was called Murray State Normal School. Carr was chosen by the State Board of Education in 1922 to become president. However, he was not officially named president until August 1923. Carr is the only two-term president in Murray State’s history. He served again from 1933 to 1936. During his first term, three buildings were constructed: Administration Building, which is now Wrather Auditorium, Liberal Arts Building and Rainey T. Wells Hall. After his first term, Carr served as the dean of Murray State until January 1933. Following his second term, he served as the dean of Murray State Teacher’s College until June 30, 1940.
1926 Rainey T. Wells Murray native Rainey T. Wells was Murray State’s second president. He served from 1926 to 1932. Wells is coined as the “Founder of Murray State,” because of his efforts to establish Murray State Normal School. In an interview with the Paducah Sun-Democrat in 1970, Wells’ sister, Helen, said her brother wanted every person in the area to get an education. “We were too far from the state school, and people just didn’t have enough money to send their children,” she said. Not only did Wells establish Murray State, but he also built Edgewood in 1917. Now, students know Edgewood as Oakhurst. In response to interview questions prepared by L.J. Horton, director of journalism at Murray State, Wells named establishing Murray State as one of his greatest accomplishments.
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1936 James H. Richmond From Ewing, Virginia, James H. Richmond was the third president of Murray State Teacher’s College from 1936 to 1945. Before becoming president, he was elected High School Supervisor for the Kentucky State Department. He then became state superintendent of public instruction from 1932 until 1936. Richmond’s presidency marked the start of a new era in Murray State history: he was the first president not involved in the founding of the school. During his presidency, the Board of Regents established the 318-acre college farm and constructed the Warren S. Swann Memorial Dormitory. Additionally, the college purchased Oakhurst and the Fine Arts Building was completed.
1945 Ralph H. Woods The longest term held by any president, Ralph H. Woods served as Murray State’s fourth president from November 1945 until June 1968. During his time in office, Murray State went through several changes. In 1948, Murray State Teacher’s College became Murray State College and in 1966, it became Murray State University. Enrollment increased from 565 to 7,000 students, the number of faculty members increased from 62 to 376 full-time professors and 41 buildings were built. These buildings included: 9 dormitories, housing for married couples, science building, gymnasium, an industrial arts building, student union, heating plant, maintenance building, baseball and athletic field, business education building and a livestock building. Woods was named “Man of the Year” by the Murray Chamber of Commerce in 1959 Later, in 1968, he was named “Man of the Half Century.”
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Harry M. Sparks
M.O. Wrather was raised in Calloway County, and permanently made Murray his home, as he attended Murray State Normal School. He was part of the first graduating class from the newly-recognized four-year college. Wrather’s ties to Murray State did not end there. He became the director of public relations and secretary of the alumni association. He was always there to step in as interim president when Murray State needed. After President Richmond died in 1945, Wrather was named acting president from July to October 1945. Wrather also served as acting president during President Woods’ presidency while Woods was serving as Special Representative of the U.S. Department of State in Greece and again when he was recovering from health issues. Wrather was named executive vice president and served in this role until his death in September 1970.
Harry M. Sparks served as Murray State’s fifth president from 1968 to 1973. Prior to becoming president, Sparks was a professor at Murray State College, president of the Kentucky Education Association and served as the state superintendent of public instruction from January 1964 until January 1968. According to a story published by the Murray Ledger & Times July 31, 1976, the dedication of Sparks Hall took place Aug. 6, 1976. According to the dedication ceremony pamphlet, seven major construction projects took place during Sparks’ term: Faculty Hall, Regents Hall, Price Doyle Fine Arts Center, addition to the University Laboratory School, Hancock Biological Station on Kentucky Lake and Roy Stewart Stadium. The Murray Chamber of Commerce named Sparks “Man of the Year” in 1969.
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Constantine W. Curris
Kala M. Stroup
Constantine W. Curris served as Murray State’s sixth president from 1973 until 1983. He became the youngest university president in Kentucky’s history, at age 32. Curris’ leadership reflected the three goals the University vigorously pursued: the development of a student-centered university, the attainment of academic excellence and the fulfillment of a commitment to regional services. He has been associated with the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) since 1973. He has served as a member of several committees, its Board of Directors and in 1995, retired as AASCU president. According to a biography published by The New York Times, “Curris is a strong advocate for public higher education and its students and a proponent of the qualitative strengthening of higher education institutions in order to meet public needs and expectations in the 21st century.”
Kala M. Stroup was Murray State’s first and only female president. She served from 1983 to 1990. Stroup was also the first female president in Kentucky’s higher education system. In a 1983 publication of Alumnus magazine, Stroup said her most important quality was a fresh perspective. In a Murray Ledger & Times article published in 1984, Stroup outlined a set of goals including, internal focus on quality control, more emphasis on the adult learner, establishment of greater cooperation with other universities and further development and implementation of a strategic planning process. During an appreciation dinner in June 1990, Harry Lee Waterfield III commended Stroup’s presidency. “She represented Murray State University very strongly and very openly in Frankfort,” he said. “It was not always to her best interests but always to the University’s best interests.”
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James L. Booth
Ronald J. Kurth
James L. Booth served as the acting president from 1989 to 1990, while President Kala M. Stroup was on leave. Before stepping into this role, he served as Murray State’s vice president of academic and student affairs. After his term as interim president, he returned to the Board of Regents serving in the capacities of provost and his previous role of vice president of academic and student affairs.
Ronald J. Kurth served Murray State as its eighth president from 1990 to 1994. Prior to coming to Murray State, Kurth was president of the U.S. Newport Naval War College. According to the Murray Ledger & Times, Kurth was different than any Murray State president before him. “Never before in the history of the school has its incoming leader possessed so much mystery and intrigue as Rear Adm. Ronald Kurth.” Kurth’s background inspired how he decorated Oakhurst. He and his wife lived in Russia for four years, so the home was decorated with Russian paintings and photographs. Kurth obtained funding for the Regional Special Events Center, now known as the CFSB Center, helping the Murray State Foundation become financially stable and he also improved the University’s academic quality.
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S. Kern Alexander
F. King Alexander
Samuel Kern Alexander was Murray State’s ninth president. He was in office from 1994 to 2001. Kern Alexander oversaw many changes to Murray State. During his term, the residential college system began, the Regional Special Events Center was built in 1998, work began on the science complex, Alexander Hall was added to the College of Education and the Thoroughbrewed Cafes in both Hart and Regents College were added. In a letter sent out to the Murray State community on Aug. 25, 1999, Kern Alexander expressed concern regarding the declining population in western Kentucky. “We must look to becoming not just a state regional university but a mid-western comprehensive university with a multi-state and international student population,” he wrote. He is an Excellence professor at the University of Illinois Urbana/Champaign.
Louisville native, Fieldon King Alexander was Murray State’s tenth president, serving from 2001 to 2005. King Alexander is the son of Samuel Kern Alexander. During his presidency, the Alexander Hall Education Building and the Thoroughbrewed Cafes reached completion. The Susan E. Bauernfeind Student Recreation and Wellness Center was also constructed during his presidency. In The Murray State News in December 2005, Don Robertson, Vice President for Student Affairs, had high praise for King Alexander. “President Alexander is the most student-oriented president that I have been associated with during my career working on college campuses,” Robertson said. He was most recently named president of Louisiana State University in 2013.
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2006 Randy J. Dunn Randy J. Dunn was president from 2006 to 2013, making him Murray State’s 11th president. Before Dunn’s presidency, he served as the State Superintendent of Education for the Illinois State Board of Education. Dunn completed the largest fundraising campaign in the school’s history, raising over $71 million for Hold Thy Banner High: The Campaign for the Students of Murray State University. In an interview with WKMS in 2013, Dunn said his greatest legacy at Murray State is the work toward regional impact. “You can’t build the future of Murray State University on Calloway, Marshall, and Graves counties,” he said. “It has to embrace the Purchase, the Pennyrile, areas beyond the Commonwealth and, I would submit to you around the globe even, for us to stay at the top of the game as a regional state university.” He recently served at president at Southern Illinois University.
2013 Thomas I. Miller Thomas I. Miller served as Murray State’s 12th president from 2013 until 2014. Miller began as interim president in June 2013, but was officially named president by the Board of Regents in March 2014. Before this, Miller was interim president between F. King Alexander and Randy J. Dunn’s terms. In addition to being a graduate of Murray State, he also served Murray State for over 47 years as an instructor, assistant, associate and full professor of accounting. He was also the chair of the department of accounting twice: 1977 to 1981 and 1985 to 1998. Miller served over 20 years as the executive director of the Murray State University Foundation. The 2014 renovation of the first floor of Business Building South was named Dr. Tim Miller Center for Accounting Education. His presidential portrait does not hang in Pogue Library with the other past presidents. Instead, he requested that it be hung in the accounting department.
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Robert O. Davies
Robert L. Jackson
Robert O. Davies was Murray State’s 13th president from 2014 to 2018. Before his presidency, Davies served as the president of Eastern Oregon University, the vice president for university relations at Indiana University, the associate vice president for alumni relations and development at the State University of New York at Buffalo and the executive director of the alumni association at Boise State University. Davies faced obstacles during his presidency, as he started during a time of budget cuts, but he implemented new academic admission standards, new buildings were completed including the Breathitt Veterinary Center and the Engineering and Physics Building and he navigated the University through financial challenges. Davies is now the president at Central Michigan University.
President Bob Jackson was appointed to serve as Murray State’s interim president in August 2018. Jackson has lived in Murray since he moved from his hometown in LaRue County to attend school here. Over the last decade, he has served as the president and chief executive officer of Murray State University’s Foundation, Inc. He has also been a senior advisor to the University for state and federal governmental relations. Jackson also served seven years as a State Senator. Jackson was voted the 14th president of Murray State at a Board of Regents meeting on March 1, 2019. “I am honored to serve as the 14th president of Murray State University and greatly appreciate the support and confidence of the Board of Regents,” Jackson said. “We have an important duty to this region and state and I look forward to the work ahead. The students and families of this region are counting on us to make a positive difference in their lives and to enhance the economic well-being of this area.”
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Quiz your Murray State knowledge 01
How many MSU buildings are named after former University presidents?
What building is named for an alum, born in Tobacco, who was Lt. Gov. of Kentucky?
What building is named for a former vice president of MSU, who also served as interim president?
What year was Murray State established?
Where can you find the names of some poets, authors and composers on campus in letters that are a foot tall?
What MSU coach won the OVC title every year in the 1980s?
What are the five buildings where menâ€™s basketball has been played on campus?
What are the four names that Murray State has had since its inception?
What building was named for a former Kentucky governor?
See page 54 for answers
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Blast from the past Alumni reflect on their Murray State fun-filled experiences
Story by Ginni Sisemore Photos from Pogue Special Collections
Murray State students in the 70s, 80s and 90s spent a lot of time studying in the library and doing homework, of course, but what did they do for fun?
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Athletic events Through the decades, attending Murray State’s athletic events was one of the most popular things to do on campus. “Some of the best memories and the things that we did that were the most fun was attending ball games,” President Bob Jackson said. Jackson said he came to Murray State in 1981 and some of his fondest memories were athletic events. “We enjoyed them; we went as a group and made an event out of the athletic events,” Jackson said. He said Reagan Field, the baseball field, used to be on the academic side of campus. “The baseball field used to be where the Collins Industry and Technology Building is today,” he said. “We would pass by in the springtime and we would stop and watch
two or three innings or sometimes we would stay for the whole game and maybe miss a class. I don’t encourage that, but we probably did.” Professor of management Heath Keller attended Murray State in the 90s, and ball games were still a popular activity for students. “Going to basketball games was as much a social event as it was a sporting event,” Keller said. Concerts Before the CFSB center, Murray State held concerts in Racer Arena where volleyball games take place now. “There weren’t as many concerts as you guys get now because the Racer Arena was the arena as opposed to the bank
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was huge back then,” he said. “It was very common for us to load up and go to Starwood for the night. We’d have two or three carloads and we’d carpool to Starwood and then come back to Murray.”
which is a much better place for doing concerts,” Interim Journalism and Mass Communications Chair Allen White said. Alumnus Doug Harris said he saw Kenny Rogers in the early 70s, while White, who attended the University from 1974-76, said he saw Three Dog Night and The Lovin’ Spoonful. Keller said live music was a big deal for students in the 90s, and though there were concerts on campus like Dave Matthews and Tim McGraw, he said the big draw was off campus. “Starwood Amphitheater, just south of Nashville,
Hangouts Gathering places for students have changed from decade to decade, with only a few remaining constant. Harris said he only did things on campus that were free, rarely venturing into town and spending money. “I hung out at the Carr Health Building,” he said. “We also hung out in the student center, which is now the library.” Hart Hall was another favorite hangout spot for Harris. “The dorm had a pool room downstairs and a place to sit around and a snack bar,” he said. White said most of his time was spent going to restaurants. “I remember Pagliai’s was downtown,” he said. “People used to hang out there.” White said he grew up in California and they didn’t have free refills there. “Pagliai’s had free refills on your cokes
and that was a big deal,” he said. “You know, we were poor college students so that was a big deal.” In the 90s, Keller spent time at the Cheri Theatres and at Sporty’s, which is now Tap 216. “They had really good wings and TVs and that type of stuff,” he said. The Curris Center opened during Jackson’s freshman year, which was a lot different than it is today. “There was a bowling alley in the Curris Center,” Keller said. “It was where recruitment is now. That was, believe it or not, really popular.” Jackson said when he attended the University, the Curris Center was a vibrant location that was always full. “There was a gameroom back in the day with pinball machines and foosball,” he said. “We played pool; we did all those type of things.” Recreational activities Sports, intramural and recreational, were as popular an activity in the 70s, 80s and 90s as they are now, if not more popular. “People were a lot more active I guess because there was no internet or no video games or any of that,” White said. One sport that was really popular back then was racquetball. “I played racquetball, which I never had played until I went to college,” Harris said. “I really like that game.”
“I think in the Carr Health building those little racquetball courts are still there,” White said. “When I was a student here, they just put those in, people would flock to those things.” Carr Health is rarely paid any attention these days, but before the Wellness Center was built in 2005, it was the gym on campus. In the 70s, tennis was extremely popular because of several famous tennis players. “The tennis courts would be just covered up; you’d have to wait your turn to play tennis,” White said. “This was in the early 70s. There was Jimmy Connors and Arthur Ashe and tennis was a really big sport in America at the time because of the players, and Chris Evert was playing and all of that so it was a popular sport.” Intramurals like volleyball, football and basketball were fairly popular, but pickup games were common too. White said he once spent an entire week playing basketball with the opinion editor of The Murray State News. “I think it was the semester I was the sports editor and I don’t know how it had happened but we had a week where we didn’t have to produce a paper,” White said. “The opinion editor and I, instead of working ahead and getting our work done, we spent the entire week playing one-onone basketball. We were so proud of ourselves for wasting an entire week.”
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The legacy of Mel Purcell Story by Blake Sandlin Photos by Blake Sandlin, Mel Purcell and GoRacers.com Mel Purcell never attended Murray State, but you wouldn’t have known it if you were to tune in to one of his U.S. Open matches. It was almost commonplace to see the top-ranked tennis player donning clothing emblazoned with the Murray State logo during his storied career. Purcell – like his father, legendary Racer Bennie Purcell, has never been shy about the University that made him. The only difference is Purcell was never listed on a Murray State roster; he
never put on a blue and gold jersey; he never walked across a stage to be handed a Murray State degree. Instead, his Racer pride germinated from a different source: his father. The late Bennie Purcell, often hailed as “Mr. MSU,” denoting his pride in the school, achieved unparalleled heights during his time with the Murray State Thoroughbreds, becoming the first Murray State basketball player to reach 1,000 points, and guiding the team to their first OVC Championship in
school history in 1951. Upon graduating in 1952, Bennie entered the NBA Draft. He was selected with the first pick in the 12th round by the Baltimore Bullets, though he missed the final cut on the team roster. That shortfall led to Bennie joining the Harlem Globetrotters full-time as a member of the Washington Generals. The legendary point guard traveled to 46 countries during his stint with the Globetrotters, yet ultimately decided to return to Murray
52 Gateway 2019 Edition in 1963, five years after the birth of to attend the U.S. Open, an event his son Mel. that he remembered as the precise It was this move that signaled moment he realized he could transunprecedented success for Murray form his childhood passion into a State tennis for years to come, while professional career. simultaneously breathing passion “I just thought I’d be back [to and devotion into a young athlete the U.S. Open],” Mel said. “My dad named Mel. made sure of that. He went out of Bennie took over as head coach the way for me to get a chance to of the men’s tennis program in 1969 play.” after serving the two previous years He did everything in his power as interim. In addition to instructto get back. At 14, he was beating ing the team, he even got his son lower-ranked players on Murray involved. Mel said his father started State’s tennis team and a year later, playing tennis with him when he he was beating just about everyone. was 5-years-old and as he got older, No competitor likes getting beat, Bennie allowed Mel to attend practices with the Racer tennis team. “I’d like to have championships, “I was lucky enough that’s always a great thing, but that my dad was head coach when I was 12,” just the fact that you’re able to Mel said. “That’s all I give somebody the opportunity did was hang out at to play here at Murray State at the courts 12 hours a great institution, I’ve always a day; got to practice with every player. The enjoyed that part.” lower guys had to hit - Mel Purcell with me, but almost everybody had to hit with me eventually. I had one-up especially by a 15-year-old, so Mel on a lot of different people. I had always got the Racers’ best shots. my own built-in tennis academy.” “You just played hard,” Mel said. Naturally, the young prodigy “They didn’t want to lose to a 15-16 began to see the fruits of his layear old guy. Of course, I didn’t bor. Mel played in the state tennis want to lose to a guy from Norway tournament as a fifth-grader, and or Sweden. It worked out great, and even won two state doubles titles I even got to travel with them.” with his brother Del as a middle Mel continued to make a name schooler. for himself in local and national When he was 12 years old, he circles. As a member of the Murwas labeled the No. 3 tennis playray High School tennis team, he er in the nation. Astonishingly, navigated to the Kentucky state he even received a letter from the tournament finals his sophomore tennis coach of Samford University, and junior years of high school, but inviting him to consider attending was unable to finish the job. Yet, in the school when he came of age. his senior year of high school, he That same year, Mel traveled finally hurdled the obstacle to win
his first state singles title. When it came time for Mel to actually begin thinking about college, he knew he had a tough decision to make, as he had more teams than Samford knocking at his door. Ranked No. 3 in the nation as an 18-year-old, Mel said he had more than 50 scholarship offers from schools across the country. Weighing factors like proximity to home and relationship with the coach, Mel ultimately chose to take his talents to Memphis State University (now the University of Memphis), though his stay was short-lived. After spending a year at the school, Mel decided to make the jump to the SEC and transferred to the University of Tennessee. The move proved to be a fruitful decision, as Mel and his teammate Rodney Harmon claimed the NCAA doubles championship in 1980 in Mel’s second year as a Volunteer. He and Harmon made quick work of their opponents all season and recorded a dominant 33-2 season. Mel decided to end his college career on top and make the natural next step: the pros. He was offered several contracts from apparel companies that made the decision to leave for the pros all the more enticing. “I had a chance to turn pro, so I just took it,” Mel said. “My coach went to Vanderbilt, so my coach wouldn’t have been there. Everything changed. It was the right time because I was able to sign a contract for three years with racket
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and shoe [companies] for $100,000 combined. So you’ve got money in the bank and you don’t have to worry about traveling.” So with a hefty sum of money in his pockets and the skillset to match, Mel entered the professional circuit in the summer of 1980. In his inaugural professional season, he began ranked 245th in the world; yet months later he was ranked as high as No. 21. Mel’s inspiring climb even helped him garner the ATP Rookie of the Year award in 1980. As Mel kept winning, his confidence kept growing. “You’re all of a sudden thinking you’re going to start going to a bunch of different places in Europe like Bulgaria or somewhere, then all of a sudden I’m going to LA, New York and other tournaments I wanted to play in. So that’s a confidence booster right there to where
I’m just as good as these guys.” That notion proved true in just his second year as a professional. He claimed three tournament titles in 1981, winning at Tel Aviv, Atlanta and Tampa. Mel’s consistent tournament play helped him earn his first spot in tennis’ most prestigious tournament, Wimbledon. He would go on to play in the world spectacle five more times during his career. His most notable pro achievement came in 1983 when he advanced to the quarterfinals of Wimbledon. Through 10 years on the pro tour, Mel beat tennis legends like Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl and Stan Smith. While Mel’s accolades on the professional tour are practically unrivaled, they pale in comparison to the stories he obtained along the way. Once, Mel was playing a semi-final match and trailed 5-1 in the
third set while late-night great Johnny Carson sat looking on. Carson, thinking Mel was dead to rights, got up to leave the event, but Mel got the last laugh. He engineered a comeback for the ages before “I was playing a match and he just got up and said, ‘Hey, this match is over.’ My brother was sitting behind him, and that’s how he heard him,” Mel said. “That’s when I told him, ‘I heard you counted me out, man!’ He shook his head and laughed. I said, ‘That’s OK, I turn the TV off at 10:30 anyways.’” Or there’s the time Mel got an invitation to play tennis at Mar-aLago, President Donald Trump’s club. Believe it or not, Mel claimed he even spent the night in the unoccupied bedroom belonging to Ivanka Trump. “[Trump] was always a big tennis guy,” Mel said. “He’d come in and
Trivia Answers from page 61
The Winners Circle The Official Student Section of the Murray State Racers.
1. Seven- Sparks, Wells, Carr, Woods, Curris, Richmond, Alexander 2. Harry Lee Waterfield 3. M. O. Wrather 4. 1922 5. Top outside of Pogue Library 6. Bennie Purcell, men's tennis 7. Wilson Hall, Lovett Auditorium, Carr Health (north gym), Racer Arena, CFSB Center 8. Murray Normal School, Murray State Teachers College, Murray State College, Murray State University (1966) 9. Martha Layne Collins I&T Building
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55 Gateway 2019 Edition knew everybody. He was always nice to us when he saw you at the Open. He always knew who you were, whether you were Jimmy Connors or Mel Purcell, he knew most of the tennis players. He was always friendly to us.” When he finally reached the end of his career on the pro tour, Mel returned to the place that made him, reuniting with Bennie in 1990 to join the Murray State tennis staff as a volunteer coach. “I didn’t really want to come back and coach, you know, like following Adolph Rupp or something, but I started having fun with it,” Mel said. “My grandmother, his mom, was still alive, was in her 80s, so I kinda came back to take care of her. I thought I was going to go to Florida and thought I’d never come back to Murray, even though I always liked Murray at that time.” “Once I started working with the team a little bit, then I got on that senior tour in ‘94, you know, working with the guys on the team, and things just kind of folded up in there,” Mel said. “I never could become the great coach like [Bennie] did; he was great. He had great recruiting skills from basketball.” After two years, his father took money out of his own salary to bring Mel on as an assistant coach. Over the next four years, Bennie helped groom his son to become his successor as head coach. Come 1996, Mel inherited the position and tried his best to replicate the unfathomable expectations Bennie set as head coach, like winning
Coach of the Year during those same years. “I had some teams that I could’ve won matches with, but over the years the pressure of winning, even when I won a couple, everyone was saying, ‘Yeah, well your dad won 10,’” Mel said. “So I just tried to get good players, good kids, and I still stay in touch with them. I have one that just graduated Harvard Medical School. I’d like to have championships, that’s always a great thing, but just the fact that you’re able to give somebody the opportunity to play here at Murray State at a great institution, I’ve always enjoyed that part.” Twenty seasons as leader of the program came to a screeching halt in 2016 when Murray State Athletic Director Allen Ward announced the school would be cutting its men’s tennis program in a conference trend where two other schools, Morehead State and Eastern Kentucky, did the same. The news was demoralizing for the man whose entire career was shaped by the program, and was amplified even further by the fact the decision was made just three months after the passing of his father. “It was a shock,” Mel said of the day he found out the team had been cut. “Because I was coming in for the budget meeting, I thought. I came in and they had someone else sitting in there, kind of like an intervention, and I thought, ‘You never have a meeting with more than one guy in there,’ so I knew something was up.” With a stroke of a pen, all the history Bennie and Mel had worked to achieve since their reign began
57 Gateway 2019 Edition in 1969 – 12 OVC Championships and 679 of MSU’s 834 all-time match victories – unexpectedly concluded. All of that, Mel could deal with, but the former coach took issue with one detail. Ward and Murray State President Bob Davies declined to cover the tennis student-athletes’ scholarships for the remainder of time they were at the school, a gesture of gratitude that both Morehead State and Eastern Kentucky honored. Mel called that decision “classless.” “That didn’t get out, and I hate to tell you the truth, but that’s exactly what happened,” Mel said of the school’s decision. “That’s one thing where my dad would’ve been a little bit upset. Because the main thing that he loved about Murray State was that Murray State had more class than any school in the conference. He lived on that everyday. Morehead State and Eastern, they dropped theirs, but they offered to pay.” Mel has had more than two years to reflect since the cut and said he holds no ill-will toward administration about the elimination. “There’s nothing personal,” Mel said. “Ward has to do what he’s told. When you’re an AD, you have to do exactly what the president does. That’s just the way it is. I thought maybe if they had given me some time to maybe raise some money to save the program, but they gave me no opportunity on that. You can’t live through life resentful. Murray State’s done so much for me, and you’ve just got to move on.” However, Mel does have one regret about the way his coaching career abruptly ended. “The one thing I feel bad about is not being able to finish the job was I was looking to get 21 championships,” Mel said. “My dad’s number was 21 and we’ve won 20 championships. I was looking to get that 21st.” These days, the former pro is applying his expertise to furthering the growth of tennis in Murray and beyond. If you’ve driven by Purcell Courts during the day or night, odds are you’ve seen the 59-yearold perfecting his craft or giving lessons to others looking to grow in the sport and enrich the community. Therein lies the essence of Mel Purcell: A man, who despite everyone he’s beat, everywhere he’s gone
and everything he’s won, found his purpose in giving back to the community that gave him so much. “Even after everything was over, if I’m on an airplane talking to somebody, even though I’ve gone to the quarters of Wimbledon and at one time maybe I was the best player in the world when you beat the No. 1 player of that time in Becker, but if I was talking to someone on a plane or talking to someone and they asked me, ‘Hey, what do you do now?’ I would tell them, ‘I was the men’s head tennis coach at Murray State University.’”
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Who is Dunker? Story by Gage Johnson Photos from Racer Athletics Murray State athletics have countless traditions and several special organizations that set Murray State apart. However, there is one figure at the center of it all when it comes to Racers sports: the one and only Dunker. Murray State football features an actual horse, Racer One, which circles the field whenever the Racers score a touchdown. But then, there is the well-known horse mascot, Dunker, who is a prominent figure in Racer athletics, parades and public events. Dunker has seen many changes in appearance
since his debut in the 1980s. The long-necked, fluffy comic has turned into a sturdy stud who sometimes looks like a super hero. For any Racer fan — especially the youngsters — Dunker and his human persona are just that: a hero. The role of Dunker is a year-long scholarship position. The student who takes on the role of Dunker goes through a try-out process before beginning the role as part of a rich tradition. It takes stamina, agility and creativity to entertain and inspire from the inside of a horse suit. It takes modesty, too, for the identity of “Dunker”
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is a well-kept secret. That secrecy is part of the tradition. Dunker is not only at the forefront of fan entertainment at Murray State: the horse has proven it is one of the best mascots in the Ohio Valley Conference. Dunker has won the OVC mascot challenge (began in 2012) four times, winning in 2013 and then three years in a row beginning in 2015. However, Dunker’s ability to hype up Racer nation isn’t the only reason why he is the best mascot in the OVC. Dunker makes visits to Junior Racer events, local
elementary schools, birthday parties and summer orientations at Murray State. You will certainly see him at the annual Homecoming Parade, and often at Murray’s Christmas Parade — the traditional kick off for holiday shopping and celebrations for the whole community. While we may not know the true identity of Dunker’s human counterpart, we know that Dunker’s presence in Racer Athletics is something all fans — young and old — enjoy. The Old Grey Mare may not be what she used to be, but Dunker just gets better and better.
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