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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Century Club

A.B. Morris
A.B. Morris, who had been a coach back in Kansas before coming to Mankato State Teachers College as a history instructor in 1919, convinced University president Charles H. Cooper that starting varsity sports at the school would be a great way to drive enrollment of male students.

Estblished 1868 with 27 students, Mankato Normal School's original mission was to train and educate teachers for rural schools in southern Minnesota. During this early period, MNS provided educational certificates and a majority of students were women. In 1920-21 there was only one male student enrolled in the college.

It was under this premise in 1921 that C.P. Blakeslee was hired and so began the men's basketball program at MSTC. And with it, the embryonic stages of varsity athletics at Minnesota State.

It should be noted that Morris, who served many roles during his nearly four decades at the school, helped Blakeslee coach several teams while being promoted to Director of Personnel and then assuming Registrar's responsibilities. He became the Dean of Instruction in 1947 and served as the school's athletics faculty representative from 1952-56 and was inducted into the Athletics Hall of Fame in 1964. Morris Hall, which houses Minnesota State's College of Business and other departments, bears his name.

Blakeslee went on to enjoy a 44-year career in which he coached men's basketball, men's golf, men's gymnastics, baseball, men's track and field, men's cross country and served as the director of athletics. The football stadium bears his name and he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1963.

A lot has happened since Morris had his conversations with President Cooper and Blakeslee was hired in the early part of the last century.

The football, basketball, golf and baseball teams were all mothballed for a period of time during World War II, but brought back following the end of the conflict. Iconic Rummy Macias, who was hired as the school's first wrestling coach when the program began in 1950, led his grapplers to a trio of national championships in his 38-year career. Later on, men's swimming and tennis programs started and by the time Blakeslee retired following the 1964-65 school year, the MSTC athletics department was ten teams deep. 

As the school's enrollment increased post-war, the University began to outgrow its location in lower Mankato. Including a football stadium, swimming pool and an indoor track, construction began on a new location for the school atop the river valley bluff in the late 1950's.

In 1965-66 the first women's programs came online with women's gymnastics, women's swimming and women's track and field forming. Mary Willerscheidt was the school's first women's basketball coach when that program was launched in 1966-67 and women's volleyball started under the guidance of women's athletic director Georgene Brock in 1967-68.  A 16th program was added in 1969-70 when men's hockey was granted varsity status.  The department continued to expand with women's programs commencing with the addition of women's golf, women's tennis and women's gymnastics (1970-71), women's cross country (1972-73) and softball (1975-76). Later, women's soccer (1995-96) and women's hockey (1998-99) programs were created.

Change has been constant over the course of the last 95 years.

From Mankato Normal School, to Mankato State Teachers College, Mankato State College, Mankato State University and, in 1998, Minnesota State University, Mankato.  The Peds, the Purples, the Indians and, beginning in 1977, the Mavericks.

In addition, to location, facilities, name of the school, team names, the school's national and conference affiliations have not gone unaffected.

In 1923 MSTC teams were members of the Little 10, a league which also included Winona, St. Cloud, Bemidji and five junior colleges. In 1932 the Minnesota Northern Teachers College Conference was formed and this lasted until the mid-1950's when MSTC joined Winona, St. Cloud, Bemidji and Moorhead to form the Minnesota State College Conference. Michigan Tech was added to the mix in 1957 as the Northern State Conference came together. Thus begat the Northern Intercollegiate Conference in the 1960's. Mankato State left for the North Central Conference following the 1968-69 season, but was readmitted into the NIC for three more years before rejoining the NCC in 1981-82. Following the demise of the NCC as North Dakota, North Dakota State and Northern Colorado departed for NCAA Division I, MSU became a member of the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference beginning in 2008-09. The school's men's and women's hockey teams are members of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.

In 1952 MSTC held membership in the NAIA and was an associate member in the NCAA. It wasn't until the 1960's that the programs began competing solely in NCAA team championship events on a national level. Presently, with the exception of men's and women's hockey, which compete as members of NCAA Division I, Minnesota State's teams are affiliated with NCAA Division II.

Besides Blakeslee (and Morris), Macias, Willerscheidt and Brock, the names of Jim Witham, Bob Otto, Bud Myers, Chuck Peterson, Paul Waldorf, Don Robinson, Don Brose, Jack Amann, Jean McCarthy, Mark Schuck, Dean Bowyer, Gordy Graham, Butch Raymond, Dan McCarrell, Dan Runkle, Marge Burkett, Donna Tiegs Ricks, Bob Westphal, Gary Rushing, Don Amiot, Chris Miskec, Jim Schaffer and Phil Rhoade and others elicit strong memories.

The student-athletes, too many to mention by name, have helped build the school's reputation and rise to regional and national prominence with 52 national individual titles and the aforementioned wrestling team championships in 1957-58 (NAIA), 1958-59 (NAIA) 1964-65 (NCAA) joined by national titles from men's hockey in 1980, men's cross country in 1988 and a women's basketball championship in 2009.  Academic All-Americans and conference championships in every sport. We could go on.

The 2020-21 school year will mark the 100th year of athletics at Minnesota State.  It would be interesting if A.B. Morris was around to have a looksee at what his idea put forth nearly a century ago had wrought.  It's likely he would not only be surprised, but also pretty proud.

It's great to be a Maverick.

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