My brother called me one morning a month or two ago. He had a little news. The basketball team at Southwestern Christian University, where he’s a Bible professor, had beaten Oklahoma City University the night before. SCU had defeated OCU.
That’s big news for anyone who has followed the history of Southwestern, which is located in Bethany just west of Southern Nazarene University. We knew all about Southwestern long before my brother started teaching there; it’s affiliated with the International Pentecostal Holiness Church, the denomination in which we were raised and which is headquartered in Bethany.
To think that Southwestern Christian could not only rise to be in the Sooner Athletic Conference with OCU, but beat the school of Abe Lemons and Paul Hansen, the school of Arnold Short and Hub Reed? That’s an amazing story.
And Jim Poteet is the reason why.
Poteet joined SCU in 2009 as a consultant who became assistant athletic director and helped the Eagles establish a comprehensive athletic program and a sports management program, which has become the biggest major at the school. In a previous life, Poteet was the coach who established Southern Nazarene (then Bethany Nazarene College) as a basketball power, and in April, Poteet will be inducted into the NAIA Hall of Fame, during the association’s convention in Kansas City.
Southwestern Christian honored Poteet on Thursday night with a reception before its game against USAO, and I was fortunate enough to receive an invitation. Poteet and my brother have become fast friends, and the three of us get together for lunch on a regular basis. Poteet knows as much about basketball as anyone in the state, both the history and the technique and the personalities. Everything from Corn Bible to Kevin Durant, Poteet knows all about it.
And the reception was a great reminder of all the people he’s impacted. In typical Poteet style, this wasn’t a testimonial for him. This was a testimonial by him about all the people who came to honor him. “I didn’t expect this,” Poteet said. “But man, I’ll always treasure this.”
I thought I would share some of the stories:
* Southern Nazarene president Loren Gresham was in attendance, as anyone would expect. Gresham was Poteet’s assistant coach at SNU in the 1970s, then succeeded Poteet as head coach in 1979. Gresham coached SNU to the 1981 NAIA national championship and eventually was promoted to president.
Gresham and Poteet met in 1958, at a church camp. They eventually played basketball together at Pasadena College (now called Point Loma Nazarene) in California. But their ties go back even further — Gresham’s father and Poteet’s uncle were roommates at Penial College, which became Southern Nazarene, in 1929.
“We played basketball a lot of places on this Earth,” Poteet said. “Both ended up at BNC. I was head coach. He was assistant coach and professor of political science.
“It was the fall of ’71. We had just joined the NAIA. We had a goal of getting to the national tournament and winning it. Back then, there were 576 members. It only took 10 years.
“We didn’t have any money. Go on a road trip, we’d eat on $3 a day. Slept four to a room. We’d pull the mattress off and someone would sleep on the box springs.”
* Several of Poteet’s SNU players were in attendance.
Jeff Jantz remains SNU’s all-time leading scorer. Poteet remembers the exact point total, 2,104. Poteet loves to tell the story that Jantz started every game but one. Jantz was a little wild — raised in a Mennonite home in Colorado, Poteet once saw him riding a motorcycle through campus on only one wheel — and Poteet had enough. Told Jantz if he got another technical foul, it would cost him. Jantz got another, and Poteet sat Jantz down. Missed an entire game, and the Redskins lost by one point. “It cured him,” Poteet said. “He never got another.” Poteet said he once took Jantz into a toilet stall, grabbed him by the shirt and said, “if you don’t get your life straightened out, you’re not going to amount to anything.” “I was afraid he was going to hit me.”
Other players in attendance were John Miller, Lonnie Gibson and Larry Hess.
Miller retired in 2008 after 25 years as a Pontotoc County district judge; he won the NAIA’s Emil Liston Award in 1976, based on scholarship, character and playing ability.
Poteet said Gibson was a hard worker who didn’t have the athletic ability of others. Poteet recalled the 1976 District 9 championship game, when BNC hosted then-Central State in the title game at Broadhurst Pavilion, when the fire marshal closed the doors to further patrons three hours before tipoff. Tied with 90 seconds left, Poteet had the Redskins hold the ball for the last shot, then called timeout with about 15 seconds left. He told his squad, take an open shot. “Except you, Lonnie Gibson. You have to shoot a layup.” With two seconds left, Gibson had no choice. He was 20 feet from the basket and had the ball. “He let fly the most beautiful shot you’ve ever seen,” Poteet said. Bethany Nazarene was on its way to Kansas City for the national tournament.
Hess was recruited out of Point Pleasant, W.Va. “He could talk a mile a minute,” Poteet said. “He conned my wife (a Bethany Nazarene professor) into giving him a C in a class so he could stay eligible.” Poteet said his wife still hasn’t received that last paper.
* Bethany schools superintendent Kent Shellenberger and his wife, Stephanie, were there. Stephanie is the daughter of Merrill Green, the OU football star of the 1950s who later became Jack Mildren’s high school coach at Abilene (Texas) Cooper. Stephanie Shellenberger was a volleyball player at Bethany Nazarene when Poteet arrived as coach/athletic director. He later hired her as the school’s volleyball coach.
* Sooner Athletic Conference commissioner John Hudson came by. His league was formed in 1978, and Poteet was voted president. So Poteet called Hudson, who had been coaching at USAO and then was in law school at OU, and talked him into being commissioner.
The first game Hudson ever coached for USAO was at Bethany. The Drovers came out in Oral Roberts uniforms. “You playing a rent-a-team tonight,” Poteet asked. Turns out the USAO uniforms hadn’t come in, so Ken Trickey loaned some old uniforms to Hudson.
A few years later, Poteet was coaching Athletes in Action, a traveling evangelism team that played exhibitions. Athletes in Action played at UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion, with Larry Brown coaching the Bruins. Poteet called Hudson and invited him to sit on the bench with AIA, with one caveat. He had to keep his mouth shut. Hudson complied.
But Hudson couldn’t keep quiet Thursday night. He told of attending the 1973 NAIA national tournament in Kansas City with Poteet. “Jim Poteet can walk into an arena with 12,000 people, and in less than hour, he can talk to half the people in the room. Here’s how he does it. In mid-sentence, you look around, he’s gone.”
Poteet also coached at Northwest Nazarene, Pasadena College, Biola College and Seattle Pacific. His Athletes in Action team beat the 1980 Soviet Olympic team.
Poteet was retired, helping out with the afterschool program at Bethany First Church of the Nazarene, when Poteet told Southwestern provost Reggie Wenyika the school should consider a sports management program. Wenyika said great, you start it up and the school will pay you $1 a year. SCU got its money’s worth.
“I missed being around collegiate athletics,” Poteet said. Getting Southwestern Christian into the NAIA “was a great fit for us. It’s a great opportunity.”
During the first half of the Southwestern Christian-USAO, I chatted some with Poteet. The game was competitive, spirited, not overly artistic.
“This is what college athletics are really all about,” Poteet said.
Wenyika said, “God gave us to him as a gift. Jim, you’re one of a kind.”