A list of the top 75 athletic memories in Missouri Southern State University history, as selected by a university committee (events listed in no particular order):
1. Women’s track and field triple crown, 2007-08: The women’s track and field team completed the MIAA triple crown this year, winning the cross country and indoor and outdoor track conference championships.
2. Final game in Robert Ellis Young Gymnasium: The MSSU men’s basketball team closed out Young Gymnasium in style, defeating No. 1 ranked Pittsburg State 80-69 in front of a packed house.
3. Having a Mutt Burger at Joe Becker Stadium: Do you remember having a Mutt Burger at Becker? Those burgers seasoned just right made the trip to Becker to see the Lions even more special.
4. Warren Turner: The winningest coach in Missouri Southern baseball history, Turner won 852 games and was inducted into the College Baseball and Missouri Southern Athletics halls of fame.
5. Pat Lipira : Quite simply one of, if not the best, coach in MSSU history. Lipira coached the Lions’ softball team to a 1992 NCAA Division II national championship. She is the winningest coach in Southern softball history and also coached volleyball for eight years at the school.
6. Wins over Division I teams: Whether it be the 48 wins by the MSSU baseball program over Division I programs, including doubleheader sweeps of Iowa State and Wisconsin, or the football team’s win over UNLV in its 1972 national championship season, or the men’s basketball victory at Oklahoma State, the Lions have beaten some bigger opponents over the years.
7. Robert Corn: The winningest coach in MSSU men’s basketball history, Coach Corn has amassed 375 wins at his alma mater, including 19 MIAA Postseason Tournament berths and four trips to the NCAA Division II Tournament. He is a three-time MIAA Coach of the Year winner.
8. Conference championships: Missouri Southern teams have won 37 conference championships over the years, the most coming from men’s and women’s track and field and cross country. The last conference title by the men’s basketball team in 2010-11.
9. 1972 football national championship team: Jim Frazier’s 1972 NAIA Division II national championship is the first of two national titles MSSU has won. A 7-0 victory at Division I UNLV highlighted the regular season, and a 12-0 campaign was completed with a 21-14 title game victory over Northwestern (Iowa) at Junge Field.
10. Rod Smith’s catch and run against Pittsburg State in 1993: This play by MSSU Hall of Famer Rod Smith helped lead the Lions beat the Gorillas 20-3.
11. The history of the Lionbacker Booster Club: Established in 1968, the Lionbacker Booster Club was founded to aid the athletic department in achieving its primary goals of graduating the student-athlete and fielding teams that are competitive.
12. 1999-2000 men’s basketball team: This squad remains the best team ever in the history of basketball at Southern, posting a 30-3 record, winning conference and regional titles and going to the Elite Eight in Louisville where the Lions lost to eventual national champion Metro State in the semifinals.
13. Tom Rutledge: Coach Rutledge is in his 24th season at Southern and has developed MSSU into a national power in both track and field and cross country. He helped to start the Southern Stampede, one of the largest cross country meets in the country.
14. The “road trippers,” Don Gross and Wendell Redden: Don Gross, the longtime voice of the Lions, and Wendell Redden, longtime sports editor for the Joplin Globe, were great friends and loved to cover the Lions. They made countless trips together to the Lions’ road games.
15. 1992 softball national champion team: The Lions captured the first NCAA Division II national championship in school history in 1992 when they went 50-7 and defeated Cal State-Hayward 1-0 in the championship game. The Lions’ .877 winning percentage that season is tops in softball history at the school.
16. Hal Bodon: Bodon was the first head coach of the Missouri Southern men's soccer program, introducing the sport in 1972. The team's first games were played in 1976 as he served as the head coach for 11 seasons, later moving to the classroom full-time as a professor of communications until his retirement in 1996. Bodon has a career record of 138-74-21.
17. The opening of the Leggett & Platt Athletic Center: On Nov. 23, 1999, the Lions men’s basketball team opened the brand new Leggett & Platt Athletic Center with a 96-51 win over Bartlesville Wesleyan. The Lions went 18-0 that season at home, spiced by conference and regional tournament championships.
18. 1982 women’s basketball NAIA runner-up: The Lions made a huge postseason run to the national title game. After finishing the regular season fourth in the CSIC, Southern won the district and area tournaments en route to a 23-12 record. The Lions lost to Southwestern Oklahoma State in the final in Kansas City.
19. Jim Phillips: Phillips is the second-winningest coach in Missouri Southern women’s basketball history with a 129-72 reecord from 1981-88. Phillips was the 1982 NAIA District 16 Coach of the Year when he helped the Lions to a second-place finish in the national tournament. He was also an Area IV and national coach of the year finalist that year.
20. Jim Frazier: Frazier is the winningest football coach in Southern history with a 97-52-5 record from 1971-85. He led the Lions to the 1972 NAIA national championship and a 12-0 season. He also served as the men’s athletics director.
21. Sallie Beard: Beard almost single-handedly started women’s athletics at Southern. A Southern alum, she served as both a coach and athletics director for 37 years before retiring in 2009. She was the Lions’ first head coach in women’s basketball, softball and tennis and later coached track and field. She was the women’s athletics director for 25 years before being named the sole AD in 2001.
22. Patty Vavra: Coach Vavra was a student-athlete at Missouri Southern and has helped make Missouri Southern one of the premier track and field and cross country programs in Division II. She led the Lions to an MIAA triple crown in 2007-08 where her teams won the cross country and indoor and outdoor track and field titles.
23. Jon Lantz: Lantz has the second most career wins among football coaches at Southern with a 51-35-1 record from 1989-97. The 1993 team won the MIAA championship and lost at home to Mankato State in the first round of the Division II playoffs.
24. Chris Tucker: Tucker played at MSSU from 1990-94 and was an all-conference, all-region and all-American selection in 1993-94. He holds school records for blocked shots in a game (nine) and career (179) and ranks in the top 10 in scoring. On July 8, 1994, he died in an automobile accident, but his legacy lives on as the annual men’s basketball tournament bears his name.
25. Transition from MSSC to MSSU: In 2003, Gov. Bob Holden signed a bill on the Missouri Southern campus that elevated the status of the institution from college to university. The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Gary Nodler (R-Joplin) and Rep. Bryan Stevenson (R-Joplin), changed the name of the institution from Missouri Southern State College to Missouri Southern State University-Joplin. The legislation officially became effective on Aug. 28, 2003.
26. Southern Stampede cross country meet: The Southern Stampede, started in 1991, has grown into one of the biggest cross country meets in the country. A meet that started with a few teams has grown into one that hosts more than 2,000 high school and college athletes each year.
27. Going from NAIA to NCAA and from the CSIC to the MIAA: Missouri Southern made the jump from NAIA to the NCAA in the 1989-90 school year. Also leaving the CSIC for the MIAA that year were Pittsburg State, Missouri Western and Washburn. Emporia State joined the league in 1991, Fort Hays State in 2006 and Nebraska-Kearney in 2012.
28. Going from a junior college to a four-year institution: In July 1965, House Bill No. 210 was signed by Gov. Warren E. Hearnes in Joplin, establishing a state college offering third- and fourth-year courses leading to a baccalaureate degree. In the fall of 1967, the new 320-acre campus, with five new buildings and an extended Mansion House, opened to 2,399 students and 95 faculty members.
29. The progression of logos at Missouri Southern: The university has seen seven different Lion logos over its history. In 1943, the first logo was introduced with a Lion holding a book. That logo changed slightly in 1962, before various renditions of the logo changing in 1964, 1970, and 1971. The Lion and Shield logo was developed in 1987. That logo stood for 20 years before the current Lion head logo was developed in 2007.
30. The original turf at Fred G. Hughes Stadium: The football stadium at MSSU was the first in the state to have artificial turf and has had turf since it was built in 1975. The original fundraising plan for the turf was unique as it was sold to donors a yard at a time.
31. The opening of the MSSU Softball Complex: Originally just one field behind the football stadium, the opening of Gene Wild Field and the MSSU Softball Complex in 1998 gave the Lions the premier field and complex in the MIAA and one of the better facilities in all of Division II. A two-field complex featuring both Wild and Lea Kungle Fields, the majority of the new construction was donated by the Missouri Army National Guard 203rd Engineer Battalion.
32. SouthernFest: Drawing from the success of the Rod Smith Green and Gold Golf Tournament, athletic leaders at Southern came up with the idea for SouthernFest in 2008. The addition of an auction and dinner the night before the golf tournament has helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for the athletic department and serves as an annual event that many alums and boosters come to reconnect.
33. Track and field individual national champions: Since the track and field programs started at Southern in 1990, the Lions have five individuals who win national championships. Tongula Givens won the 1994 triple jump, Kevin Dotson won the 1999 indoor high jump, Seth Isringhausen won the 2003 indoor pole vault, Matt Campbell won the 2005 outdoor and 2006 indoor pole vault and most recently Jessica Selby-Tallman won the 2008 outdoor hammer throw.
34. National baseball runner-up teams: In both 1978 and 1991, the Missouri Southern baseball team finished the season in the national championship game. In 1978, the Lions lost to Emporia State in the NAIA national title game. The 1991 Lions, in their second year in Division II, made it to the World Series and lost to Jacksonville State in the championship game.
35. Lions in the NFL: Twelve Lions have went on to play football in the NFL. The most recent was Allen Barbre, who was drafted in the fourth round by the Green Bay Packers in 2007. Rod Smith, one of the best undrafted players in NFL history, had a stellar career for the Denver Broncos.
36. The E.O. and Virginia Humphrey Award: Established in 1972, the award is presented annually to the outstanding athlete who has exemplified the qualities of highest respect for Missouri Southern, outstanding athletic ability, outstanding leadership qualities and respect for fellow teammates and students.
37. One-State, One Spirit Classic and I-44 Hoops Classic: After the May 22, 2011 tornado in Joplin that killed 161 people, the athletic departments at both Missouri and Missouri State wanted to do something for the community. So in an unprecedented move, both men’s basketball programs and the MSU women’s program played exhibition games at the Leggett & Platt Athletic Center. Proceeds from ticket sales and other fundraising went directly to the Missouri Southern Foundation Tornado Relief Fund.
38. The Sonic Trophy Series: In the fall of 2009, the Sonic Trophy Series was started. In a competition between Missouri Southern and Pittsburg State. The trophy is awarded to the school that wins the 13-sport competition each year, based on head-to-head results or final league standings. The Lions have won the first three years.
39. Robert W. Plaster gifts: On Feb. 18, 2001, the Missouri Southern athletics department announced the gift of two seven-figure donations by the Robert W. Plaster Foundation. The gifts will go to the construction of a baseball stadium on campus and a multi-purpose athletic facility adjacent to the football stadium as well as improvements to the football stadium.
40. Origination of green and gold as MSSU school colors: According to research, the green and gold school colors were selected from two high schools — the green from Joplin High School and the gold from Neosho High School.
41. Origination of the mascot: The Lion was picked by Bayred Vermillion and J. R. Graue and other members of the first athletic teams at Joplin Junior College
42. Sports medicine progression: The Missouri Southern athletic department has been at the forefront of progression in the sports medicine and strength training fields. From Kevin Lampe, the first trainer at Southern, to Marty Conklin and now Darin Moore, sports medicine at Southern has always been in good hands. On the strength and training front, Southern for the longest time was the only school in the MIAA to employ a full-time strength and conditioning coach.
43. Women’s athletics 25th anniversary: Women’s athletics started at Missouri Southern in 1975 and had its 25th anniversary in 2000.
44. MIAA basketball tournament moving to Kansas City: The MIAA Basketball Postseason Tournament had been hosted on campus sites until the 2002-03 season when the games were moved to Kansas City's Municipal Auditorium, the site of more basketball national championships than any other arena in the country.
45-56. First year of respective sports: Football, 1937; men’s basketball, 1937-38; men’s track,1940, disbanded in 1941, restarted in 1991; golf, 1940; women’s basketball: 1975-76; men’s and women’s cross country, 1990; women’s track, 1991; baseball, 1972; volleyball, 1975; women’s soccer, 1999.
57. Title IX – Title IX was signed into law in 1972 by President Richard Nixon. It stated “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” From there, women’s athletics really hit the road running and set the foundation for what we know now.
58. Jasper County College: In April, 1967, voters created the Junior College District of Jasper County, ending the junior college's 27 years as part of the Joplin Public School System. Voters also approved by an 8-to-1 margin a $2.5 million bond issue for the construction of a new campus.
59. Men’s basketball Puerto Rico connection: In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Lions men’s basketball was infused with a Puerto Rican flavor. Several Puerto Rico natives suited up for the Lions, including Eddin Santiago, Carlos Escalera and Osiris Ricardo.
60. John Ware: John Ware came to MSSU in 2004 after a long tenure at Truman State. He won five games in his first season at Southern and was 2-3 into his second season when he died after a heart attack. That week the Lions played his former school, Truman, and devoted the game to him, a 41-17 win on homecoming.
61. Maryann Mitts: Mitts is the winningest coach in Missouri Southern women’s basketball history, averaging 17 victories in 11 seasons and finishing in the upper half of the MIAA standings in seven seasons.
62. “The Winner at Weiser” In 1987, Chris Tuggle hit a 23-foot 3-point goal with one second remaining to defeat Drury 85-84 in Springfield to send the Lions to the NAIA national tournament in Kansas City. it was Tuggle’s only trey of the season.
63. “The Comeback” In 2006, the MSSU men’s basketball program mounted its biggest comeback in program history when it erased a 28-point deficit with 13:40 to play to win 86-84 at Pittsburg State. The Lions outscored PSU 43-13 to erase a 71-43 deficit.
64. Hosting cross country national championships: This November, Missouri Southern is the host for the NCAA Division II cross country national meet for the third time.
65. Moving from Junge Field to Hughes Stadium: The Lions played their games at Joplin High School’s Junge Field in the first seven seasons of the program’s existence. But on Sept. 6, 1975, Southern opened up Fred G. Hughes Stadium with a 20-13 win over Emporia State.
66. “The Call” A loose-ball foul against the Lions with 1.5 seconds left set up the game-winning free throw in the 2000 Elite Eight semifinal game against Metro State. With the game tied at 74, the Lions’ Carlos Escalera and Metro State’s Shane Ah Matt dove for a loose ball at the top of the key, and Escalera was called for a foul, and Ah Matt hit the front end of the 1-and-1 free throw.
67. The MSSU Hall of Fame: Started in 1984, the Hall of Fame was established to pay tribute and to enhance school tradition by honoring former athletic letterwinners and/or coaches who have shown distinctive, unique, or exceptional ability while on campus of the school or since graduation.
68. MSSU legacy athletes: Kellen Cox and his father Tom, Collin Howard and his father Ken, Lydell Williams Jr. and Sr., Brian Borgard and his sisters Stacy and Shannan and both of his parents. Whether it be father/son, mother/daughter or a whole family affair, there have been a few instances of being an MSSU athlete running in families.
69. MSSU coaches who played here: Patty Vavra, Bryce Darnell, Robert Corn, Alese Woolard are current coaches who played at Missouri Southern.
70. Community ties: Whether it be reading to students, showing up at recess to play with elementary school children or helping to run a huge Special Olympics event each year, the MSSU community and student-athletes are active within the Joplin community.
71. Super fans: – Bob Laptad, Harry Greninger, Rev. Henry Pullham, or the MOSO Locos of the late 1990s to name a few, there have been several super fans at MSSU.
72. Ever changing face of the MIAA: When Missouri Southern entered the MIAA in 1989, the Lions were part of a major expansion of the league. The Lions, Missouri Western, Pittsburg State, and Washburn entered the MIAA that year with Emporia State following suit in 1991. Missouri S&T left the league in 2005, while Fort Hays State joined in 2006 and Lincoln re-entered the league after an 11-year absence in 2010. Nebraska-Omaha was briefly in the league before departing for Division I in 2010, and the 2012 season sees the addition of Nebraska-Kearney, Northeastern State, Central Oklahoma and Lindenwood to bring the league to 15 teams. Truman State announced it would leave the MIAA starting with the 2013 season.
73. Media relationship between Missouri Southern and the Joplin media and the progression of sports information/media relations at Southern: Whether it be the daily coverage given MSSU by Joplin television stations or the Joplin Globe or the partnerships over the years bringing MSSU games to fans over the airwaves, Southern has enjoyed a great relationship with the local media. Sports Information has gone from one person keeping stats and distributing them to media to a full-fledged media relations outfit that daily updates a website with news, photos and video.
74. Dudley Stegge: Stegge was the head football and track coach at Joplin Junior College from 1951-1964. He went on to become the Dean of Students at Jasper County Junior College in 1964 and from ‘67-69 he was the first dean at Missouri Southern State College. He was director of the MSSC Union from 1969 to his retirement in 1980.
75. Joplin High School’s use of MSSU facilities after the May 2011 tornado: After an EF5 tornado destroyed Joplin High School’s campus, the district needed a place to play. So bringing things full-circle (MSSU played its early games in Joplin school facilities), JHS played its softball and basketball games at Missouri Southern.
A list of the top 75 athletic memories in Missouri Southern State University history, as selected by a university committee (events listed in no particular order):
- 75 years of MSSU Sports
Several Missouri Southern athletes return as coaches
Four current Missouri Southern head coaches and two assistants also played part of their college careers for the Lions.
Softball team built success on pitching, solid defense
Anyone who questions the caliber of the pitching and defense on Missouri Southern’s 1992 softball national championship team, check the scores.
Runner-up teams had similarities
Missouri Southern’s 1978 and 1991 baseball teams have a common thread.
MSSU, Joplin have shared facilities in times of need
Athletics in Joplin have come full circle during the last 75 years.
Humphrey Award honors top student-athletes at MSSU
There is no doubt that E.O. and Virginia Humphrey thought about others much more than they thought about themselves.
MSSU's sports medicine program started with shoestring budget
Missouri Southern’s sports medicine program has come a long way since it began 35 years ago.
Insomnia marks arrival of draft day for MSSU's Williams
Brandon Williams was hit by a big dose of reality on Tuesday night.
Joplin juco's mascot wasn't an instant hit
Apparently it took some time for the Joplin Junior College mascot’s name to catch on.
Gross, Redden played key roles with coverage
Laurel and Hardy. Abbott and Costello. Wendell and Don. Providing coverage first for Joplin Junior College and later Missouri Southern, Wendell Redden and Don Gross were lumped together. Appropriately, they were inducted together in the first Joplin Sports Hall of Fame class in 2001.
MSSU 75: Voters created county-wide junior college district
For 27 years the Joplin school district also carried the burden of financial support for Joplin Junior College.
- More 75 years of MSSU Sports Headlines
- Several Missouri Southern athletes return as coaches