Sanderson M. Smith
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TALK FOR BEVO FRANCIS INVITATIONAL, NOV. 18, 2000
UNIVERSITY OF RIO GRANDE, RIO GRANDE, OHIO
(Note: Rio Grande is pronounced RYE-OH GRAND)
Two days ago, Thursday, November 16, I came to Rio Grande.
To get to this remote region of southeastern Ohio, I traveled over roads on which I had never before traveled, to come to a town where I had never been, to see a school I had never seen, and to meet people I had never met.
Since I was 13 years old... and, looking at me, you know that was a long time ago, I have wanted to come here. For 47 years, I have wanted to come to Rio Grande.
In the movie, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, the character played by Richard Dreyfous was drawn to a remote mountain site in Wyoming.
In a similar manner, I have felt drawn to this location for almost 50 years.
I have never looked at a map of Ohio without focusing on Rio Grande.
It's a small town, and many maps don't show Rio Grande. But, for 47 years, I knew where it was.
During a period of almost half a century, when 9 men served as President of the United States, and a tenth will soon assume that office, I have wanted to come to Rio Grande.
The obvious question is WHY DIDN'T YOU COME?
47 YEARS! WHY DIDN'T YOU COME?
A good question!
My professional and personal activities have, at various times, brought me to Columbus, Cincinnati, and Springfield in Ohio, to Detroit, to Pittsburgh, and to Charleston, West Virginia.
I have been within striking distance of this location.
Many times, I thought about coming.
But... I didn't!
Despite a genuine desire to come here, until two days ago, I never came to Rio Grande.
In the movie FIELD OF DREAMS, Keven Costner heard a mysterious voices saying, "IF YOU BUILD IT, THEY WILL COME."
A few months ago, a real voice said to me...
"IF YOU COME, THEY WILL BE HERE."
During the past 47 years, I never came to Rio Grande... because I knew THEY wouldn't be here.
Two questions still beg to be answered:
WHAT MAKES THIS SITE SO SPECIAL?
WHO ARE THEY?
The first question evokes an easy answer...
IN MY OPINION, THE GREATEST STORY IN THE HISTORY OF SPORTS IN THE UNITED STATES ORIGINATED HERE, IN RIO GRANDE.
It's just as simple as that.
The second question, WHO ARE THEY? does not have a simple answer.
THEY, of course, are the legendary Rio Grande Redmen. THEY played basketball... and created basketball history ... almost 50 years ago.
Some of these amazing men are here this afternoon.
I mean no disrespect for the world champion Los Angeles Lakers when I say that...
I WOULD WALK TEN MILES TO MEET THE MEN WHO ARE PRESENT IN THIS ROOM TODAY, BEFORE I WOULD WALK TEN FEET TO MEET THE LOS ANGELES LAKERS.
I've seen the Lakers play many times, often on television. And, over the years I have attended Laker games in Los Angeles.
And, what about the men here today, who played basketball half a century ago?
In this day of television and multi-media exposure, it might be hard to believe, but...
I NEVER SAW THESE MEN PLAY A SINGLE GAME OF BASKETBALL.
They played at a time when television sets were few and far between.
My family did not have TV, my friends did not have TV, and sports events were rarely, if ever, televised.
Moving images of these men, playing those amazing games that shocked the basketball world so many years ago, ARE SIMPLY CREATIONS OF MY MIND.
As a child imagines Santa Claus and his elves at the North Pole, or the Biblical story of David slaying Goliath, I can, to this day, only imagine the action and thrills of the games as little Rio Grande College, with only 38 male students, defeated basketball Goliaths like...
ARIZONA STATE, MIAMI OF FLORIDA, WAKE FOREST, PROVIDENCE, BUTLER, AND CREIGHTON.
It was through radio, newspapers, and word of mouth that I, an immature, but impressionable 13-year-old kid who loved to play basketball, followed the saga of the Rio Grande Redmen.
My friends and I had Rio Grande T-shirts, and Bevo sweatshirts, and we reacted with indignation if someone confused the School name with that of the famous river separating the United States and Mexico.
"HEY," we would say, "IT IS NOT REE-O GRANDE, IT IS RYE-OH GRAND."
As I linked myself to Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny when I was very young, and to my cowboy hero, Gene Autry, when I was a little older, I attached myself to the Rio Grand Redman was I was in my early teens.
Santa and the Easter Bunny are fictional characters, Gene Autry was a real person, but his heroic feats as depicted in the old black and white movies weren't real. But, the Rio Grande Redmen were real, and the feats they performed so many years ago actually happened.
THE MEN IN THIS ROOM WERE MY HEROES... MANY, MANY YEARS AGO.
But, my heroes were not invincible.
I suffered teenage anguish when the Rio Grande Redmen were defeated by Salem College, Adelphi College, and Southeast Louisiana State, schools that will never be confused with Indiana, Kentucky, or UCLA when discussion centers on college basketball powerhouses.
No one with an ounce of basketball knowledge would claim that the Rio Grande Redmen of the early 50's represent the greatest collection of basketball players every assembled.
In today's lingo, no one is likely to call them a DREAM TEAM.
But, they were a TEAM OF DREAMS.
It was a totally ridiculous dream of Newt Oliver that he could save his beloved college by convincing a group of obscure basketball players that they could DO THE IMPOSSIBLE.
But, THE IMPOSSIBLE THEY DID! In this room is Clarence "Bevo" Francis, the "center" of this dream, a tall country boy whose name dominated the sports headlines in the early 50's.
And, we are in the presence of some of the other players who had to BUY INTO THIS DREAM. Their names didn't make the headlines, but the LEGEND OF RIO GRANDE could never have been created without them.
I say to you, Don, Wayne, Roy, Dick, Jim, and Carl, I KNEW YOUR NAMES.
I WAS A YOUNG AND IMMATURE TEENAGER, BUT, I KNEW YOUR NAMES.
For reasons that can make sense only to a teenager, I attached myself to the Rio Grande Redmen, THE PERPETUAL UNDERDOGS, and held my breath as they faced the Goliaths of college basketball.
I observed, and listened, and cringed, as newspaper and radio reports heaped doubt, ridicule, and even scorn on some of their early accomplishments.
Oh, I was disappointed when they lost some of those games they should have won.
But, as Apollo Creed stared in amazement when Rocky Balboa continually rose from the canvas to fight on... and eventually win, the sports world watched in disbelief as the Rio Grande Redman challenged, and frequently beat, the Goliaths of college basketball.
It was a TEAM OF DREAMS, but dreams must end. Life often takes strange and unexpected turns. In the words of Newt Oliver, after two years, "The dream turned sour."
As a wispy cloud disappears into a deep blue sky, the Rio Grande Redmen, and their amazing accomplishments, faded into sports history.
They were forgotten by some, and today many of my younger friends have no idea who they are, or what they did... so many years ago.
But, they made an impression on this ONCE YOUNG MAN. I am among those who DO REMEMBER!
Some like to think of Camelot, but I know of no one who has ever been there.
As I grew older, I found myself often thinking about THIS site, where I had never been, and THESE men, whom I had never met, and the games they played... those games I never saw.
I came to realize that the Legend of Rio Grande transcends sports.
It is not a sports story.
It is not a story about basketball.
IT IS A STORY ABOUT THE POWER OF THE HUMAN SPIRIT.
In World War II, the U.S. Navy SeeBees had this slogan...
THE DIFFICULT WE DO NOW.
THE IMPOSSIBLE JUST TAKES A LITTLE LONGER.
And President John F. Kennedy once said...
"OUR COUNTRY DOES NOT NEED CYNICS AND SKEPTICS.
WE NEED MEN AND WOMEN WHO CAN DREAM ABOUT THINGS THAT
RIO GRANDE IS A STORY ABOUT THE POWER, AND TRIUMPH, OF THE HUMAN SPIRIT.
To you, the amazing men of Rio Grande, who created the greatest story in the history of sports so many years ago, I THANK YOU FOR BEING A WONDERFUL PART OF MY BOYHOOD.
Some may have forgotten, but I have remembered you all these years.
Although I never saw you play a game, and I never met any of you until yesterday, I have thought of you often during the past half century.
Memories of your image, your accomplishments and YOUR SPIRIT frequently encouraged me to PERSEVERE when my weaker side was saying "IT CAN'T BE DONE."
And, I want to thank another group for reviving the Legend of Rio Grande, because it is a story that should not be forgotten. I am thrilled that this basketball tournament provides the amazing Rio Grande Redman recognition that they deeply deserve. To Dr. Cyde Evans, Dr. Barry Dorsey, and whoever else should be included in this group, thank you for making it possible for me to be here on my FLOOR OF DREAMS.
And to you, the young people who have come here to play basketball in the BEVO FRANCIS INVITATIONAL, I am envious of your youth, and I have tremendous admiration for your spirit.
I don't expect to see any of you in the NBA, or the WNBA. But that's of no concern, because as graduates of the fine schools that you represent, you will find BETTER THINGS to do with your lives.
I teach statistics, and statistics tell me you will be contributing and productive members of the communities where you will eventually live.
And, at the present time, you are playing the wonderful game of basketball for the RIGHT reasons.
I LEAVE YOU WITH ONE WISH.
As you progress through life, and face the challenges that will be part of your future...
I hope that you can draw STRENGTH and INSPIRATION from memories of a PLACE, where perhaps you have never been, and from PEOPLE, whom perhaps you have never met.
I HOPE THAT YOU WILL HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY TO GO TO THAT PLACE, AND THAT THE PEOPLE WILL BE THERE
I HOPE THAT IN YOUR FUTURE, THERE IS A RIO GRANDE.
My wife, Barbara, is here with me.
We have been married for 38 years.
Barbara and I met 42 years ago.
It's been 47 years... I HAVE FINALLY COME TO RIO GRANDE... AND, THEY ARE HERE!
I'm going to ask Barbara to join me as I STROLL ON MY FLOOR OF DREAMS.
(Barbara and I walk along the floor and shake hands with the legendary Rio Grande team.)
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