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Archive for Saturday, January 14, 1995

NORM STEWARTBETA?

January 14, 1995

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Phi Slamma Jamma, maybe. Agra Veta Hawk, certainly! But a bona fide, certified, pink and blue-wearing member of Beta Theta Pi social fraternity, one of the cultural bulwarks of the U.S. collegiate Greek system? Who'd a thunk it, even though initiation didn't occur until well after his baseball-basketball days at Missouri-Columbia.

Wait until I get the chance to barb some Sunflower Beta friends like Bob Timmons, Jerry Waugh, Max Falkenstien, Don-Peter-David Johnston, Rick Harman, Ward Haylett Jr. and Bill Richards -- providing they're still friends after I harpoon 'em.

Word I get is that the Beta chapter at MU not long ago took on basketball coach Stewart as a latter-day member because of his coaching success, his successful crusade against cancer and many other notable good citizen things (honestly, the Old Rascal has a lot of such stuff on his dossier).

As I get it, Norm's son was a Beta and the guys at the Tiger Town lodge decided the dad would be a prudent addition to the rolls. In his student days, Norm was so busy with classes, basketball and baseball that he didn't have time for fraternity life.

The 6-4 product of Shelbyville, Mo., was more than an all-league and All-America basketeer. He was a brilliant baseball pitcher who led Mizzou to the 1954 NCAA title and had a chance to turn pro at a fat bonus. He chose to finish school. He had a tremendous senior basketball season (1956) but the big baseball money was gone.

After earning his bachelor's degree, he signed contracts with the St. Louis Hawks in basketball and the Baltimore Orioles in baseball. He spent one season with the Hawks and a year in the Orioles' minor league system before returning to Mizzou. He served as a baseball and basketball assistant and earned his master's degree in 1960. As Northern Iowa basketball coach, Norm led his teams to a 97-42 record in six years before taking over as Missouri head man in 1967-68. This is his 28th year in that job; he's an outstanding coach.

But Stormin' Norman Stewart a pin-wearing member of Beta Theta Pi? Kansas fans tend to regard him as a rough, tough, irascible hell-raiser who's more compatible to an Animal House environment than the hallowed academic halls of a Beta house.

As long as I can recall, the Beta houses at Kansas and Kansas State have harbored some of the best scholars and most outstanding citizens you can find on a campus. I think somewhere there's a sign that reads: "Renegades need not apply." Guys like the late Franklin Murphy were Betas, and their list of graduates and achievements is long and illustrious. It's almost cause for a congressional investigation when the Betas don't win the campus scholarship cup, or aren't doing something important for the chapter, the school or the community.

Yeah, we used to joke about the wearing of the pink and blue, and how there weren't supposed to be any stairs in the Beta house. But I've always deeply admired their unrelenting quest for excellence. When guys like Hub Hall plastered me into the next county during intramural football, they had to have feet planted pretty firmly on the ground. No firefly could jolt you like that. They won a lot of intramual trophies, too.

So it's not impossible that the Missouri Beta chapter would embrace a fierce but accomplished guy like Norm Stewart. You get to know him and he's a lot more civilized than you might gather after from watching him on the sideline.

But that won't keep me from hinting to some of my local Beta buddies that their selection process isn't always infallible.

  • Back to Beta and broadcaster Max Falkenstien, who just retired as banking executive. We've shared innumerable great times and I can't wish him enough good things now that he's accomplished the No. 1 ingredient for retirement -- just showing up. I'm sure he'll have enough activities to keep him from driving wife Isobel nuts at home. Don't worry, she won't let him.

My pet Falkenstien anecdote developed when Big Eight basketball activities were in the old Kansas City Municipal Auditorium, which gives you some idea of how far we go back.

One night during a lull in the action, Max and I repaired to the rest room and were standing before a porcelain conveniece doing what guys do in such a place. Suddenly, three little boys with programs and pens appeared and asked for Falkenstien's autograph. He was on television quite a bit in those pre-Dick Vitale days and they saw him as a genuine celebrity.

With great poise, and generating his deepest baritone resonance, Max somberly responded: "Sorry, boys, I never give autographs while I'm in the toilet ... but I'll oblige you out in the hall."

I about exploded with laughter, then chided him about his arrogance. "Hell, you've probably never even been asked before, and then go big-time in a rest room!" I kidded. After we chortled, Max went out and signed the programs.

You can tell things like that on a guy after he doesn't have to worry anymore about projecting a stuffy banker's image.

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