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Athletics Director Emeritus created the Wesley Cup Challenge in '09 that is now a Panthers tradition
“The Wesley Cup is our Iron Bowl,” says Birmingham-Southern quarterback, Blake Stidham. “It’s always the one game that you want to win every year.”
The Wesley Cup is a rivalry between the BSC Panthers and the Huntingdon Hawks, the only two Division III schools in the state. This huge tradition started from a very small conversation in 2009 between BSC Student Activities Director, Kyle LoPorto, and SGA.
“[We were] talking about how we needed a football rival we could play every year,” says LoPorto. He emailed the idea to Joe Dean, Jr., the college’s hall-of-fame basketball coach and Athletic Director at the time.
“Within a few months, [Dean] had spoken to Huntington and created this rivalry based off of that very small conversation,” says LoPorto. “[The Wesley Cup] is a big deal. Joe Dean was the catalyst of that. He took an idea and ran with it from our vision.”
Joe Dean, Jr. had a history of making ideas come to life. In high school and college, he studied basketball rulebooks so that he could one day teach the sport. After Dean received his undergrad from Mississippi State University, where he was a three-year basketball letterman, he began his dream of coaching, eventually teaching at BSC, and leading the Panthers to win three consecutive Southern States Conference Championships in the 1980s. Like his father, the famous color analysts in SEC history, Joe Dean, Jr’s voice was part of his larger-than-life charm.
“Anyone who has spent any time around Joe Dean knows that he has an infectious and high-energy personality,” says current Athletic Director and BSC Volleyball Hall-of-Famer, Kyndall Waters.
It seems that Dean, with such strong attributes and talents, would have no trouble stealing the spotlight. In reality, he often keeps a low-profile and leads from behind.
“Joe was great at delegating,” says LoPorto. “He got the best coaches possible, and he let those coaches do their [jobs].”
“Dean taught me how to be a leader,” continues Waters about her predecessor. “He taught me how to serve the people you work with and how to be unabashedly passionate about what your goals are and how to live your life.”
Dean retired on March 1st, after more than 20 years of service to BSC. He served as BSC’s senior vice president for advancement in his last year at the college. Few can talk about Dean without mentioning the motivation, warmth, and legacy he leaves Birmingham-Southern. It is no surprise that one of his greatest contributions to the college is a friendly rivalry that ignites passion and leadership in BSC athletes.
“At the end [of the Wesley Cup], nothing feels better than going crazy with your teammates while holding up a huge trophy,” says Panthers cornerback, Matthew Byers.
Joe Dean, Jr. may no longer be working at Birmingham-Southern, but the team spirit he instilled in every Panther he met lives on in the Wesley Cup. It is no wonder that he has been named the college’s first Athletics Director Emeritus.
Feature photo via BSC Athletics
Discovering her passion for soccer from her father's love of the game
Eva Byrum, Class of 2020, and Gray Byrum, Class of 1986, are a father-daughter soccer legacy of Birmingham-Southern College. Gray was on the first soccer team at Birmingham-Southern and recalls being on the team as a time of experiencing what he calls quality suffering. Eva started as a freshman at Birmingham-Southern College this past fall and decided to join the Birmingham-Southern Women’s Soccer team.
While Eva was aware of her dad's past with soccer at BSC, she did not give the legacy much thought until after she decided to play soccer for Birmingham-Southern. “It hit me just how cool it is to be playing at the same school my dad played at,” Eva said. “I like to look at his old team photos sometimes, and he gave me an old jersey from his first year.”
The bond of this sport brought Eva and her father together long before she followed in his footsteps at BSC. “I definitely started soccer because of my dad. My older brother also played when I was born, so I grew up surrounded by soccer,” Eva said. “I started playing when I was three, and I fell in love and never stopped.”
Eva remembers that, despite her dad being busy with work, he always made the time to share his passion for soccer with her in his little free time. “He worked with me in our front yard teaching me the proper way to approach the ball,” Eva said. “His love for the game showed me how easy it is to fall in love with [it].”
That love extended beyond simply teaching Eva how to play soccer; her dad was there to experience all of her games and her own journey of falling in love with the game. “[He] was always the silent parent on the sidelines,” Eva said. “He knows the game so well, and he would just watch. It was great to see him after games and get some knowledgeable advice on how I played.”
Despite her family’s close ties with Birmingham-Southern, including her six year attendance to the summer soccer camp, Eva did not want to attend the college originally. “Practically my whole family went to Birmingham-Southern, so I resented it as a choice early on,” Eva said. “After I got out of my own way I realized it was the right place for me.
Feature photo via the Byrum family
Men's Track and Field Attempts to Repeat Conference Title
Last season, the BSC Men’s Outdoor Track & Field team set the standard. In 2016, BSC won the conference meet by 87.5 points and qualified two athletes for NCAA Nationals. Jamal Watkins (60-Meter Dash) and Cameron Luster (Triple Jump) qualified for Nationals during the regular season, which sent them to championship this past summer. A month before competing at nationals, Watkins and Luster assisted the Panthers’ sizable victory and scored 50 combined points at the conference meet. Why is that significant? The men’s team won the conference title by almost 90 points, but the two national qualifying athlete’s scored 50 of them. If Watkins and Luster rested themselves during the conference championship for a later date, the Panthers would likely still have proven victorious.
Dominance comes in all shapes and sizes, but in this case, it comes in a 34-man roster. In addition to Watkins and Luster, Coach Kenneth Cox’s group contains nationally-recognized cross country runners, throwers, and a pole vaulter. Throwers Kameren Morgan and Michael Snow both look to repeat their conference titles in the hammer throw and shotput, respectively. Distance runners Chris Roberts and Tim McOmber competed for the DIII Cross Country National Championship last fall, and this experience prepared them for record breaking 5k and steeplechase performances this season. Pole Vaulter David Harrison Campbell has improved his personal best time on several occasions this season with high aspirations of medaling at the conference meet. With every event group returning almost all of its athletes, a championship repeat seems all but guaranteed. Coach Cox believes differently.
"I am not content with what we did last year. We celebrated the conference victory, but if we want to be the best in the nation we have to be consistent." When asked about the program’s progression, Cox continues, “We have the potential to be greater than we were last year. The progression isn’t over at all, but we need to continue to strive for excellence.”
Panthers seek to cap off another record breaking season
The Birmingham-Southern Men’s Basketball team came up one game short of another SAA conference championship this year. However, the Panthers did not have the season they had hoped to have, as they were 12-13 overall when they headed into the tournament and ended the season 14-14. This year’s team, led by 5 experienced seniors, faced a lot of adversity this season, but they continued to fight.
Assistant coach Zack Richards said, “This season has really been about overcoming adversity and staying true to the course, staying true to who each player is, and staying true to who we are as a program.” Although the team faced many tough challenges this season, the coaches are still very optimistic about the team. “We have such high character guys that when it gets hard, they don’t let it get to them; they continue to push,” Coach Richards said.
Birmingham-Southern had a huge win against Millsaps going into the tournament, as they defeated the Majors 74-58. This win showed that championships in basketball are not about how good the team is during the season; they are about how good the team is at the end of the season. The Panthers had a ton of returning players from last year’s conference championship team, which made a huge impact in the team's confidence during this year’s tournament. They had experienced coaches, experienced players, and a fresh, young bench.
“With five seniors and several other returners from last year's championship team, I believe we [were] poised to make another run at a conference championship,” Senior guard Alex Perkins said.
The men's team was able to make it to the final round of the SAA Conference Championship and went up against Rhodes for the title. After a long fought game, the Panthers lost by just three points. While they did not win the championship, the men's team rounded out their season with several good games, and it looks forward to the chance to bring back a trophy next year.
Changing the Head Coaching Position for the Football Team
As the football season came to a close, Athletic Director Kyndall Waters announced that former Head Coach Eddie Garfinkle was to be relieved of his position following the end of the season. Coach Garfinkle was allowed to finish the season out of respect for his nine years of dedication and relentless hard work for the football program.
The following days brought a sense of unease and unknowing for what most of the football team would describe as anxious anticipation for what lies ahead. Waters helped relieve some of these concerns by announcing that Tony Joe White has been named the new head coach for the next season.
“We obviously [were] looking for someone who can win us ball games, someone with a proven success record,” Waters says. “But also someone who cares about our student athletes, engages in a family environment, and is enthusiastic, energetic, and positive.”
This positive energy is important in reviving the football team due to some of the issues that our athletes struggled with this past year. Practices tended to be monotonous, and energy and motivation was low. The team felt as though it was in a rut.
“We do the same thing every day," football captain Jalon Hollie says. "This past season was really silent, really quiet, and we had to bring the energy ourselves, which is very hard to do, especially when coming straight from academics to football.”
In looking towards the future, Waters is hopeful for a successful football program. This success is centered on successful coaching.
“To me, a successful coach is someone who can recruit student athletes, engage them, and more importantly, retain them. [I would also like to see] someone who can make our student athletes feel like every single time they compete, they have a chance to win,” Waters says. “It does not necessarily mean that we have to win the conference every year, but having a chance to be a competitor for a conference championship is very important and, to me, is what a successful BSC football program is.”
Even further down the road, Waters is hopeful that the new program and the new head coach will lead the Birmingham-Southern football team to compete on the National level.
Feature photo via Angela Petulla