SIOUX CITY – Folksy Abe Lemons, the legendary funniest coach in college basketball history, will forever be the face and garrulous voice of Oklahoma City University athletics.
’Ol Abe, a native of diminutive Walters, Oklahoma, passed away at 79 in Oklahoma City. In his 25-year career at the school (two stints) the coach of the “poor ’ol hongry farm boys’’ who shot hoops for the then-Chiefs of OCU won 432 games and lost 264, advancing to two NITs and seven NCAAs.
The cigar-chomping, snappily-dressed Lemons may be an icon in OKC, he’d have to take a back seat to the school’s biggest fan, Paul Sanders, the ex-officio president of the Oklahoma City chamber of commerce.
Sanders isn’t certain about the number, but he was and continues to be, with his wife Kimberly, in attendance at a whole bunch of those basketball games both home and away.
The majority of those Lemons wins came in major college basketball (now Division I), but he also directed an OCU team to a No. 1 national ranking in the NAIA ranks and 34-1 season in 1986-87.
He also coached at the University of Texas and Pan American University.
Oklahoma City has been an NAIA school now for over 30 years and Sanders and his wife are a constant in any all Stars (as they’re called now) athletic events.
The couple was among a large contingent of OCU boosters on hand this week in Our Town to watch the NAIA Softball World Series at the Jensen Complex on the Morningside campus.
“I really couldn’t tell you how many miles Kim and I have put on the automobile to watch Oklahoma City athletes compete,’’ said Paul while watching his favorites tangle with St. Xavier. “We don’t have any children of our own and we consider all these kids out there on the field our own.
“Both the men and women. They’re our pride and joy.’’
Sanders did mention one trip to encapsulate his devotion to the duty of cheering on the softball team.
“The World Series here used to be in Alabama, in Decatur, and we drove there from Oklahoma City, watched the girls play, and then hopped in the car and drove back home.
“I went to the machine shop to have a friend change oil and after that and we took off for Lewiston, Idaho, to watch our baseball team in the NAIA Baseball World Series.
“Then, it was back home. I don’t know, it had to be 5,000 miles or more I think.’’
Sanders’ favorites were 61-2 and the top seed entering the Series, but were upset in their second game and met second-seeded and defending champ Auburn-Montgomery in an elimination game Wednesday night.
Sanders beats the drum loudly for Oklahoma City University and the town.
“You know we have collegiate rowing at OCU for men and women and we have a state-of-the-art $10 million boat house. Awesome,’’ said the 69-year-old Sanders, just mentioning he and his wife also have season tickets for the Oklahoma City Thunder NBA power.
“I can’t say enough good things about our city.
“You know, we’ve won 62 national championships (eight in softball through 2015) in different sports and that includes our dance and pom program.
“I don’t think any other college can boast of this but we’ve had three Miss Americas graduate from OCU. There was Susan Powell (81), Jane Jayroe (67) and Shawntell Smith (1996).
“There are bronze statues to them in our plaza.’’
A visit with Sanders pretty much told the history of Oklahoma, although he didn’t mention that Lemons once had three kids from minuscule Rocky (population 350) on one of his OCU teams.
It was delightful conversation.
He did forget to note that songwriter Mason Williams is a 1958 grad of school.
Williams’ most famous hit is “Classical Gas’’ and hope Mr. Sanders doesn’t take offense, but he’s like that battery bunny and can go on and on and on about this favorite subject – Oklahoma City University.
And that’s good, good thing.
| Williams Baptist was the smallest school in the 10-team Series with an enrollment of just over 500. The school in Walnut Ridge, Arkansas, is in the northeast corner of the state about two hours from Memphis, Tennessee.
The population of the town is approximately 4,800.
The college was founded as a two-year school in 1941 and began offering bachelor’s degrees in 1984. The name of the school was changed from Southern Baptist to Williams Baptist in 1991 to honor the founder, Dr. H.E. Williams.
| Auburn-Montgomery was seeking its third straight national title under the direction of Coach Eric Newell.
Interestingly, Newell took over after directing Williams Baptist to a four place Series finish in 2013.
A significant number of players on the 2016 Williams Baptist team were recruited to the Arkansas school by Newell.
| Oklahoma City won its 10th NAIA men’s national golf title last week at Deer Run in Moline. Illinois. Scott Verplank of Edmond, Oklahoma, the son of pro golfer Scott Verplank Sr., is a member of the team.
However, foreign players spark the team and three – Rupert Kaminski of Johannseburg, South Africa and Australians Matthew Cheung (Brisbane) and Anthony Marcheson (Rosebud) each finished in the top 10 individually.
| At least one former Sioux City prep is a graduate of OCU. Baseball pitcher Joe Bisenius, a Bishop Heelan grad, after a stint at Iowa Western, was drafted out of the school in 2004 by the Philadelphia Phillies.