Today was special for many a reason. Of course, we had the live verbal commitments of Quincy Miller and Deuce Bello of Westchester Day Academy and D-One Basketball. Their commitments marked the next era of Baylor Basketball, without question.
Today, we see the future flash before our eyes. Hopes and dreams of banners and rings.
However, also on this day, we look back on the past.
At 11:00 PM tonight, the Baylor Freshman Class of 2014 gathered at Waco Hall. We filed in and took our seats. Before us on the stage, were ten basketball jerseys. Each one a simple white with green trim. Each bearing "BAYLOR" across the chest and the number 10 below. Before each jersey was an empty chair that was never destined to be a seat.
The lights dimmed and the video played. Headlines flashed before our eyes. "Ten dead". "Nation mourns". "Country behind Baylor University". Once concluded, we prayed with University Chaplain, Dr. Burt Burleson. From there began our lesson on the Baylor Spirit.
Who better to teach such a subject than arguably it's greatest inspirer: Coach Grant Teaff. Coach spoke to us about his arrival to Baylor. He had a desire to create a spirit among the University. However, little did he know that spirit already existed. Coach told us, at no greater time did he experience that spirit than the 1980 game against Arkansas. We were just coming off our heartbreaking loss to San Jose State and he was struggling to find what to say to the team before the Arkansas game. Well, lucky for Coach Teaff he never had to say those words. He instead turned to Kyle Woods.
If you remember the story, Kyle Woods is the same player that was paralyzed the year prior during an in-game injury where he broke his neck. For the first time since that accident, Kyle returned to the team. Coach swears that Kyle looked each player in the eye and he told them, "Look guys, it's real simple: You have to turn a setback into a comeback." And in that instant, Kyle Woods managed to rise from his wheelchair and stand for that brief moment. The rest, you ole' Bears know, is history. Baylor went on to defeat the Razorbacks 45-12 in route to the SWC Championship and arguably the greatest season in Baylor Football history.
"You have to turn a setback into a comeback." Truer words may never have been spoken, and nothing may be truer to the Baylor Spirit. In many ways, those words symbolize what happened all that time ago.
If you're unaware of the story of The Immortal Ten, it is never too late.
On Jan. 22, 1927, coach Ralph Wolf was taking his first Baylor basketball team to play a game at the University of Texas. This was a crucial game in the Bears' race for the 1927 Southwest Conference championship.
The trip was not a pleasant one, as rain had poured over Central Texas for the majority of the day and continued as the team departed for Austin. That hampered the vision of the chartered bus driver as debris from the road sprayed the windshield of the bus.
In Round Rock, Texas, just miles from the team's arrival in Austin, one of America's first athletic tragedies occurred. A speeding train from the I&GA Railroad Company rammed into the side of the bus at a railway crossing near the center of the city. Ten of the 21 players, coaches and fans in the Baylor party that traveled on the bus that day were killed.
Baylor remembers the story each year at Homecoming, when freshmen hear the tragic story and participate in a candlelight remembrance ceremony. Baylor students and alumni have raised funds to have a monument honoring the Immortal Ten erected on campus.
There was a hero of the accident, James Clyde "Abe" Kelly. Kelly, who was captain-elect of the 1927 football team, saw the train just before impact and pushed his roommate, Weir Washman, out of the bus' window. Kelly is credited with saving the life of his best friend at the greatest expense to himself. Kelly was one of the 10 who died in the collision.
Others who did not survive the wreck were William Winchester, W.E. Murray, Merle Dudley, Sam Dillow, Jack Castellaw, L.R. "Ivey" Foster, Bob Hailey, R.L. Hannah and James Walker.
Wesley Bradshaw, who is still in the top 10 on the Baylor football career scoring list, was seriously hurt. Gordon Barry, Joe Potter, Edgar Gooch, C.S. Bean, Keifer Strickland (an All-SWC selection), John Kane, Dave Cheavers (former Baylor journalism department chair) and coach Wolf were slightly injured. Washman and Louis Slade were unhurt.
As a result of the tragedy, the remainder of the 1927 season was canceled, and the first highway overpass in Texas was constructed in Round Rock.
Artist Bruce Greene's commemorative monument is scheduled to be unveiled Friday, March 2 on Baylor campus. The memorial consists of four life-sized bronze statues along with a bas-relief panel of the remaining six athletes.
Those ten who lost their lives on January 22, 1927 will never be forgotten. They are immortal because they live on in Baylor history, and more importantly, the Baylor Spirit.
But despite the setback that was for Baylor University, we managed to bounce back. The next year, the team went on and played for the memory of those lost. They did indeed, comeback. When you look at the bronze statues today that stand at the end of Martin Daniel Plaza, in the shadow of Pat Neff Hall, not one of those ten men are looking back. Each one is looking forward. Forever symbolizing the Baylor Spirit.
To tie this all back, I look to the Baylor Spirit today and of course to Baylor Basketball. The Baylor Spirit is higher than it's been for years. Our football team is striding, our athletic department is booming, and the university as a whole is expanding toward a new, bright future. But of course, it all comes back to basketball.
"You have to turn a setback into a comeback." Has any coach in basketball history done this better than Scott Drew? That phrase symbolizes the last eight years of Baylor Basketball to a tee. The man has worked miracles and touched the lives of many. And on a day like today, we all remember why we're grateful to have him at Baylor University.
As I walked from Waco Hall to Fountain Mall, I stopped at the statue of The Immortal Ten. I looked into their eyes. The day of yesteryear is a far cry from what we see Baylor Basketball as today. I wonder what those ten would think of the strides Baylor is making now. How proud would they be? And would they be happy or humbled to know that we still carry their memory?
The night ended as the Class of 2014 successfully completed the structure for Friday night's bonfire. Music blasted, and people danced. I walked away by myself and turned back to view the structure one last time. Then I turned to a green lit Pat Neff. Without a doubt, I will remember this day for the rest of my life.
In a 24 hour span, I experienced an emotional roller-coaster unlike any other for a fan. I saw the fame of Baylor Basketball, and it's tragedy. I saw both the past and the bright future. And in my heart, there was no question that through it all, it was the perfect end to the perfect day.
Daniel Tijerina, Class of 2014, Special Contributor to BearsIllustrated.com