Column: Mount Rushmore of GVSU sports

GVL / Archive
Former Laker Quarterback, Cullen Finnerty, runs the ball against North Dakota during his senior season.


GVL / Archive Former Laker Quarterback, Cullen Finnerty, runs the ball against North Dakota during his senior season.

Pete Barrows and Jay Bushen

PB: Happy Presidents Day, Jay! I say so because it’s one of my favorite federal holidays – a helluva lot better than Columbus Day, at least – but it seems to me that when it comes to holidays, it’s as criminally underrated as James Polk. But how do you celebrate it? Spin “Dead Presidents” on repeat and bob your head? Wear a powdered-wig to class? Debate which presidents should comprise Mt. Rushmore?

JB: You know I’m living in the Presidents Day paradise on this end, brought to me courtesy of the Red, White and Blue and Toby Keith. But what could this pair of longtime Lanthorn Sports writers possibly know about Grand Valley State Athletics?

PB: I don’t know much about anything, but I am talented at shoveling snow. Just today, I stacked up a pile that was a dead ringer for Louie the Laker – you know if you cock your head and squint. Presidents, Lakers, heads in the wall – it’s too bad there’s not a way to tie it all together.

JB: A sculpture of Louie? Your talents transcend the literary form. But I suppose we should transition from snow, Stars and Stripes to the stars and snubs of GVSU’s Mount Rushmore. Contextually, we can take this in a number of directions. Which era shall we cover? Since 2000? 2010? This academic year? Last month? Last week?

PB: If we’re keeping it to last week, I want consideration. I went down to rec, messed around and got a double-triple. That’s three expertly set picks and three bricked shots when I got the ball back on the roll.

GVSU’s athletic lineage isn’t long standing, but it is rich. Picking just four heads is tricky business, and I have to imagine the Borglum boys ran into a similar dilemma when carving Rushmore. What we need is a Washington – our figurehead quarterback – and as far as I’m concerned, there are only two to pick from: Curt Anes and Cullen Finnerty.

JB: I’m not necessarily a ring guy, but Finnerty – a guy who means so much to the program – won three of them on his way to becoming college football’s winningest quarterback with an astounding 51-4 mark under Brian Kelly and Chuck Martin from 2003-06. A winner. Tough decision, but I’ll take Finnerty.

I think our next nomination is a no-brainer and, yes, it’s another gridiron great. Tabbed as GVSU’s most decorated athlete, this Laker legend was not only a football star, but also a four-time All-American wrestler. And a golfer. And a baseball player. And a track and field athlete. That man, of course, is Jamie Hosford (class of 1977).

PB: Anes was GVSU’s Danny Wuerffel. He took home the Harlon Hill – the Division II Heisman – in 2002, and became the first Laker QB to get fitted with a ring that same year by finishing what he started. But if Anes is Wuerffel, that must make Finnerty GVSU’s Tim Tebow, and if I’ve learned anything from the Godfather, besides when to ask for a favor from the don, it’s that the original isn’t always the best. I’m partial to Part II, myself, and no Gator in their right mind is taking Wuerffel over Timmy T. And they must know something since they aren’t living through Michigan winters.

Now that it’s agreed we’ve found our George Washington, it looks like we’re on to Teddy. Bo Jackson types like Kayla Addison and Jamie Potts could be considered for the part on a contemporary list, but there’s really no one better than Hosford – GVSU’s Jim Thorpe – to play that role on our wall. The original isn’t always best, but sometimes it is.

That’s two locked in, and at consensus no less. Who’d a thunk we could manage?

JB: Rolling. Now it’s just you, me, two Rushmore faces and about three readers remaining. At least we haven’t missed the mark yet.

Hard to overlook multi-sport athletes. You mentioned a pair of solid choices. Potts has first-team All-American plaudits in football and baseball. Also made a position switch, as you know, from QB to TE – and then TE to WR last fall. Versatile. In 2014, dude hits a GLIAC-best .412 and leads the conference in hits before hauling in 54 receptions, including 10 touchdowns. It’s tough enough to be an All-American, but in two sports? Impressive. No rings, though, at least not yet.

Is contemporary bias blinding us, brother?

PB: I was there when softball-slugger Katie Martin smoked out the shot heard around GVSU and with one swing, simultaneously surpassed Kim Biskup’s career records for most hits (259), runs (164) and home runs (47). I witnessed Dani Crandall gut out games on the hardwood after patiently waiting for her turn shine behind the dynamic dual-sport duo of Briauna and Brittany Taylor, the reigning women’s soccer NCAA Division II Player of the Year Marti Corby become a star in front of my eyes as she helped to guide GVSU to a national title in Georgia in 2013, pole vaulter extraordinaire Kristen Hixson piece together one of the most prolific careers Division II track and field has ever seen and current Minnesota Vikings receiver Charles Johnson make 23 different NFL scouts gape at their stop watches during his pro day.

If tasked to sculpt a Laker Rushmore with only faces of athletes I’ve covered, I’m sure I could, but there would be difficult decisions to make. That long, winding list above was just a few of the names I could mention, and that’s just weighing accomplishments in a six-year span. It’s an embarrassment of record-breaking, going-pro, doing-generally-impressive-stuff riches.

I think there is room on the wall for one relatively contemporary name, however – the question is whose? Head track and field and cross country coach Jerry Baltes’ office is overstuffed with hardware, current Iowa women’s soccer coach Dave DiIanni was accomplished as any coach in Division II and Doc Woods was not only a stellar softball skipper, but also an amiable man that helped build GVSU into an athletic training powerhouse. Kelly and Martin, as you mentioned, have both found success as head coaches at major Division I programs and could be easily argued for, too.

JB: I’ve seen my share of greats, as well: I covered the baseball team when Giancarlo Brugnoni broke the school’s home-run record. I watched Kaitlyn Wolters rise from “junior transfer from GRCC” to GLIAC Volleyball Player of the Year as she led GVSU to a ridiculous Final Four run. I was a few yards away when Kendra Foley crossed the finish line, securing a 1-2-3 finish for GVSU at the national cross country race. Two nights before, I watched “from club-to-varsity” goalkeeper Andrea Strauss put together one of the most clutch performances I’ve ever seen across all sports: a Final Four shootout shutout – which included the best save I’ve ever seen – that propelled GVSU to its third title in four years.

DiIanni was a legend. We both know that. BK and Martin are almost too obvious. Deanne Scanlon has a national title.

My vote goes to Baltes. You know he’s good when you try but absolutely can’t keep track of how many coach of the year awards he’s up to. Seriously. Pretty sure they just started naming one after him. Add in the national titles and his argument makes itself. Says the right things in every interview since ever, too.

PB: The first non-freelance story I ever did with the Lanthorn was with Jerry, and I really didn’t know what to expect. This particular cover revolved around this study regarding women’s participation in sports put together by GVSU psych professor Robert Deaner, and I was slightly concerned that it wasn’t going to play well. I set up an appointment with Jerry anyway, but even though I came prepared to the teeth, I was nervous.

Nick Polk was the only one in the office when I showed up and he had me sit down on this little couch squeezed into the back. We made small talk and then, five minutes later, Jerry walks in. He didn’t acknowledge me once for the next five minutes as he verified cut times and confirmed practice schedules in complete and utter focus. He was all business, but when he turned to speak, he put me at ease. You could tell he didn’t really want to be wasting any more time than he had to on something that wasn’t helping to get his teams better, but his answers were introspective and thoughtful. The exchange took less time than the wait, but it was a quality interview.

He’s an intense guy that coaches intensely every practice and every meet, but he also is a smart guy that seems to have a fatherly rapport with his athletes. And despite all his successes, he’s not too big for the job. Not even to do an interview with a rookie reporter. That’s what makes him great, and I have no problem giving him the nod.

JB: Three down, one to go, and it looks like we’re running out of time. We’ve covered about 11 percent of the candidates we had originally planned on, but we’ve got to beat the buzzer and make a fourth decision. One assist shy of the triple-double; I’ll pass this one off.

PB: And then there was one. There’s a lot of different ways we could finish, but it seems to me there are still a few elements essential to GVSU’s athletic prowess not represented on our list.

Arend D. Lubbers – one of the youngest and longest tenured university presidents in the history of universities – is a shoe-in as a head on GVSU’s all-around Mt. Rushmore, and could be included on this one, too. Without him, there’s no football at GVSU and Lubbers Stadium – consistently an attendance leader among Division II venues – is a major landmark here in Allendale, Mich.

Tim Selgo is also deserving of a bust, and you’d have trouble finding many athletic directors on any level of sport more accomplished than he. If you don’t believe me, stroll past his office next time you find yourself in the rec. You’ll see more GLIAC Presidents’ Trophies – an award given annually to the best all-around athletic program in the conference – in cases than you will see students on the walk. GVSU has won 16 straight, all under Selgo’s watch.

With those nominations in mind, we’d be crazy not to include Joan Boand. Plenty of male athletes and teams have found enormous success at GVSU, but the mainstay of this program – even more than football – is its continued excellence in women’s athletics. Of GVSU’s 18 varsity national championships, all but four have been won by women’s teams. That all starts with Joan.

Not only did she pioneer women’s athletics at a burgeoning GVSU, she held coaching positions in basketball, volleyball, softball and track & field from 1968 to 1994. During that span, she accrued more than 700 total wins,10 GLIAC championships, two GLIAC coach of the year awards and continues now, as she has for the past 30 years, to serve as an advocate for women’s sports in committees across the country.

JB: Barrows and Bushen? More like the Borglum boys.