Every team and student-athlete at Spalding University has the same ultimate goal – to win a national championship.

So it’s ideal that the man leading the Golden Eagles’ athletic department – Athletic Director Roger Burkman – played on one of the city’s most celebrated championship teams and understands what it takes to get to the top of the NCAA mountain.

Forty years after helping the University of Louisville to the 1980 NCAA Division I men’s basketball national title, Burkman’s memories of his championship season remain fresh, and his relationships with his former teammates and coaches remain strong.

The lessons he learned as a college basketball player about the importance of teamwork, a strong work ethic and wise decision-making continue to influence his life and work today. Burkman and the rest of coach Denny Crum’s 1979-80 Cardinals, who were U of L’s first basketball champions, will be honored on Saturday afternoon at halftime of the Louisville-Virginia game at the KFC Yum! Center.

“It’s amazing that it was 40 years ago, but we can still remember it like it was yesterday,” said Burkman, who is in his 15th year at Spalding and was a junior guard and the sixth man on the 1980 title team. “It’s just so fond of a memory, that whole season. You couldn’t have scripted it any better.”

Burkman said his role on the team was to be essentially a “coach on the floor,” coming off the bench to provide defense, energy and ball-handling and to help all the players get organized. After averaging about 30 points per games at Franklin Central High School in Indianapolis, Burkman took on the role of an aggressive defensive stopper at U of L, which relied on All-American Darrell Griffith, Derek Smith and others to supply most of the scoring.

“Roger, what an outstanding player, person and friend,” said former U of L guard Tony Branch, who was a senior on the title team and Burkman’s roommate. “He ended up being a great defensive specialist, one of the best defenders in  the whole NCAA. And he could score a little bit, too.”

Burkman said the competitiveness and motivation of the Cardinals carried them.

“We’ve talked about how physical and tough the practices were, and a lot of the games were easier than the practices because they were so competitive,” Burkman said. “We were tough. … And we didn’t have any, ‘How many points did I get?’ We were just out there to win.

“A lot of U of L fans watched and kind of grew up with that team, and I think that’s a reason why, to this day, people stop and say hi to you, or want an autograph or want to talk about the games that year.”

U of L lost star player Scooter McCray to injury in the third game of the season and suffered a couple early losses before raising its intensity in practice and finding its groove the second half of the season. The Cards were a No. 2 seed and earned a first-round bye in the 48-team NCAA Tournament. They survived back-to-back overtime games against Kansas State (in Lincoln, Nebraska) and Texas A&M (in Houston) before throttling top-seeded LSU 86-66 in the Midwest Regional final to earn a spot in the Final Four in Indianapolis.

Some of the unforgettable memories for Burkman?

Louisville 1980 championship team with 2019-20 Cardinals
Member of the 1980 Louisville basketball team met the 2019-20 Cardinals on Friday, Feb. 7. The 1980 squad will be honored at U of L’s game Saturday against Virginia.

Branch’s last-second shot to beat Kansas State — “it hit the front of the rim, the back of the rim, then kind of rooooolls around, and through,” he said — and how Crum accurately predicted the Cards could beat LSU by 20 because U of L’s defense would overwhelm the Tigers.

After that, the Final Four at Market Square Arena was a homecoming for Burkman, a native of Acton, Indiana, and an easy trip north for an excited U of L fan base.

About 10,000 fans attended the Cards’ shootaround before the semifinal game against Iowa, and Burkman had a large group of family and high school friends in the arena. After practice, he greeted his parents on the front row and gave his father, Al, a hug.

“I head back to the locker room, and I look over my shoulder, and my dad is signing autographs,” Burkman recalled with a laugh.

U of L defeated Iowa, then UCLA in the national title game, cementing the Cards’ place in history. The players remain some of Burkman’s closest friends.

Burkman said the friendships are a testament to the culture built by Crum and his staff and the high character of the players they recruited.

Burkman has considered Crum a lifelong mentor and said the Hall of Fame coach is like a grandfather to Burkman’s children.

As a high schooler, Burkman expected to attend Purdue. That changed when he established a personal connection with Crum, who knew Burkman loved fishing and took him to do that on his recruiting visit to Louisville.

“I said, ‘This guy is pretty cool, man. I like this,'” Burkman said with a laugh. “It was a great basketball program, a great city, and they had guys like Darrell Griffith where you knew you were stepping into a winning program.”

Crum has been a longtime supporter of Burkman’s work at Spalding and has many times served on the expert panel of the Golden Eagles’ annual Bracketology fundraiser.

Crum taught Burkman the importance of getting to practice early and being well-prepared. On the court and off, the coach drilled into the players’ heads the simple motto, “Make good decisions.”

“If you ask both my children,” Burkman said, “probably my most common reminder, statement, phrase, whatever, is, ‘Make good decisions.'”

Burkman said Crum helped him develop his leadership style – to stay even-keeled, to never get too angry or emotional, to make thoughtful decisions – and he said his playing career and national title at U of L helped lay the foundation for a happy, successful life and career.

“That’s one great things about being on a championship team is you get to meet so many people and make so many friends,” he said.

A new historical marker was unveiled on Thursday morning at Spalding University’s Columbia Gym that commemorates the building at 824 S. Fourth St. as the location where a young Muhammad Ali learned to box.

The marker unveiling took place one day before what would have been Ali’s 78th birthday on Jan. 17. On Ali’s birthday two years ago, Spalding officially changed the name of its athletic building back to Columbia Gym.

A red bicycle hangs over the entrance of Columbia Gym as a tribute to Ali and his first encounter with Louisville Police Officer Joe Martin, who ran a boxing gym in the lower level of the building and became Ali’s first trainer.

Bronze Columbia Gym historical marker reads: At Columbia Gym, a young Muhammad Ali, then Cassius Clay, told Louisville Police Officer Joe Martin he was going to "whup" whoever stole his bike. Martin became Alis first train. Martin introduced Ali to regional audiences through the local boxing show, Tomorrows Champions and encouraged him to compete in the 1960 Rome Olympics.
The new historical marker outside the front entrance of Columbia Gym, where a red bike also hangs as a tribute to Muhammad Ali.

The Columbia Gym historical marker, which is located next to the front steps of the main entrance, is one in a new series of Ali-related markers around the city that are produced by the Kentucky Historical Society and that celebrate the legendary humanitarian and boxer’s Louisville roots. The series of markers is supported by Louisville Tourism, which also developed the Footsteps of Greatness tour of Ali-related landmarks in Louisville that includes Columbia Gym.

On Thursday, Ali’s brother, Rahman Ali, joined Spalding President Tori Murden McClure in pulling off the cloth cover to reveal the Columbia historical marker.

“That sense of striving, that sense of passion, that sense of wanting to make the world a better place is what (Muhammad Ali) stood for,” McClure said.

In what has become a key piece of Louisville history, in 1954, 12-year-old Muhammad Ali, then known as Cassius Clay, parked his new red bicycle outside the building at 824 S. Fourth St. while he went inside to attend the Louisville Home Show. When he came back out, the bike had been stolen. An angry Clay found Martin there and reported the crime, telling Martin that he planned to “whup” whoever took the bike.

Martin told Clay that before he could do that, he better first learn to fight. He then introduced Clay to training at the Columbia Gym, setting in motion what would become a storied amateur boxing career that included winning a gold medal at the 1960 Rome Olympics.

Tori McClure addresses crowd at press conference outside Columbia Gym
President McClure addresses the crowd outside Columbia Gym.

Spalding acquired the building years later, and Columbia Gym is now the home of Spalding’s NCAA Division III volleyball and men’s and women’s basketball teams, as well as the Golden Eagles’ athletic department offices and the historic Columbia Auditorium, where many campus and community events are held. Spalding’s student fitness center, weight room, athletic training room, locker rooms and health clinic are located on the lower level, where Joe Martin’s boxing gym once was.

A series of photo panels on the wall of the lower level pay tribute to the red bike story and Ali’s ties to Spalding. As a teenager, Ali had a part-time job across the street from the Columbia Gym at what was then the Spalding library.

Muhammad Ali Center President and CEO Donald E. Lassere, Louisville Tourism Vice President of Destination Services Zack Davis, Kentucky Historical Society Community Engagement Coordinator Ali Robic, Spalding Dean of Graduate Education Dr. Kurt Jefferson and Spalding Athletics Head Strength and Conditioning Coach Danielle Lavender also spoke at Thursday morning’s dedication.

Lavender, who trains Spalding’s student-athletes in the Columbia Gym, said they draw inspiration from training in the same general space where Ali began his journey to athletic greatness.

“It’s awesome working in this building every day,” Lavender said. “It’s me with 150 athletes, and every day they are trying to come in and do better. Over our doors, (inspirational messages) say, ‘Effort is everything,’ and they know that.  With this historical marker now and everything we have up in the hallways (alluding to Ali), they know, ‘You better give it your all down here.'”

About the Kentucky Historical Marker Program: The Kentucky Historical Marker Program, administered by the Kentucky Historical Society in cooperation with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, tells Kentucky’s story through on-the-spot history lessons that connect the history, communities and items housed in the Commonwealth’s many historical organizations. The program makes Kentucky’s history accessible to the public not just on markers along the state’s roadways, but also online at www.history.ky.gov/markers and via the Explore Kentucky History smartphone application available free at iTunes and Google Play. 

The four seniors on the Spalding University men’s soccer team are no strangers to the postseason, but they hope to reach into unfamiliar territory this month.

Over the past four years, the current senior class has left a mark on the program by winning two regular-season St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championships and qualifying for the conference tournament three times, including the 2019 league playoffs that start Wednesday night. Now, they’re eager to take the next step and claim the school’s first postseason SLIAC title, which would earn Spalding its first trip to the NCAA Division III Tournament.

They’ll begin that pursuit at 6 p.m. Wednesday, when second-seeded Spalding (12-4-3, 6-2-1 conference) hosts No. 3 Greenville (10-8, 6-3) in a SLIAC Tournament semifinal at the new Spalding Athletic Complex.

“I think everybody is motivated,” said senior forward and Spalding career goals leader Kornell Hilliard, who is the United Soccer Coaches’ D-III National Player of the Week after recording back-to-back hat tricks. “I think you can feel it as soon as you step onto the pitch for practice. Everybody is focused. Everybody knows that what we have on the line is something special and something that we can accomplish as a group for the first time in history.”

That Spalding is back in the SLIAC Tournament is a notable achievement in itself. It marks the first time the Golden Eagles have appeared in the event in back-to-back years, and it’ll be the fifth consecutive SLIAC Tournament game that Spalding has hosted (though the first ever at the new fields complex).

Spalding won its SLIAC semifinal games in 2016 and ’18 but lost both times in the title game. The seniors are hoping to take the next step this week.

“We’ve hit a bunch of our goals – going undefeated in conference (in 2016), winning the regular season (in ’16 and ’18), ” senior defender Kasim Alsalman said. “Now we’re ready for our next trip, and that’s winning the conference tournament and making it to the national tournament. That’s the next goal we want to hit before we graduate. … That would mean a lot. That would cap our career at Spalding and really set us apart.”

Coach Adam Boyer said seniors Hilliard, Alsalman, Erfan Rezai and Adam Frith, as well as senior student assistant coach Joe Railey, have already built an impressive legacy. They have the potential this postseason to keep adding on.

“They’ve hung a couple banners, and here they are in the postseason again, two games away from the national tournament,” Boyer said. “It’s pretty remarkable to see the success that they’ve had. Some of the guys have produced statistically, and some of the guys have produced by having good character and being a great teammate and leading by example.

“The five of them in total are all great leaders.”

Rezai  said he thinks this year’s Spalding team is the most talented he’s been a part of, and Railey said he is proud that the seniors have “helped pioneer” the program to the status it’s reached as a two-time regular-season champion and consistent contender in the SLIAC Tournament.

Frith said that when he arrived at Spalding, the primary goal of the team was just to qualify for the conference playoffs.

“Now making it is expected,” he said. “We want to go further. That’s really cool to see that transition. (Making the national tournament) is the goal now. We’ve checked off a lot of things in our career. But we haven’t checked off that one thing. It would be awesome to go out senior year with that as the last box that’s checked. I really think we’re going to do it, too.”

No other senior and probably no other player in Spalding soccer history has had a bigger impact on the field than the Hilliard, whose 61 career goals and 148 career points are Spalding records.

Hilliard, who once scored 52 goals in a season at Fern Creek High School, leads the SLIAC by a wide margin with 17 goals and 41 total points this season, and his seven assists trail only teammate Mirza Uragak (eight) in the conference in that category.

Hilliard is tied for 12th in all of NCAA D-III in both goals and points a year. He was also among the national leaders all season in 2018, when he had 18 goals, eight assists and 44 points. He even had a bicycle kick goal in 2018 that was featured nationally on ESPN’s “Top Plays”

“The statistics he’s put up are absurd,” Boyer said. “They’ll probably never be topped.”

Additionally, Hilliard has played in every Spalding game the last four seasons – “a pretty remarkable” feat for a physical player who is constantly marked by opposing defenses, Boyer said. Given Hilliard’s durability and production, it’s no surprise that Spalding has won two regular-season titles during his collegiate career and is back in the postseason again.

“Kornell has had an incredible career,” Boyer said.

Hilliard said he’s proud to have become the top scorer in program history and that he’s never missed a game. He said he’ll cherish his career at Spalding and the time he’s spent with the other seniors.

“These are my guys that I’ll talk to every day, even when I’m out of school,” he said. “They’ve helped me so much through life and especially soccer. Coach did a great job recruiting these guys, and they’ve been like my brothers. It’s going to be great to know that these guys are there, and it’s going to be amazing to finish this season off with them.”

 

 

 

With a big crowd in attendance on a perfect, clear night, Spalding University broke in its new athletic fields complex on the evening of Oct. 23 with a grand opening celebration that won’t be forgotten anytime soon.

About 800 fans gathered under the lights of the 7.3-acre complex between South Eighth and South Ninth streets to watch the Golden Eagles’ men’s and women’s soccer doubleheader, as well as a grand opening ceremony and ceremonial “First Kick” of soccer ball between games.

It was the culmination of nearly six years of private fundraising for the complex and about six months of construction, which was overseen by general contractor Schaefer Construction. The finished product will be a source of pride and achievement for the university for years to come.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer praised Spalding President Tori Murden McClure, Athletic Director Roger Burkman and the entire university community for being unafraid to take on big projects.

“And this was a big project,” the mayor said.

“What I love about Spalding is that you guys work hard each and every day,” Fischer said, before alluding to McClure’s most famous individual athletic feat. “It’s kind of like rowing across the Atlantic Ocean, one stroke at a time. If there’s something to be done, you can bet on this team here at Spalding. The kind of hope that you all represent, the persistence that you represent, it’s come true here tonight with this great facility. It’s a wonderful bridge for hope for our entire community. Tori, Roger, and the entire team, thank you very much on behalf of our great city. Wonderful job.”

LEARN MORE ABOUT THE FIELDS PROJECT AND HOW TO SUPPORT IT

VISIT THE OFFICIAL WEBSITE OF SPALDING ATHLETICS 

Located on the site of a former unused industrial brownfield and about four blocks west of the primary campus, the athletic complex provides for the first time an on-campus home for Spalding’s men’s and women’s soccer and softball teams, which have previously had to travel to high school facilities around the city to practice and host games.  The complex includes two turf soccer fields and a turf softball field that are lighted and can be used year-round. The Spalding softball team will begin playing at the complex during the upcoming spring 2020 season.

Spalding University Athletic Fields lit up at dusk
The Spalding University Athletic Complex was lit up on the edge of downtown during the Oct. 23 grand opening soccer doubleheader.

“Now (the soccer and softball programs) have a place that they can call their own,” Burkman said. “It’s a game-changer. You think about it from a recruiting standpoint and how it’s going to level that playing field, so to speak. And you can already see on the faces of our athletes how excited they are. When you talk to them about it, they just start smiling, and they just light up. And in the prospects who come to campus, you can see their eyes light up as well.”

New Spalding sports programs are set to make the complex their home as well.

Spalding is already in the early stages of adding men’s and women’s lacrosse, utilizing the soccer field that is also lined for that sport. Though a full plan for the creation of men’s and women’s lacrosse programs is still being developed, the university recently posted job openings for a men’s coach and women’s coach.

The other soccer field is lined for field hockey, allowing Spalding to explore adding a program in that sport, too.

The complex will also be available for outside clubs and schools to rent.

Surrounded by dozens of new trees and extensive landscaping, the fields complex also helps beautify the neighborhood at a site where there was previously nothing but asphalt and weeds. It continues Spalding’s effort to green and transform urban spaces south of Broadway. In recent years, the school turned a 2.2-acre parking lot into Trager Park – a grassy public recreational space at the corner of South Second and West Kentucky – and built the Mother Catherine Square green space in the center of campus at South Third and West Breckinridge.

More photos | Look back at months’ of the athletic fields’ construction progress and the grand opening on Spalding’s Facebook page.

It’s Commencement weekend at Spalding University! Festivities kicked off Friday with the Baccalaureate service and individual college, school and program award ceremonies. There are tons of pictures from the day on Spalding’s Facebook page within the “Commencement Activities 2019” album. Please like, share and tag yourself or others in the pictures, and do the same after the university Commencement service (10 a.m. Saturday at Canaan Christian Church). Here’s a look at some of Spalding’s new grads who participated in Friday’s events.

Haitian earthquake victim now a Spalding nursing grad
Nine years ago, Witchina Liberal’s home in Haiti was destroyed by the earthquake that devastated that country.

This weekend, she is graduating with the degree of bachelor of science in nursing from Spalding and set to add a member to her young family.

Liberal attended Friday’s Baccalaureate service on Friday nearly nine months pregnant with her son, who is due on June 23 and will be named Jeremiah. She said she expects to look back on pictures from this weekend years from now with him.

“I can say I have a career now, and I will be able to provide for him, give him everything I didn’t have growing up. I’m happy,” said Liberal, who was accompanied Friday by her husband and friends from their church.

She added with a laugh: “He’s been a good boy. I didn’t have too much trouble with him while I did the nursing program.”

At the time of the earthquake, 15-year-old Liberal was at home, but she was cooking in a kitchen that was in a different part of the building.

“Fortunately, none of my family members died, but we lost everything,” she said. “None of us were in the house at the time. But it was horrifying. A lot of people died.”

Liberal moved from Haiti to Florida in 2010 to finish high school. She also attended a community college in that state before moving in 2016 to Louisville, where she had family. She picked Spalding to finish out her BSN the next year because she “liked how they were so welcoming,” Liberal said.

“It’s hard, but it’s doable,” she said of the nursing degree. “It can be done, but it’s challenging. I enjoyed it. The professors were really helpful, really helpful.”

Commencement weekend felt bittersweet for Liberal. In November, a few weeks after she learned she was pregnant, Liberal lost her mother, who was still living in Haiti. She has had her mom on her mind as she approaches graduation. Liberal said she barely slept Thursday night as she stayed up thinking about her.

“I’m proud of what I have done, but it has been rough,” she said.

Liberal plans to be a neonatal intensive care unit nurse. At some point, she’d like to provide nursing and medical care in her home country, which she has visited every year since moving to the United States.

“That’s part of my plan,” she said. “I’d like to go back and help.”

Former Spalding golfer now a mom and grad
Bachelor of science in natural science graduate and former Spalding golfer Megan Shirley Faust had a special young guest at Friday’s Baccalaureate Service – her 2-month-old daughter, Madalyn.

Spalding student Megan Faust, in blue cap and gown, holding baby, Madalyn, in a car seat
Spalding student Megan Faust and 2-month-old daughter Madalyn after Baccalaureate service on May 31, 2019.

“It’s pretty awesome being able to experience it with her and her be in the moment with me,” Megan Faust said. Years from now, “I can show her what I did, and she’ll want to do the same.”

She said attending Spalding has been “a really great experience,” citing the experience of being an athlete and a student, as well as the bond she had with the golf team.

Faust was a senior on the 2017-18 Spalding team that won the first-ever St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship for women’s golf.

“That history is pretty awesome, being one of the first people to set those standards,” Faust said.

During her final academic year, Faust has had a new experience.

“Instead of going to practices and workouts and tournaments, I’m a mom and a student,” she said.

Faust currently works as a Certified Nursing Assistant in a nursing home. She said she may at some point pursue a job in human resources.

College of Ed master’s grad: ‘I feel like I’ve gained a family here’
Destiny Nichole Livers, a teacher a Foster Elementary School who is earning the degree of master of education in teacher leadership, said she would recommend Spalding to other aspiring or current teachers.

“I loved Spalding. The staff is very supportive,” she said.

Livers, who taught fifth grade the last three years and who will move to third grade as a team leader next year, said she’s learned about methods and best practices at Spalding that she is eager to take back to her school and share with her colleagues.

“If someone is looking for a supportive family, not just professors – I feel like I’ve gained a family here at Spalding – then you would like Spalding,” Livers said. “If you want the college where you really don’t know your professors, then go somewhere else. But here, like I told Dr. (Kristen) Harris, (the Spalding program director), ‘You’re stuck with me for life.'”

Livers was the winner of the Outstanding Master’s Thesis Award for her program.

 

With Commencement approaching on June 1, Spalding is publishing a series of stories and Q&A’s that highlight students from a range of degree programs who are set to graduate. Next up is Taylor Thompson, who is earning a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration degree. She is also the 2018 St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference women’s golf champion, and she helped Spalding to two SLIAC team titles.

What is your favorite Spalding memory?
It’s hard to choose something specifically; however, I’d choose my entire freshman year as a whole. Getting the opportunity to join a new community and meet new amazing people was something I’ll never forget.

Which accomplishments are you most proud of during your time at Spalding?
Winning SLIAC women’s golf championships with my team in back-to-back years and individually my senior year.

What’s your favorite spot on campus?
The outdoor area by the Mansion with the tulip poplar tree.

At Spalding, we like to say that, “Today is a great day to change the world.” For many of our students, Commencement is a world-changing experience. After graduation, how do you plan to change the world, big or small, and who inspires you to be a #spaldingworldchanger?
While I don’t have a specific plan to change the world, I hope I can continuously find ways to positively impact my community and the people around me. As Maya Angelou said, “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.” Spalding has taught me how to embrace a diverse community, and I hope to continue to create that sense of belonging postgraduation in whatever community I end up in.

 

Boosted by a powerful offense, a steady pitching staff and a whole lot of positive energy and team camaraderie, the Spalding University baseball team has its sights set on adding to its historic season this weekend.

Spalding, fresh off clinching its first-ever share of the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference regular-season title, will now turn its attention to trying to win its first-ever SLIAC Tournament crown.

The Golden Eagles (29-10, 18-4 SLIAC) are No. 1 seeds from the East Division in the four-team, double-elimination tournament, hosted by Greenville, and they will open play against West No. 2 Westminster (17-13, 13-8) at 11 a.m. EDT Friday in a game at SIU-Edwardsville. West No. 1 and defending champ Webster (29-10, 18-4) and East No. 2 Greenville (22-15, 14-6) will play at noon in the other first-round game at Greenville.

Spalding, currently ranked No. 13 nationally in the Perfect Game Top 25, is playing in the SLIAC Tournament for the third straight year (and the second straight as a No. 1 divisional seed) but seeking its first championship in the event and its first NCAA Division III postseason bid.

“What it comes down to is that we can control our own destiny, and I think the players have taken that mindset, and it’s helped them walk in and know how important this tournament is going to be,” coach Matt Downs said, adding that he’s glad the Eagles got to experience the format and routine of the tournament in 2017 and ’18. “I think with that experience the last two years, the guys will feel really comfortable.”

Downs said he’s had a great time coaching the team, which he said has excellent chemistry, likes to have fun together on and off the field and never requires a command from him to bring energy and focus to practice.

“They have a lot of fun. These dudes create their own energy, and I’m just along for the ride with them,” Downs said. “They really enjoy each other. Everybody is on the same page. They know their roles, and they know what’s going on.”

In the clearest example of solidarity for this fun-loving team, Spalding’s players are literally the golden Eagles going into the weekend, with, as of Wednesday, 26 players  having dyed their hair blond. Downs said he’s promised them he’ll dye his hair, too, if Spalding can make the NCAA field.

“If you’d have told me 95 percent of the guys on the team would do it, I’d have not believed you,” reigning SLIAC Player of the Year Garrett Wilson said with a chuckle, his bleach-blond hair extending to his shoulders. “So I’m happy for it.”

The Eagles’ bright hair might draw some eyes this weekend, but it’s their bats and arms that will really command their opponents’ attention.

Spalding finished the regular season as the SLIAC leader in runs, home runs, RBIs, doubles, triples and stolen bases, and several players are among the individual league leaders.

Shortstop Eric Meyer has challenged for the SLIAC triple crown, tying for the conference league in homers (10, which are also Spalding’s NCAA-era school record), and finishing second in batting average (.396) and RBIs (41). He’s also No. 1 in runs (45) and doubles (14).

Teammate Quenton Brownlee is the league leader in RBIs (46), second in runs (43), third in homers (eight) and steals (21), and eighth in average (.372).

And Wilson is third in batting average (.395), fifth in runs (37) and seventh in steals.

“Offensively, what this team has done is nothing short of amazing,” Downs said, noting that Spalding’s results have come largely in the sizable confines of Derby City Field. “We have a clear-cut plan and message and culture on the offensive side that’s probably here to stay for years to come.”

On the mound, Spalding, which had to replace last year’s All-American ace, Jimi Keating, has gotten solid performances up and down the staff and leads the SLIAC in strikeouts.

Senior Dillon Sievert, a former catcher who is in his first season as a starting pitcher, is a key two-way player for Spalding. The right-hander is 6-2 with a 2.71 earned-run average and leads the team in innings, and offensively he’s fourth on the team in runs and steals.

Junior Zach Jones (7-0) is third in the SLIAC in wins and fifth in ERA (2.28), and sophomore Jack Parisi (6-0, 3.36) is No. 3 in the league in strikeouts (75).

“To think about how good (Jones and Parisi) are now, and how they’ll be back next year is very exciting,” Downs said.

Wilson said the Golden Eagles, who had an NCAA-era school-record 13 straight wins at one point this year and have been ranked as high as No. 9 nationally, are confident heading into the SLIAC Tournament and will be looking to take another step forward.

“I think we have a really good chance,” he said. “It’s been really fun, but everybody is really determined. We all have one goal: To get as far as we can possibly go. (After being eliminated from the 2018 SLIAC Tournament), Coach has sort of kept it in the back of our mind that we don’t ever want the feeling again.”

Kasim Alsalman doesn’t like to wait.

When faced with an obstacle, his first instinct is to run head-long into it, knocking out one stumbling block after another until his goal is achieved. So two years ago when a severe ankle sprain playing soccer led to a frustratingly long ER wait, the then-freshman at Spalding University quickly focused his major on health science and healthcare administration with a minor in business.

“I want to find a way to impact the hospital system and make it as efficient as possible,” he said.

Now 20 and finishing his junior year at Spalding, Alsalman says that his vision for his own future hasn’t always been so clear. He’s the second-oldest of five sons, born to a pair of Iraqi immigrants who worked tirelessly to ensure their children had more opportunities than they had.

“They gave us everything they could,” he said. “It gives you that motivation that you don’t want to go through what they went through.”

Still, Alsalman said that his high school experience didn’t properly prepare him for college, and that Spalding was able to meet him where he was to ensure success. He credits the block schedule, which allows students to focus on a limited number of classes for six-week periods, to helping him get acclimated to a more rigorous academic setting, and the support of both faculty and classmates for cheering him on.

“Coming from the school I came from—my first semester was rough,” said Alsalman. “Spalding gave me a chance to improve my study skills first.”

Now thriving academically, Alsalman also maintains a full-time job and plays soccer for Spalding—last year he was named Spring Captain.

Alsalman knows he’s changing the world for his family: He, along with two of his brothers—his oldest brother is currently pursuing his law degree at Northern Kentucky University, and his younger brother is a sophomore at University of Louisville—are the first in his generation to attend college, and he’s intent that his two youngest brothers, aged 14 and 15, will follow in their big brothers’ footsteps as well.

“We’re setting a better standard for my family,” he said. “My little brothers all know now that there’s a standard for them. We want to push them to be better.”

He also knows he’s destined to change the world beyond his family—he’s just not sure how it’s going to happen yet. Alsalman knows he wants to continue his education beyond his bachelor’s degree and dreams of living and working abroad one day. The rest of the details, he knows, will work themselves out.

“I haven’t really figured everything out yet,” he said. “But I feel like Spalding can help you find that opportunity (to change the world). I feel fully prepared and ready to take on whatever life throws my way.”

 

 

Spalding University’s field of dreams project is officially off and running on S. Ninth Street, with shovels in the ground and ballgames not far off.

On Friday, April 12, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer and Metro Council President David James  joined Spalding President Tori Murden McClure, Athletic Director Roger Burkman and Spalding Board of Trustees Chair Jim Rissler in the official groundbreaking of the 7.4-acre athletic fields complex between Eighth and Ninth Street. All the coaches and student-athletes from the Golden Eagles’ soccer and softball programs surrounded them and helped celebrate the start of the construction phase of the project that will give those teams an on-campus home for the first time.

Spalding is building two turf soccer fields – expected to be ready for competition by mid-fall 2019 – and a turf softball field (ready by spring 2020) that will be lighted and available for use year-round.

“I want you all to think about the impact all of you are having on our university, our community and all of these young people you see standing behind me (thanks to your support of the fields project),” Burkman said. “They’re really the reason why we do what we do. … I’m so thankful that (the softball and soccer teams) will have a place to call their homes.”

To be built on the site of a former industrial tract that had long been unused, the new Spalding fields will also beautify the Ninth Street corridor while providing a community resource. The fields, which could also be used for field hockey and lacrosse, will be available for other schools and clubs to rent. Men’s soccer coach Adam Boyer said he envisions the fields being the site of future youth clinics and camps and other types of service events.

“There is no doubt about it that this will be one of the coolest Division III facilities in the country and provide a wealth of benefits to our student-athletes,” Boyer said. “It’ll be a huge boost to our overall student-athlete experience in addition to improving our ability to recruit players to our programs. We’re looking forward to seeing the impact these fields have on our entire student population at Spalding – from intramural opportunities to being a unified source of school provide.

“These fields are a dream come true.”

McClure has said that the athletic fields are, literally, a game-changer for Spalding’s student-athletes and will position them to grow and succeed.

“When you’re a Division III student-athlete, you’re truly a student first and an athlete second. But I firmly believe that college athletics is not extra-curricular; it’s extra curriculum,” she said. “You learn the persistence, the endurance, the resourcefulness that it takes to make a difference not just on the field but in the real world.”

Spalding purchased the property, located between South Eighth and South Ninth and bounded by West Kentucky and West Breckenridge streets, in 2014, and it is using raised funds to build the fields complex. Fundraising continues, and information on how to support the project is available on the Ninth Street: Field of Dreams page.

The fields complex is the latest example of Spalding’s initiative of transforming urban spaces, including ones covered with impervious surfaces, into community resources that beautify campus and the neighborhood. In 2017, Spalding transformed an unused 2.2-acre parking lot at the corner of S. Second and W. Kentucky streets into Trager Park, a public green space with 100 new trees. Other recently created green spaces include Mother Catherine Square in the center of campus.

“This is one of those projects you dream of not just as a president of a university or as a student but also as a mayor, to say, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we had a great big green swath in our city, right here by Ninth Street, a gateway to the west, an extension to a college campus?’ It’s awesome, and it’s here,” Fischer said. “The persistence and the tenacity of Spalding that you all demonstrate each and every day has led to this tremendous announcement we have today. This is a wonderful thing.”

Fischer spoke at Spalding on the eve of the start of the mayor’s Give A Day week of service program, and he praised Spalding for becoming the world’s first certified compassionate university  and he noted that Spalding will be a partner with the city in the Lean Into Louisville program.

Fischer said the city celebrates “what Spalding has done for our city in terms of the soul of our city, the conscience of our city.”

“The Sisters at Spalding and the staff and faculty have really helped set the pace for so much of what we do,” Fischer said. “… Spalding is always there when it comes to making a statement, whether it comes to commemorating Muhammad Ali and the Columbia Gym, or Lean Into Louisville, or being a compassionate university, or in helping make our city an even more beautiful place. This complex is a great win for Spalding and a great win for our city.”

Schaefer Construction is the general contractor for the project. Sabak, Wilson and Lingo Inc. is Spalding’s architecture and civil engineering partner for the fields. Schaefer Construction also announced it is making a $50,000 donation to the fields project on Friday.

Other comments from Friday’s groundbreaking

*Mirza Ugarak, men’s soccer player: “The new sports facility will be a tremendous resource for current and future students to mature into adults who will make the world a better place.”

*Kayla Strehle, women’s soccer player: “Spalding has shown us all just how much it cares about women’s sports with two-thirds of this complex being dedicated to women’s teams.”

*Ally Klein, softball player: “Coming to Spalding has allowed me to build friendships with my teammates and create memories on the field that will last a lifetime. … Having our own field is honestly the one missing piece in what has been an amazing college athletic experience. … It’ll make us better students and better athletes and help bring our community together.”

 

A crowd of about 1,000 college basketball fans and friends of Spalding University packed Cardinal Stadium’s Brown and Williamson Club Monday night to get the lowdown on March Madness while supporting the NCAA Division III Golden Eagles’ athletic department.

Spalding’s 11th annual Bracketology fundraiser featured a star-studded panel of basketball analysts –  former Louisville stars Luke Hancock and Milt Wagner, former Kentucky stars Mike Pratt and Dan Issel and former U of L assistant Jerry Jones – on stage to reflect on their playing and coaching days and to make their picks for the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

For those who couldn’t make it out, we’ve got you covered. Here are the Final Four and national champion picks of the panelists.

Mike Pratt
East: Duke
West: Gonzaga
South: Tennessee
Midwest: Kentucky
Title game: Duke over Tennessee

Luke Hancock
East: Duke
West: Florida State
South: Virginia
Midwest: North Carolina
Title game: North Carolina over Florida State

Dan Issel
East: Duke
West: Michigan
South: Tennessee
Midwest: North Carolina
Title game: North Carolina over Duke

Milt Wagner
East: Duke
West: Florida State
South: Tennessee
Midwest: Kentucky
Title game: Duke over Kentucky

Jerry Jones
East: Duke
West: Buffalo
South: Virgina
Midwest: Houston
Title game: Duke over Houston

Bracketology is the largest annual fundraiser for Spalding’s athletic program. In addition to fans hearing from and taking with the celebrity bracketologists, the event also featured a buffet dinner, a bar, a silent auction with a trove of sports memorabilia and other cool items and a $20,000 cash raffle.

We hope to see you next year!

DONATE TO SPALDING’S PROPOSED ATHLETIC FIELDS COMPLEX ON NINTH STREET

Table setting at Spalding Bracketology with
The Bracketology table setting. Photos by Meghan Holsclaw.