A Professor’s Journal: Two great universities

I think I know how Tyler Holloway, the assistant coach of the Belmont Bruins and the former shooting guard at Murray State, felt as he sat on the Belmont bench next to the scorer’s table last Thursday.

He watched as his beloved Racers held off a courageous late game charge by the Bruins to win 74-70, to maintain Murray State’s credentials as the team to beat in the OVC.

I love Murray State, the institution that gave me a chance to come into my own as a professor of history, with a department that gave me the freedom to teach and research and serve, to develop my talents, to improve my weaknesses, and to practice my calling. I will always love Belmont, the institution where I discovered my calling, where mentors nourished my mind and soul, and where basketball disciplined my body and use of time to such an extent that I was able in hindsight to hold off genetic heart disease for years and organize my life in a way to accomplish more than I had the ability to accomplish.

Murray State and Belmont are two classy universities, and the Racers and the Bruins are the two basketball programs that represent the two classiest programs in the OVC and perhaps in the nation. Evelyn and I were given two ringside seats by our provost, Dr, Bonnie Higginson and her husband, Cliff, who were representing Murray State in Belize.

When I first went to Belmont as a freshman in 1974, I thought I had hit the big time. After all, my hometown of Dixon, a town of 500 souls, had one stoplight only, at the intersection of Leiper Street and Highway 41-A, just down the street from my father’s drugstore.

Once we made it through Guthrie, we would make our way through a serene countryside to Adams, and then Springfield and Ridgetop, before finally coming in sight of the Nashville skyline.

I went from Webster County High School to play basketball and study History at Belmont College, a small Baptist liberal arts institution. In those days, we played Fisk in the Volunteer State Athletic Conference, affiliated with the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.

We played our home games in Striplin Gym, and we traveled on a bus to faraway places such as Tusculum and Tennessee Temple and Carson-Newman in the east, and Union and Christian Brothers and Lemoyne-Owen on our western swing.

When Rick Byrd became head coach, little Belmont would make some noise in the NAIA’s national tournament, but the teams I played on in the 1970s were mediocre at best.

Belmont makes it into the NCAA tournament again and again, the same thing we are familiar with at Murray State.

I think Dr. Randy Dunn saw me talking with Belmont’s Dr. Fisher. Dr. Dunn, I want you to know that I have been commissioned to write the history of Belmont University.

At the end of a recent, lengthy interview with Dr. Fisher about his tenure at the Nashville institution, the Belmont president told me that at OVC meetings Dr. Dunn was the most impressive president in the room. Again, everywhere I turn, my university makes me proud.

And Belmont University has come a long way. I am honored to tell the Belmont Story. And I am honored to teach and write and work at Murray State. I have had the best of two worlds, two classy universities. I could not ask for more.

Column by Duane Bolin, professor of history.