Ohio Wesleyan University will recognize two teams as part of the University’s inaugural Team of Distinction ceremony on Oct. 21 during Homecoming & Family Weekend.
“The Team of Distinction was created to recognize teams that have distinguished themselves and made extraordinary contributions to OWU athletics,” says interim Athletics Director Mike DeWitt. “It is a way to honor those who, through a strong sense of mutual commitment, achieved above and beyond what could be achieved individually.”
A nine-member committee of four alumni, three coaches including DeWitt, and two staff members made the inaugural selections from among 18 nominations.
“Selecting which teams would be recognized in this first year was a challenge, given the many great teams across the entire athletics program that have achieved national championships and/or regional and conference titles, as well as No. 1 rankings, top-10 national finishes or undefeated seasons,” DeWitt says.
Ultimately, the committee decided, in this first year of the honor, to select two teams that achieved “firsts” in OWU athletics history—the 1946 men’s cross country team, the first Ohio Wesleyan team to compete in an NCAA championship, and the 1988 men’s basketball team, the first Ohio Wesleyan team to win an NCAA championship.
The men’s cross country team had been dropped in 1939, but with the influx of male students returning to OWU from World War II, Athletics Director George Gauthier reinstated the team to compete in the fall of 1946.
But while there were runners, the coaching staff was working at maximum capacity and had nobody available to take the helm. Without a head coach, Quentin Brelsford ’48 led the way as the Bishop harriers opened the season with a win over Wooster, then passed one of their toughest tests against Oberlin before besting Toledo.
At that point of the season, The Transcript reported that Gauthier “has promised to send the team to the National Intercollegiate Cross Country Run if they continue to perform as per expectation,” and the Bishops lived up to their part of the bargain, recording wins over Ohio University, Baldwin Wallace, and Bowling Green before surviving a tight one over Case in the regular-season finale.
Gauthier came through as well, sending the Bishops to East Lansing, Mich., for the national championship, then one meet that included all NCAA schools.
As he had done in every meet during the season, Brelsford finished ahead of the pack, closing out the race with a thrilling sprint to the tape to win in 20:22.9, just over a second in front of Curtis Stone of Penn State.
Jim Swomley ’49 placed 35th, Joe Hallisey ’49 was 125th, Dave Grube ’48 finished 131st, and Bob Huffman ’49 was 145th. Ohio Wesleyan finished 15th in the 20-team field, placing ahead of Kansas, Wayne State, and Central Michigan, among others.
The span from 1984 to 1987 was one of the most successful stretches in the history of Ohio Wesleyan men’s basketball, with the Bishops reeling off three consecutive North Coast Athletic Conference championships and winning a pair of NCAC tournament titles, but each of those seasons ended without an invitation to the NCAA Division III tournament.
Everything came together in 1987-88 under coach Gene Mehaffey. After opening the conference schedule with a double-overtime loss to Allegheny, the Bishops won their last 11 conference games and shared the NCAC championship, then avenged the previous year’s loss in the NCAC tournament title game with a 91-77 win over Allegheny.
With a 22-5 record, Ohio Wesleyan not only was going to the NCAA Division III tournament for the first time, but was selected to host the Great Lakes Regional. Ohio Northern was Ohio Wesleyan’s first foe. Lee Rowlinson ’88 scored 16 straight points during the second half to lead the Bishops to a 77-70 win.
Then came Scott Tedder ’88, scoring 29 points, including the game-winning 3-point bucket with :02 left in the second overtime, for a nail-biting 110-107 win over Hope. At his best in the big games, Tedder was brilliant again in a 106-103 quarterfinal win over Illinois Wesleyan. He finished the game with 39 points.
In Grand Rapids, Mich., Tedder and Rowlinson scored 35 of their 64 points in the second half as the Bishops pulled away from Nebraska Wesleyan for an 87-71 semifinal win. Tedder then led the Bishops with 27 points in the championship game, a 92-70 verdict over Scranton, giving Ohio Wesleyan its first national championship team. Tedder and Rowlinson received All-America honors, while Chris Turner ’88 and Mike Smith ’88 were all-conference selections.
By Mark Beckenbach