Heroes and bums

He would come into the little news booth at the radio station on Wednesday mornings and we’d talk about one of the darndest college basketball teams these eyes have ever seen. Sometimes he’d bring a player with him, which more than filled the little booth for the three minutes or so that we talked with Coach Jonathan Staggers of Lincoln University during basketball season.
In those days, Lincoln University basketball was a major community event in Jefferson City. One night, when Lincoln played rival Tennessee A&I, I got there a little late and was among the crowd standing three-deep under the Lincoln basket in the first half. The second half lasted only a couple of minutes before the opposing coach took his team off the court after disputing a referee’s call, and forfeited the game.
Lincoln averaged 108.3 points a game that year, topped 100 in twenty of their 28 games.. One night, I watched them hang up 75 points in each half.
Staggers believed in three passes and a shot. Forget this dribbling stuff. “We’re going to press them from the minute they get off the bus,” he said in one of our interviews, talking about a big game coming up that week. Press, run, shoot. Win. Lincoln was 25-3 that year, lost in the Division II regionals to Southwest Missouri State, which finished as the national runner-up. And they continued the run-and-gun, triple-digit scoring the next year when they went 20-3
Some longtime Missouri Tiger football fans might remember his son, Jon, as a Tiger football star in the Dan Devine Days. But this reporter will always remember his dad, the coach, who often talked as much about character as about the upcoming games. He once said one of the messages he preached to his players was, “You can’t be a hero on the court and a bum in the classroom.”
He left a few years later to coach at Hayward State, and died in 2001 at the age of 77.
All these years later, those words come to mind every time some college athletes with million dollar bodies act as if they have twenty-five cent brains. “You can’t be a hero on the court and a bum in the classroom.” Or anywhere else, frankly.
It was a life lesson, not collegiate advice, that he was giving. Most people get it. A few never do. And they’re not all athletes.
Glory once tainted, however, might not be lost. And failure early need not be failure always. Perhaps all who seek that glory of the young should be reminded of a verse from A. E. Housman—

Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay,
And early though the laurel grows.
It withers quicker than the rose.

Whether in collegiate sports or adult politics, the coach’s words and the verse of Housman reminds us that the fame of the moment is likely to be temporary. But character will be a constant.

Notes from the front lines

–being some miscellaneous notes not requiring more than a line or two.
Today is “Dog Days” at the Capitol. Are we the only ones with a sick enough sense of humor to think the serving of hot dogs as part of the event is kind of, well, funny?
The Senate had advanced a bill shrinking the size of government by eliminating three handsful of advisory boards and watchdog committees mostly populated by House and Senate members. One of the entities getting the axe is the Joint Committe on the Reduction and Reorganization of Programs Within State Government.
State senate debate twice within the last few days has turned into shouting matches that so violated chamber decorum that the bills being discussed were withdrawn from discussion until the combatants got a grip on themselves or other senators got a grip on them.
The situation became so ugly in one of the incidents that the Senate stopped all activity until the participants could be taken off the floor and, we are told, restrained by other Senators until some level of sanity was resumed.
It wasn’t that long ago that the Senate was a place where grownups served.
But at least the Senate was working. The House decided attending the Cardinals’ home opening game was more important than doing the public’s business. Instead of coming into session at 4 p.m., give or take, on Monday, the Reps didn’t start their work week until after 7 p.m. after many members had had enough fun at the ole ballpark. When the House did go into session, one resolution was adopted. One bill was taken up and was promptly laid over. The most important thing the House did was take attendance, which entitled members to collect their $104 per diems for the day.
And, oh, yes, we have a Representative who’s been charged with DWI. Twice in recent weeks.
This is the time of year when the Capitol is awash with school children. If we are to believe what the lawmakers who represent them say, they are at the Capitol to see their legislature in action and to learn about how government works.


Eric Schmitt is the Big Man in the Senate. He’s a Republican from Kirkwood and he takes pride in being the tallest Senator. Tallest in Missouri history, he has boasted. Six feet, six and one-half inches tall, he proclaimed the other night in the senate.
Senator Bob Dixon of Springfield, who has a little size to him, too, had dug out an old newspaper article, apparently from the Springfield Leader, and distributed it to fellow Senators that same night. The article was a reprint from the Jefferson City Daily Capital News, probably from about February 1, 1919. It was the story of Senator Charles J. Belken of Fredericktown, who “enjoys the distinction of being the tallest man ever elected to either branch of the Missouri General Assembly, according to old-time lawmakers.”
The article recounted that Belken was six-feet, six-inches high in his stocking feet. He was referred to as a “genial senator” who had to duck through ordinary doors. Belkus complained the Jefferson City beds were “almost too short” but he made-do by “cupping up his knees” to achieve “tolerable comfort.”
Schmitt says he’s got Belken beat by a half-inch.
Not so fast, big guy.
The OTHER Jefferson City newspaper, the Post-Tribune, also had an article about Belken. And it said he “stands six feet and seven inches.”
The Missourinet’s discovery of the alternative newspaper article leaves the title of Missouri’s Tallest Senator in doubt, although Schmitt quickly dismissed the second newspaper article’s accuracy. And he did not seem willing to accept a suggestion that the heights in the two articles be averaged, which would leave him and Belkus tied.
His rejection of any compromise on the issue drove us quickly to consult with Terry Spieler, who has been Secretary of the Senate since Schmitt was probably less than shoulder high to her. We have decided the best way to end this controversy once and for all is to ask Senator Schmitt to take off his shoes and stand in the doorway of his inner office while Ms. Spieler, who is substantially shorter than he is now, stands on a chair with a ruler in her hand, places it atop his head, and makes a mark on the door jamb—as many parents do to chart the growth of their children. A yardstick will then be used to certify the measurement.
Because door jambs are repainted during office decorations, that mark might be lost. Our alternative plan is to have Schmitt lie down on the marble floor outside his office with his feet planted against the wall while someone, using the same or a similar ruler, measures how far out in the hallway he sticks. An unobtrusive but permanent mark should be left on that floor so that any future senator asserting claim to the “tallest-ever” title can verify the claim by stretching out on the hallway floor.
Another factor to consider in determining the tallest state Senator in state history is to consider relative tallness. A reference we consulted indicates the average American man in 1920 stood 5’7.5.” That would mean Belkus towered 8.5 to 9.5 inches above the average Senator of his time. (There were no women in the Senate then)
Another study says today’s average American male stands 5’9.2,|” which means Schmitt is only 8.3 inches taller than the average male Senator. So on a height relativity scale, he comes up, uh, short.
Opinions seem to differ on the height relativity issue, though. Some studies we have consulted indicate men in 1920 were about 5’9″ tall and that men have not grown much taller in the 90-plus years since then. He’s just expanded. .
So IS Eric Schmitt the tallest Senator in Missouri history? Maybe we should say that he’s certainly up there amongst ‘em.
It’s odd what goes through the mind of a reporter at the Senate press table when the Senate begins to drone.