It’s a loaded question, for sure: Who here is the best golfer?
“Oh, here we go,” someone sighs as several different names are thrown out.
“Are you getting paid overtime to have to listen to this?” another voice chimes in.
The group of eight men is gathered near the pool at Downstream Casino on a scorching hot June afternoon, soaking up the sun and enjoying cold beverages as they talk about their days together at Missouri Southern. The two days of golf and good times has become an annual tradition for this group of alumni, who all say they look forward to reconnecting with their friends every year.
“We’ve been doing this for 30 years,” says Mike O’Shaughnessy, ’72, who has been instrumental in organizing the reunions. “One of my best buddies, who is no longer here, he and I and Bryant Davis were going to the lake for golf outings. We just decided to start contacting more people we went to school with and start doing this in Joplin.
“We started this before Downstream was even built, and then it morphed into coming here. One guy told another guy, who told another guy … one year we had 22 people here (for the reunion).”
While O’Shaughnessy played basketball, most of this group of friends played football. Nearly all of them went on to be educators and coaches.
“My first year of college was at Joplin Junior College, and my second year was the first at the new four-year school,” says Davis, ‘72. “Ruben Berry was the coach then. There was a lot of comradery between us and we’re still a brotherhood, so to speak.
“It’s been a fun ride. Hopefully there will be 30 more (reunions).”
While it was their time at Missouri Southern that bonded them together, each of the attendees have different stories of what brought them together.
“I’m originally from Chicago,” says Jack Duda, ’72. “(Coaching staff member) Tony Calwhite came and scouted me and got me down to Missouri Southern. These guys were all a little older than me and became kind of like my older brothers.”
Larry Cameron, ’74, joined the Marine Corps when he was 17 years old and spent his 18th year in Vietnam.
“I was 19 when I got out of the Marines and started playing football at Missouri Southern that July,” he says. “We were all just kids then.”
Kids, maybe, but these friends made memories that have lasted a lifetime.
“I don’t think you could print it,” says Mike Sexton, ’72, with a laugh when asked about his favorite memories from those days. “But there were some good ones … too many to think of just one.
“For us to still be around and still getting together is pretty amazing. I enjoy the cocktails with my boys, some golf, some grins and telling each other how good we were back then … when we talk, we’re better than we actually were.”
Several of those attending the reunion – including Duda and Cameron – were members of the 1972 team, which scored a NAIA Division II national championship under coach Jim Frazier.
Also attending this year were Gary Autry, Mike Rourke, and Dave Evans – all 1972 graduates.
O’Shaughnessy says a reason to keep the reunions going is to remember those who have passed.
“We’ve lost three of our buddies,” he says. “The first was Jim Hoots, and then Denny Coffel and Bob Snodgrass. I love getting back to see all these guys because that time was such a big part of our lives, but we do this to honor (those we’ve lost), too.”