On February 21, the day of her induction into Washington State University’s Athletic Hall of Fame, Carol Gordon offered a silent prayer. That evening she shared her petition with 180 guests at the induction banquet in the Compton Union Building.
“Please let me speak before George [Raveling],” the longtime WSU professor, coach, and administrator said. Her comment drew a rousing ovation from the audience, including Raveling himself. The charismatic Cougar basketball coach from 1972-83 would speak later. Olympic gold medallist Julius Korir; Linda Williams Sheridan, Spokane prep coaching legend; and football All-America Mike Utley were the other honorees.
Gordon championed women’s athletics at the state and national levels. She served as president of both the Washington Association for Health, Physical Education, and Recreation and the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women. During her 21 years as chair of the Department of Physical Education for Women, 1962-83, she also coached women’s field hockey and tennis teams, 1962-66. Her teaching specialty was psychology of sport.
“I was hired to teach,” she said. Coaching and administrative duties were on top of that. “I always was convinced of the importance of activity-both athletics and dance-and that it should be an important part of life.”
Gordon played high-school basketball in New Hampshire, mainly “curtain-raisers” for boys’ games, and graduated from Oberlin College, where opportunities for women to participate in sports were limited. She was 1968 WSU Faculty Woman of the Year, and received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Association of Collegiate Women Athletic Administrators, 1998.
WSU track and field coach Rick Sloan praised Julius Korir for his “tremendous range-half-mile to over six miles in cross country.” The durable Kenyan won the Pac-10 3000-meter steeplechase three times. He had two firsts and a third in the 5000-meter race. He also claimed NCAA titles in the 5000 (1984) and steeple (1985), after finishing runner-up in the steeple twice.
Korir won his country’s only gold medal in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. His steeplechase time (8:11.80) ranked him second on the WSU, Pac-10, and collegiate list behind former Cougar and countryman Henry Rono.
“Athletes like Julius come along very rarely,” Sloan said of Korir, who was honored in absentia.
As WSU’s third winningest basketball coach (167-136), George Raveling brought tremendous energy to work and excitement to Friel Court. The Pac-8 Conference’s first black coach in a major sport said he didn’t come to WSU in 1972 as “a crusader, but to restructure the basketball program.”
WSU’s 1980 appearance in the NCAA tournament was it first in 39 years. The Cougars finished 22-6 that year and 23-7 in 1983, when they again qualified. His teams posted seven winning seasons. Craig Ehlo, a 14-year NBA veteran, said Raveling “did a better job of preparing a team for a game than any coach I every played for.”
Raveling expressed his gratitude to Glenn Terrell, who was then president, for giving him an opportunity to coach at WSU, and for standing by him, win or lose.
“I can honestly say the 11 greatest years I spent in intercollegiate athletics were right here at Washington State,” he said. “In honoring me, you honor all the players who played for me.”
A teacher and coach at Spokane’s Shadle Park High for 24 years, Linda Sheridan (’69 Phys. Ed.) led her volleyball and basketball teams (482-99 and 367-123, respectively) to a total of 849 victories between 1974 and 1998. Along the way there were five state titles in volleyball (’84, ’85, ’87, ’88, ’93) and two in basketball (’88, ’89).
“I’ve been so, so fortunate,” Sheridan said. “I spent my life doing something that was my passion-coaching. An opportunity to change lives.”
She said she understood early the tremendous responsibility the title “coach” carries. “Kids look up to you. I never wanted to let them down. If you expect them to follow you, you have to lead first.”
Sheridan wanted her students to have a positive experience. She believed sports should be fun, that sports were a great venue for teaching and learning the components that lead to success in life, relationships, jobs, and parenting.
After being selected as a third-round NFL draft pick by the Detroit Lions in 1989, Mike Utley became a rookie starter as a 6-6, 305-pound offensive guard. At WSU he started 42 of 45 games, was named to six All-America first teams, and played in three All-Star games. He thanked his teachers, teammates, coaches, and administrators for “four wonderful years at WSU.” He played two years for Jim Walden, two for Dennis Erickson.
“Whatever you leave on the field you will be proud of. What you take home, you will always regret,” he remembers Erickson saying. The advice paid off in a 34-30 upset of first-place UCLA in 1988. The Cougars trailed at intermission, but responded to Erickson’s halftime challenge, “Go out and play. You’ll remember this win the rest of your life.”
In a November 1991 Lions’ game, Utley would sustain a life-changing injury to his spinal cord. Since then he helped create the Mike Utley Foundation to fund research on spinal cord injuries. “I’m selfish,” he told the audience. “I want to get out of this [wheel]chair. Someday, they will find a cure.”
His positive attitude and infectious smile remain an inspiration to others. “Every day I look in the mirror and I like myself,” he said.