Being an MU athlete and an engineering major in the 1960s was both tough and rewarding — and still is
On Jan. 22, 2011, members of the 1960-1961 Mizzou men’s basketball team will take the court again as part of the university’s annual Former Player Reunion.
The last time these guys stepped on the court together, they defeated Kansas after a “basketbrawl” for the ages. The seniors from the team were freshmen during Norm Stewart’s first year coaching.
Now, fifty years later, they’ll watch this season’s Tigers fight it out against Iowa State University. Members of the 1960-1961 team will be presented at halftime, three of whom graduated with engineering degrees.
Mal Bass, BS ECE ’64; Lynn Wilkinson, BS ME ’62 and Steve Wyrostek, BS ECE ’63, MS ECE ’65, played for head coach Wilbur Stalcup while they juggled engineering classes, labs and homework.
Student athletes face a unique challenge in balancing their sports and schoolwork. Student athlete engineers must not only perform at a high level in athletics, but must also tackle the strenuous engineering coursework.
Wilkinson recalled: “Every day started with a 7:40 a.m. class. My last class was around 11:40 a.m. I would eat lunch, and after a little break, I’d go to the training room to get my ankles wrapped and then be on the basketball floor in Brewer Fieldhouse by 2 p.m., or thereabouts. We would play three-on-three or shoot free throws until practice started. Practice would last a couple of hours and then we would shower and go have dinner around 5:30 or 6 p.m. After dinner was study time until around 9 p.m., when we would often go to Stephens College to visit with the girls.”
Wilkinson credits being in good shape for helping him work his way up in engineering positions. “I was a hard charger,” he said. After college, he was engineering manager for a gas pipeline and gas supply manager for its parent company, Public Service Co. of Colorado. After 17 years with that company, he became director of the gas department for Colorado Springs Utilities. And 20 years later, he became director of the electric department before being promoted to chief operating officer. Wilkinson now lives in Colorado with his wife, Carol, where they have raised yaks on a 388-acre ranch for 10 years. They have four sons and seven grandchildren.
“The competition and hard work that I experienced in basketball and engineering at the University of Missouri taught me that, with perseverance, I could do well,” Wilkinson said. “We named our 26-foot San Juan sailboat ‘Perseverance.’”
Bass got experience in engineering, project management and turnaround management working for General Motors. He was turnaround executive at a mid-size corporation, and has served 15 years as owner of a private turnaround firm that buys troubled businesses, manages them, sells them and pays the lenders. In 2001, he founded the Global Executive Forum Group, a peer advisory group that offers professionally facilitated meetings for presidents of non-competing, small-medium sized companies to resolve conflicts.
What Bass learned on the court now helps him in the office.
“A high-level team competitive sport experience is like a compressed version of life and complex organizational situations encountered in ensuing years,” he said. “There is hardly a day that I do not reflect on these past sports experiences and ask myself these questions: ‘What made the team better? How did we cope with this adversity? What did the coach do to overcome this difficult situation? What does it take to win?’ For years I have been in leadership roles where I have had the opportunities to apply these lessons.”
While at Mizzou, Bass also played baseball.
“It was exceptionally challenging,” he said. “Because basketball involves mid-week travel, it is the most difficult sport to combine with academics. On the academic side, electrical engineering was regarded by many as the most demanding major in the College of Engineering. So to combine the most demanding sport and most difficult engineering major was highly challenging.
“The most rewarding part was just knowing that I could combine these difficult challenges,” Bass said. “Upon reflection, the experience taught me much about hard work, discipline, time management, and mental focus.”
Wyrostek had been valedictorian of his high school class, and his drive to excel didn’t diminish at Mizzou. Not only did he play basketball while earning his bachelor’s degree, but he went on to get a master’s degree as well. After college, Wyrostek found a job working for General Dynamics in San Diego, Calif. Throughout his career, he also held positions with Boeing, McDonnell Douglas, IBM and Anheuser-Busch.
Mizzou Arena is the new Brewer Fieldhouse, and lots more has changed since Bass, Wilkinson and Wyrostek hooped for Mizzou. But the daily grind that comes with being an engineer/athlete is just as intense. Take it from these current Mizzou engineer-athletes.