Mesa Hall of Honor inductees heap praise on players
Bob Cortese has never been afraid to speak his mind, and he made it clear Friday night as a full house stood and applauded during the Colorado Mesa University Awards Banquet that the night was most certainly not about him.
It was about the nearly 50 players who traveled from all over to be the first team inducted into the Hall of Honor, and the teammates who couldn’t be there to celebrate.
The 1982 football team, the first team to reach the NAIA national championship game, was welcomed into the Hall of Honor along with women’s basketball coach Steve Kirkham, who won 299 games during his 16-year tenure, the most in school and Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference history.
Videos introduced the inductees, as well as Dr. John Redifer, who received the Distinguished Faculty Award, and Michael Burke and Greg Walcher, who were honored with the Distinguished Alumni Award.
Much of the narration of the football video centered on Cortese and how he brought what was then Mesa College into national prominence, starting with that 1982 squad.
As he took the stage to chants of “B.Y.A.” — Cortese’s “Bust Your A**” mantra — Cortese didn’t mince words.
“This is not about me,” he said. “This is about those guys out there.”
And so, after telling a couple of stories about that season, he asked if two or three players could come up and say a few words.
“Bring ‘em all up,” he was told by Athletic Director Butch Miller, and after barking at them to get organized, they filed to the stage.
“Geez, how did we ever win a game? You guys are so slow,” Cortese scolded.
Miller and current football coach Joe Ramunno handed each player a framed team photo commemorating their place in the Hall of Honor, and a couple of players spoke of teammates and how that squad was a culmination of three years together.
They laughed, hugged, took hundreds of photos, then attended the university’s homecoming bonfire.
And afterwards, as Cortese requested, they had “my last senior night.”
After the final practice every season, the coaches and seniors gathered on the practice field and each senior got to say whatever he wanted.
Cortese, who spoke to this year’s team before practice Friday, was asked by Ramunno if the current team could attend the senior night.
“You know what, they’re Mavericks,” Cortese said. “So tonight when we go out there it won’t just be the 1982 team talking, we’re gonna show the 2011 Maverick team what happens 35, 40 years after you leave Colorado Mesa University.”
Kirkham spoke of his relationship with Cortese, volleyball coach Rusty Crick and men’s basketball coach Doug Schakel, all of whom were at Mesa when he arrived in 1988 and started building a perennial RMAC title contender.
His teams won four RMAC championships, seven consecutive RMAC West titles, went to 10 consecutive RMAC tournaments and had winning records in 15 of his 16 seasons. His 2002 team was the first from the conference to host an NCAA Division II regional tournament.
“When I got here I thought I was a pretty good coach and then I started walking the hallway and listening to Rusty Crick, Doug Schakel and Bob Cortese,” he said. “I realized rapidly I didn’t know much, but luckily I was given enough drive and work ethic from my parents to go sit and listen to these guys.”
Kirkham said he had more than 50 former players contact him through Facebook to congratulate him on his induction. Five, Jill Teeters, Tonya Stites, Debbie Green, Cristin Carder and Amy Shults, were at the banquet.
“I would take those five in their prime and I would go in the RMAC this year and I don’t think we’d lose a game,” he said. “I’m not just saying that. They were unbelievable ladies.”
Everyone honored Friday marveled at the changes on campus, and even though they stumbled more than once over the new name, they adopted it as their own.
“I’m so proud to have spent 10 years of my life at Colorado Mesa University,” Cortese said.
Kirkham, now the athletic director at CU-Colorado Springs, echoed that.
“CMU is the perfect name. We’re in Colorado, not Arizona, we have the largest flattop mesa in the world and this is now a university and I couldn’t be prouder of everybody here,” he said.
“When you come to this place it’s about the journey, it’s always been about the journey and it always will be about the journey.”