The Semi-Legendary, Borderline Spectacular, Mostly Memorable Seniors–Faculty Basketball Games
For a little more than a decade beginning in the late 1980s, on the morning of graduation, the Cooley Law School graduating seniors and the faculty engaged in a game of basketball.
I readily admit that “faculty” is a misnomer: the “faculty” team also consisted of faculty spouses and Cooley staff members. Otherwise, the games would have been a slaughter.
Sadly, my records are incomplete; I never imagined that I’d be writing an article like this. As best I can tell now, there were about 30 games. (Probably not every graduating class fielded a team during those years.) But I could find only seven write-ups in The Pillar, although I thought I had written more. Apparently, some issues of The Pillar did not make their way to the library and are missing from the library’s bound volumes. And I seem to have done more write-ups in the earlier years than in the later.
I do have 21 group photos, but alas, I did not write the class names on each one, so I had to try to identify faces and then ask the registrar when those people graduated. Even then, I could not identify more than half the classes. I’m hoping that some of you will help me with a follow-up article.
The professors who played at least once: Nussbaumer (just about every game), Prygoski (likewise, and RIP, Phil), LeDuc, Phillips, Brooks, McDonald, McNeal, Scott, Morgan, Kende, Derezinski, and one dud whose name you can guess. Two current professors played while they were still Cooley students: Professors Dotson and Asher. Spouses and staff spouses included the mates of Professor Branham, Professor Russell, and staffer Lisa Davis. Among the staffers: Fred Puffenberger, Duane Fedewa, David Milner, Eric Kennedy, Bill Olsen, and Jerome Thomas.
Of course, I can’t begin to list all the seniors who played. Some (not a lot) were women, including Melissa Leckie, Angela Sorrells, and Helen Campbell. (I know there were others; perhaps you will let me know if you played.) From time to time, I “inducted” players into the Thomas Cooley Basketball Hall of Fame: Mike Dietz, (Prof.) Mark Dotson, Marc Feeney, Brad Johnson, Dave Keller, Dave Kiel, Todd Tarter, Tom Trautner, Jim Troester. Those are just the ones I could find in the write-ups. I can think of others who belong, like Darrell Banks and Joe Johnson, but once I start naming names (as I just did), I’ll miss many others. And remember that this is only during a roughly 10-year period.
The games were held at several locations: the Mormon Church in East Lansing, St. Gerard’s Church in Lansing, an elementary school in Grand Ledge, a junior-high school in Haslett, and the United Methodist Church in downtown Lansing. I was never able to deliver on repeated promises to play the next game at the Palace of Auburn Hills.
Below are some snippets from the seven write-ups I found in The Pillar:
"Unfortunately, the game was marred by dirty tricks and cheap theatrics on both sides. During the game, Ed Waters tried to head the ball, soccer style, into the basket on a fast break. The faculty retaliated by insisting that they provide the scorekeeper. She was last seen counting money.” (Grant class, Nov. 1987.)
“Pat Collison threw in four straight rainbow 3-point shots from the corners. Melissa Leckie made one of the game’s decisive plays when she posted up on Nussbaumer and threw in a dazzling hook shot.” (Green class, Feb. 1988.)
“The MVP was Jeff Donahue, with 22 points. Kel Scott strategically talked the faculty into a third period of play, during which they nearly collapsed.” (Pratt class, May 1988.)
“The Copeland class was probably done in by its overconfidence, as reflected in much good-natured woofing before the game. … David Cross directed the offense and tried to direct the referees. But the game belonged to Prygoski, who dazzled everyone with inside moves and outside shooting—not to mention one thunderous dunk. Unbelievable.” (Jan. 1989.)
[A pregame announcement for the game with the Douglass class.] “Professors Scott and Morgan have announced plans to play in the game for the first time. With Morgan to round out the starting five, Nussbaumer will have to play center.”
“It was the third win in a row for the faculty. Can anyone stop this scoring machine? … The MVP [for the seniors] was Dave Kiel, with 28 points and 19 rebounds, an awesome performance.” (Douglass class, May 1989.)
“For the Johnson class, coach Mark Collins put together a formidable team. The MVP was Chris Amato, with 26 points and 10 rebounds. … For the faculty, nothing went right. Its ringers failed to show. Phillips did show. LeDuc was out with a jammed finger from the previous game.” (Sept. 1989.)
“For the Wilson class, director of personnel Leni Staley put together an outstanding team. … Phillips was the hero before overtime. With five seconds to go and the faculty behind by one point, he went up for the shot, missed, but got fouled. Two shots. He missed the first one, and the seniors called time. Back to the line with two seconds to go. Swish. In overtime, though, Mark Dotson and Karl Berg took control.” (May 1990.)
"Kimble, of course, played like a skunk. The poor man belongs in a rest home.” “Kimble played like a bloated goat. He should be put out of his misery.” “Kimble played with all the grace of a yak. This guy is one sad case.” (Various.)
In a couple of the write-ups, I quoted from newspaper and magazine articles on basketball:
“The only time basketball works as a metaphor is when you think of life as a game when you’re already down 15 points at the half: you know you can’t win, but you can at least keep the score respectable.”
“To the emotionally staid, we must look pretty foolish laboring up and down a long wood floor as the accelerated heartbeats tick by. But all lovers are fools if they’re doing it right.”
Just as a side note, although the seniors–faculty games eventually ended, for quite a few years into the 2000s we continued to play a Friday-afternoon pickup game at the Central United Methodist Church. Students from all classes participated.
In a faculty profile about me in the late ’90s, I mentioned that “out of about 30 games, the seniors have only a slight lead.” But the games were always friendly and never about who won and lost. Or not so much, anyway. They were intended to help celebrate, in some small way, the best day in the life of the school — graduation day, the end of one short era and the start of another, much longer one. They were a way to say goodbye and thank you and good luck. I hope that those of you who played and watched will remember them with a smile.
Benchmark contributing author WMU-Cooley Law School Distinguished Professor Emeritus Joseph Kimble joined the full-time faculty in 1984. He has published dozens of articles on legal writing and written three popular books — Lifting the Fog of Legalese: Essays on Plain Language; Writing for Dollars, Writing to Please: The Case for Plain Language in Business, Government, and Law; and Seeing Through Legalese: More Essays on Plain Language. He has won several national and international awards for his work.
If you have any memories of the games, please share them with the alumni office at firstname.lastname@example.org and help us identify the unnamed classes (circa 1986-1999).