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Full Circle: Iconic domed home of the Wildcats turns 50

By on February 21, 2018 in ACU News, Sports with 1 Comment

Though he was its leading man, he had never seen the film. Until this week when the stunningly vivid images of him and his teammates racing up and down Moody Coliseum’s revolutionary rubberized floor in the first game ever played there leapt off the screen.

For a moment, John Ray Godfrey felt 41 again.

“It was better than I remembered,” says Godfrey (’68) of the 23 precious seconds of game action from the only (as far as we know) extant footage of Moody’s debut 50 years ago as the home of the Wildcats.

The coliseum actually opened with great fanfare nine days before, on Sunday, Feb. 18, 1968 – in time to kick off ACU’s annual Bible Lectureship (now Summit). But the basketball team’s schedule had them on the road for three straight weeks leading up to the season finale. By the time they came home, Moody was ready.

So was Godfrey.

The occasion was billed as “John Ray Godfrey Night,” and the main attraction didn’t disappoint. He made the Wildcats’ first two baskets of the game against Arkansas State University and 17 overall, which set a Moody record that Rodney Fedell (’80) matched in 1977 but still none have yet to better. Godfrey wound up with a career high-tying 41 points in a 96-93 overtime victory that clinched the Southland Conference regular season championship.

But because the Southland Conference didn’t have a league tournament at the time and ACU didn’t receive a bid to the national tournament, that would be the only game Godfrey ever played in the Wildcats’ new digs. Forty-one and done.

Moody’s literal foundation had barely cemented before Godfrey laid a figurative one for excellence: individual (he was named first team All-America in 1968, invited to a tryout for the U.S. Olympic team and even drew the interest of two NFL teams); and collective (three conference titles and a pair of trips to the NCAA College Division Tournament).

The three teams that have called the coliseum home since – men’s basketball and, beginning in 1971, both women’s basketball and women’s volleyball – have raised to the rafters a half century of banner moments and produced a litany of legendary figures.

Like Willard Tate, who seemed to step straight out of a Stephen Foster ditty onto the Moody Coliseum court. In 1973, Tate actually came from Alabama with a banjo on his knee to coach the men’s basketball team. His grin as wide as his leisure suit lapels, Tate took the Wildcats to new heights. Behind all-time greats like Fedell, Randall Moore (’80) and Andrew Prince (’75), ACU won 119 games and two Lone Star Conference titles in Tate’s seven seasons. Like Godfrey’s swan song, Tate saved his best for last: a program-best 27-5 record and a trip to the second round of the 1979-80 NAIA national tournament. He spent the last three decades of his life as a beloved minister, wildly popular ACU teacher and overall opponent of what he called in his homespun vernacular “stinkin’ thinkin.’ ”

There are scarcely any figures more legendary at Moody than 44 and 49. From February 1984 to January 1988, the men’s basketball team didn’t lose a single home game – regular or postseason. ACU hosted and won the LSC Tournament from 1985 to 1987. The win streak of 44 nearly spanned the 40th U.S. president’s second term and included an epic victory over a team from the state Ronald Reagan once governed. On Dec. 3, 1984, in a game some consider one of the most exciting in ACU history, the Wildcats made some serious waves with a 93-89 upset of Pepperdine University – the magnitude of which was no doubt intensified by the two institutions’ shared spiritual DNA (Churches of Christ) and different NCAA divisions (II against I).

During the men’s team’s historic run in the 1980s, ACU women’s basketball also was stacking up its share of 20-win seasons and conference titles. In the ’90s, they came back for an encore, following up a 207-win decade with 209, a No. 1 ranking in the national poll and a little Moody magic of their own. Led by perhaps the finest all-around player in program history, 1996 NCAA Division II Player of the Year Jennifer (Clarkson ’96) Frazier, the Wildcat women’s team held court at home for 49 straight. In the middle of that run with close to 5,000 fans shoehorned into Moody, ACU rebuffed archrival West Texas A&M University, 66-39, in the regional final and eventually got as far as the national semis in Fargo, North Dakota, before their championship chase ended.

You can’t talk about the home of the Wildcats without tooting volleyball’s Horn. In 2005, a year highlighted by a school record 31-match win streak, head coach Brek Horn (’04 M.Ed.) led ACU to a second straight regular season championship and captured the tournament title on its home floor.

From that very first night in 1968, it seems Moody has been knocking on 50s door. The 41 points from Godfrey gave way to Hunter Cooley’s (’92) 42-point night in 1992. David Baxter (’05) upped the ante in 2005 with 44. And in 2009, Jamie Meyer (’10) got to the doorstep with a women’s program high of 49.

For all the eye-popping numbers, the one letter that stands out at Moody is F – the seismic section where students situated themselves during those raucous roundball battles of the 1980s for the sole purpose of making life on the opposing bench below miserable. Thirty years before it became a hashtag, Section F would #FakeNews Wildcat foes being introduced before tip-off by pretending to read The Optimist. And it was primarily the citizens of Section F that public address announcer Dr. Norm Archibald (’76 M.S.) was publicly addressing in his trademark benediction, “STAY OFF THE COURT!”

Whatever section was yours and whenever you were in it, chances are your favorite Moody memories are as much about the people you cheered with as the ones you cheered on.

Fifty years later, from John Ray to J. Frank (ACU’s current standout junior guard), everything old is new again. Just as they were when the coliseum opened, the Wildcats are back in the Southland Conference. And again winning championships with decorated players and former Wildcats leading the way. Pumping out perfect home records and beating buzzers with half-court heaves. It may no longer have that new-court smell, but it appears Moody still has a little magic left for the next 50 years.

Enough at least to make a man feel 41 again.

Saturday, Feb. 24 is a big day for Moody: an important doubleheader against Central Arkansas for women’s (2 p.m.) and men’s (4 p.m.) teams as they fight for a spot in the conference tournament and a shot at March Madness, a tailgate for students, the retirement of John Ray Godfrey’s #14 jersey (his and Jennifer Clarkson Frazier’s #25, retired earlier, will be recognized in permanent banners in Moody), and a birthday party for the coliseum’s 50th year. acusports.com

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Grant Boone

About the Author

About the Author: Grant Boone is a native of Nashville, Tennessee, who graduated from ACU in 1991 with a degree in journalism and mass communication. He began broadcasting Abilene Christian games on radio while a student in 1990 and has been the play-by-play voice continually since 2008. In addition, he hosts the weekly ACU Athletics radio show and football coach’s TV show. For 20 years, he has called a variety of sporting events for national networks, including ESPN, CBS Sports Network and Turner Sports. During the summer, he still broadcasts live tournaments for Golf Channel and the Masters and PGA Championship for CBS Sports.
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  1. Terry Priest says:

    Great you are showing off John Ray. We are great friends. When he was a sophomore at Aspermont, I was a junior at Hutto. We played against each other in Class B state tournament and we barely defeated them. I went to Athens at a junior college and then got a scholarship to ACU and played with John for 2 years. We had a great team. I then went to Aspermont and won the State Basketball Championship my first year as head coach–50 years ago. I was later hired by ACU to be head coach in Ft. Worth for 2 years and then was hired to be assistant coach at ACU by Willard Tate.

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