In July of 1992, three months after the SMS Racquetball team won its second straight national title, they get some unwanted attention.
The team is mentioned twice in a state audit of Southwest Missouri State and its President Dr. Marshall Gordon.
“All university presidents, past, present and future have one job,” KY3 Anchor Steve Grant said, “leave the university architecturally, financially, and institutionally better than they found it. Marshall Gordon is no exception.”
On July 29th, State Auditor Margaret Kelley unveiled highlights of the audit the Board of Regents asked for after the Juanita K Hammons Hall ended up being more than $6 million over budget.
And that project was just the beginning. For construction projects state purchasing procedures were circumvented as were state bidding procedures, some projects were never advertised for bid.
Two items glossed over at the time related to the scholarships given to racquetball players and the money set aside to supplement the teams expenses.
“We didn’t know what was going on,” former SMS Racquetball player Michael Engelmeyer said. “The players were not involved. We were here to play racquetball.”
“It’s just how they want to redirect dollars,” former SMS Bear Tim Sweeney said, “and they chose to do that. It was philanthropic; we brought a national championship and they gave us the value of an education. And everyone of our players graduated, that stayed at school to be fair.”
The university would go on to honor the teams existing scholarships.
The second part in the audit mentions $300,000 earmarked to the racquetball team to help offset team expenses for tournaments, travel, uniforms, an assistant coach, a pair of team physicians, and a sports psychologist.
“The Board of Regents, a lot of people were around these courts,” Engelmeyer said, “and coming up and questions.”
No criminal charges were brought against Dr. Gordon and an FBI investigation came up with nothing. Dr. Gordon did resign during this period as school president.
“That year I think we were all so much stronger,” former SMS Racquetball Bear Derek Robinson said.
For the 1992-93 season, if it’s all about the size of the dog in the fight, everyone was turning to 6’4″, 210-pounder “Big D” Derek Robinson.
“We called him the giant slayer,” Engelmeyer said.
“When you played him he was going for every shot, every score,” teammate Simon Roy remembered.
“Big D” finished off his junior year as a singles national champion, a doubles national champion, and a part of the three-time SMS Bears National Championship team.
“There was a lot of medals around my neck,” Robinson joked.
Helping keep the team focused, Jim Trammell. The former assistant coach who was wrapping up his first full year as head coach taking over for George Baker who stepped away for health reasons.
“Same style of coaching,” Roy said, “let us do what we had to do.”
“He held it together,” Sweeney said, “I was committed, but you never know, I might have left.”
Sweeney would claim his third straight national title and sophmore Allan Engel would win his third national championship in two years with a singles title.
“We felt pressure every night we were on the floor man,” Engel said. “There was pressure to win for your roommate, for your teammate, for SMS”
And heading into the next season, pressure to win for the core of the Dream Team who had one year of school left.
“We wanted to get them number four,” Engel said, “we wanted to win for them.”