Claremore Daily Progress

Sports

July 2, 2014

Long-time AD Feris looks back on 24 years at Wayland Baptist

PLAINVIEW, TEXAS — Chad Feris recently reminded his father what he told him shortly after the family moved to Plainview upon Dr. Greg Feris being hired as director of athletics at Wayland Baptist University in the spring of 1990.

"I told Chad, who was a sophomore in high school at the time, that we would only be here a couple or three years," the elder Feris said.

Twenty-four years later, Dr. Feris and wife Glenda are still in Plainview and he still is Wayland's director of athletics, although for only a few more days. Effective June 30, Feris is retiring.

"We've come a long way," Feris said.

He couldn't remember exactly why he felt after he first came to Plainview that he would serve as Wayland's athletics director for only two or three years, instead of the almost quarter-of-a-century it turned out to be.

"We had been in larger communities and, I guess, felt like that's what we would go back to," Feris said. "All I can tell you is God had other plans.

"The longer you're in a community, the closer you get to the people," he added. "Fortunately for us as a family, we're still right here in Plainview."

Plainview and Wayland, especially the athletics department, are hardly the same as they were when Feris arrived 24 years ago. Back then, Wayland offered just six sports: basketball, cross country, and track and field for men and women. Today, the university is blessed with 21 sports programs, and the student-athlete population has exploded from approximately 75 when Feris took over to today's total close to 500 student-athletes, or about one-third of the university's enrollment.

"When I got here we only had three head coaches and only student-assistant coaches. We were using a student as a trainer back in those days, and Dr. Bobby Hall (now Wayland's executive vice president and provost) was our sports information director."

Through the years Feris led the way as Wayland transitioned non-scholarship sports into scholarship programs, helped the Sooner Athletic Conference develop into arguably the best small-college sports league in the nation, and slowly but surely guided Wayland's evolution into becoming one of the most well-rounded athletic programs in all of the NAIA. In fact, Wayland just completed its most successful year ever in terms of national finishes in competitive athletics, placing sixth among 264 NAIA institutions in the Learfield Sports Directors' Cup.

"Would I have dreamed 24 years ago that we would have finished two of the last three years in the top 10 in the Directors' Cup?" Feris asked. "Heck, in the early days we wouldn't have had enough sports or points to finish in the top 50."

It's been a memorable journey to get to this point, Feris said, a journey taken and enjoyed not just by him but many, many others.

"I remember six months after I got here sitting down and putting together a plan (to add) football, baseball and volleyball," he said. "The trustees approved a plan to start baseball and volleyball the following year and football the year after that."

Competing at the time as an independent in the NAIA, Feris said Wayland was on the verge of signing up its proposed baseball, volleyball and football programs in the Texas Intercollegiate Athletic Association (TIAA), alongside schools such as Sul Ross State, Austin College, McMurry, Hardin-Simmons and Howard Payne, among others.

"Dr. (Lanny) Hall (Wayland's president at the time) sent me to a conference meeting in Alpine where we would officially be recognized as a conference member," recalled Feris, adding that he remembers the meeting in part because it was being held on the same weekend that oldest son Chris was playing his last games as a member of the Rice University baseball team.

Not only did Feris have to miss his son's final collegiate baseball action, the meeting at Sul Ross in Alpine didn't go as planned, either. Some last-minute demands from the TIAA, which also wanted Wayland to come into the non-scholarship league with its basketball and track programs, both of which were scholarship-based and very successful, caused the arrangement to fall through.

Still, Wayland went ahead with its plans to add volleyball and baseball, although the plans for football were put on the back burner.

"We decided to pull football off the table because we didn't think we could put a schedule together" without a conference, Feris said.

It was some 20 years before plans to add football resurfaced, although many other sports were introduced in the interim.

"One thing led to another, and we picked up men's golf, and several years later added soccer," Feris said.

While all of those programs are competitive today, some of their early years proved to be a bit tough, especially as non-scholarship programs.

"We struggled," Feris admitted. "But we were having to play (schools) that were giving some athletic aid."

In time Wayland began adding scholarships to those programs as well, and before long they became as competitive as any in the conference and the NAIA.

Mostly that was a result of additional athletic support from the university in the form of scholarships, personnel and facilities, something Feris was largely responsible for attaining, although he shares the credit with many others.

"I can't underscore enough the people who have had a hand in it," Feris said, mentioning the support received from university presidents Dr. Lanny Hall, Dr. Wallace Davis and Dr. Paul Armes, along with other administrators including the late Dr. Bill Hardage and current Vice President of Enrollment Dr. Claude Lusk. "The support and encouragement that each of those folks has given intercollegiate athletics here, well, we would not be where we are today without it."

No one, though, has been a bigger supporter of Wayland athletics over the last 24 years than Feris, who said his ongoing commitment to the university may have stemmed from the consistent addition of new programs.

"You definitely feel a sense of responsibility, maybe even a pride factor, of starting something and wanting to see it move forward," he said.

To that end, Feris said he feels good about where Wayland's most recent program additions – the state's first collegiate wrestling program in 2010, football in 2012 and swimming and diving last year – are in their progression.

"I feel really good about those programs and how they will develop," he said. "I feel like the university has made a commitment to everything we're doing. Wayland has made a long-term commitment with intercollegiate athletics."

In regards to football, Feris said helping to implement that program was one of his most satisfying achievements. He said he'll never forget how he felt standing on the field at Heroes Stadium in San Antonio on Sept. 1, 2012, when the Pioneers kicked off against Monterrey Tech, officially bringing football back to Wayland for the first time in 72 years.

"That was the culmination of the better part of three years…of should we do this, should we not do this," Feris said. "I walked over to Claude Lusk as we kicked off and shook his hand and said, 'We did it.' That was a very emotional moment for two bald-headed guys working at a faith-based school. I know I teared up."

Feris also mentioned watching Wayland student-athletes compete at national-level events as being some of his most memorable moments.

"I haven't made all of them, but those are something that are really special," he said, adding that this year's return of Wayland's storied Flying Queens and Pioneers basketball programs to national tournaments was very meaningful. "All of those are special times."

Maybe the one thing that Feris takes the most pride in, however, is Wayland's Athletics Hall of Honor, an idea which he spearheaded shortly after his arrival at WBU. Again, Feris deflected credit.

"Maybe I was the one who put forth the idea for it, but so many other people have played a role in it," he said. "Each one of those (21 induction ceremonies) has really been special. We've been able to bring back some people who had great memories of their time here. They understood then and they understand now what the university is all about.

 "Through the years I have gained a very strong appreciation for not just those memories, but for the chance to give those people the opportunity to come back and be a part of something that not only honors them but honors the university."

Beginning in 1992, the Hall of Honor has inducted 79 members, including Feris himself in 2009. That hasn't been the only honor to come his way through the years. Among the most notable are being inducted into the NAIA Hall of Fame in 2007 and being a three-time Under Armour Athletics Director of the Year, most recently in 2012-13.

Other fond memories for Feris while at Wayland have included watching student-athletes graduate and helping develop Wayland's athletic facilities, including the home of the Pioneer baseball team, Wilder Field.

Feris said Dr. Davis was instrumental in implementing baseball and in the construction of Wilder Field.

"Dr. Davis wanted baseball. He said Wayland needed some more hairy-legged boys on this campus," Feris said, adding that the installation of AstroTurf on the infield at Wilder last winter was "the crowning touch."

He also spoke of the renovations of the Wood and Wheeler buildings to serve as Wayland's strength and conditioning facility and home of the Pioneer football team, respectively.

"Our football players went from literally hanging their helmets on a nail (in a portable building) to a facility like Wheeler with an extensive training room, offices, meeting rooms and locker room all under one roof. Having that has been a blessing over and over again."

In fact, Feris said, "All of the facility upgrades have been memorable.

"I catch myself (during baseball games) standing outside the press box at Wilder Field and looking out over the northwest side of the campus. We've got men's and women's soccer playing, 150-plus football players going through their workouts, track running at Hilliard Field…

"It's really quite amazing looking out over everything and seeing all of the opportunities that have been given to young men and women by this university, and seeing the commitment in terms of resources to provide an opportunity for young people to play whatever the game was they loved."

It was a facility that wasn't able to be completed that Feris voiced as one of the few disappointments of his tenure as athletics director.

He said a plan was in place to build a separate strength and conditioning structure, "but things got tight and we moved the buses and vans out of the Wood Building and now that's our weight room. The coaches and athletes have made it work, and certainly it's better than a lot of schools have today, but in my mind it will always be less than we hoped for.

"That's one of the few things that didn't come off as we anticipated," he said. "It will happen one day, though. I don't know when, but it'll happen."

And Feris figures to be around to see it when it does. He and Glenda, a retired elementary school teacher who often can be seen passionately cheering for Wayland in the stands at games both at home and on the road, plan to keep supporting Wayland as they continue living in Plainview.

"I was ever so fortunate that I had a partner who was good with (his travel and time commitments to Wayland) and could thrive in that type of environment as well," Feris said. "She's one of Wayland's biggest fans."

Now, though, instead of traveling to Oklahoma City or Shawnee to watch a Pioneers soccer or Flying Queens basketball game, the Ferises will be traveling more often to keep up with their four grandchildren. In fact, that was a major reason why he decided to resign. After years of watching other people's children and grandchildren compete, the couple wants more opportunities to watch their own grandchildren participate in sports, among other things.

"Things work out the way they should," Dr. Feris said. "I look back and think God knew what he was doing, that this is where He was going to let me grow and blossom or do whatever it was I was going to do.

"It's been true all along, but I think the reality of that the last three or four years really hit home…that this is where I was supposed to be."

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