by Dan Stroud
It takes quite a bit to lure Bill Ross back to Kansas City in the dead of winter. Inducting the Kangaroo coaching pioneer into the second UMKC Athletics Hall of Fame evidently did the trick.
"I want to say it's quite an honor and a real privilege to be recognized by a program that I have so long loved and revered," said Ross. "It's a real thrill."
Ross and his wife, Pat, now spend their winters (from December to the middle of March) at their condo on the Hawaiian Islands, just off Waikiki beach. But other than his kids and grandkids that still live in the area, one passion brings him back to the Heartland every spring, golf.
"I'm really considered a beach bum out here [on the islands]," said Ross. "I really like spending time in the ocean. I get out with some of my other retired buddies and we do little more than sit around the beach and tell lies on each other."
But UMKC's original ball coach said when mid-March rolls around he has little choice but to get back to Kansas City and hit the links with his golfing pals, many of whom were students at one time or another.
"It's a great retired life [in Hawaii], but I can't stay away from home much more than those four months a year," Ross said. "There's just too much golf to be played."
More than 40 years ago he was lured to the UMKC campus to become the school's first basketball coach. He was hired by Ken Webster, the Athletics Director at the time.
It would be the first team sport in the newly formed athletics program. UMKC had become a part of the Missouri System just a handful of years earlier.
"It was the students who wanted a ball team," Ross recalled. "They voted on it and in 1968 and we started putting it together."
Ross had spent several years coaching in the Westport and Paseo school districts before agreeing to become a member of the UMKC staff. But before agreeing to take on the challenge, he and Webster talked about how to build up the program the right way.
"I told them I wanted to start out with a club team on campus and then build from there," Ross said. "It worked pretty well; we put together a series of games against junior varsity squads and then I went out recruiting to start the actual building process."
But that wasn't all Ross did for the fledgling program. He started from ground zero as the first Sports Information Director, and also taught physical education as an assistant professor.
After coaching for four years from 1969 until the end of the 1972-73 season, the Kangaroos' first round ball coach turned the reins over to his assistant Darrell Corwin. Ross had other opportunities to pursue. But UMKC would continue to benefit from his considerable work ethic.
"I had refereed at the high school and collegiate levels, along with working the Chiefs' sidelines and had the opportunity officiate in the National Football League (NFL)," Ross explained. "But I kept on teaching ... and picked up the men's golf team as my next coaching assignment."
Coach it he did, as Ross would serve as the head coach for the golf program for 34 years before retiring in 2006. That program was then left in the able hands of his former player and assistant J.W. VanDenBorn, who now holds the title of UMKC Director of Golf and men's head coach.
Despite giving up men's basketball, however, Ross continued to heap even more on his ever full plate. In 1973, the coach stepped into the Assistant Athletics Director's shoes under Webster.
Then in the 1980-81 season, UMKC Athletics' most versatile Kangaroo began building yet another basketball squad, this time for the women. When it was up and running, again, he passed the position on to his assistant Nancy Norman.
But with all of his experiences, Ross holds the golf program closest to his heart.
"It was more a labor of love than anything," Ross said. "I'd say because of the longevity I held onto in that sport, it has to rank at the top for me."
When asked if there was anything he wished he could have done differently over his storied career, the career Kangaroo mentor of what was once estimated to be more than 24,000 students and athletes, including high school and college, didn't waver.
"I think if I could do one thing over, I'd spend even more time around the state of Missouri building up the UMKC Athletics program," Ross lamented. "I know I've offered a lot of opinions over the years, and I won't shy away from any of them, but there was still more to do. But it was time [when he retired] for someone else to take the torch down the path."
The Hawaiian transplant couldn't say enough about the work that UMKC Director of Athletics Tim Hall and his staff have been doing in the past few years though. He feels that such leadership has been sorely needed for some time.
"They still need to build up more support from the city and the state, but it's headed in a positive direction," Ross affirmed. "But I'd be remiss if I didn't thank the UMKC boosters that helped us get started more than 40 years ago."
But most of all, through everything he has accomplished personally and professionally, in the end the most prolific coach in UMKC history said he was thankful for the opportunity to coach and to teach all that he did. "It really was a great time ... one that would be hard to top," he said. "You know I'm not a long-winded guy when it comes to these things, but if I started thanking people individually ... it would go on for quite a while."
The UMKC Athletics Hall of Fame induction ceremony will take place on Jan. 22 at the Downtown Marriott in Kansas City.
(This is the fifth of a seven-part series featuring the 2009 UMKC Athletics Hall of Fame class.)Hall of Fame FeaturesDee Dee Johnson (Fortman) - Women's Track & FieldMichael Jackson - Men's BasketballJulie (Nill) Wilson - Women's BasketballAmanda Rice - Softball