FELKER SANDWICHED BY TOBECK, THOMPSON
MIKE PRICE and some of his former players will be holding court Monday in Spokane, playing highlights from and offering insights about the Cougars’ victory over Washington in the unforgettable 1997 season. The event is part of WSU’s “Spokane Week” that leads up to the Crimson & Gray Game. But it’s also part of one man’s ongoing quest to salute the past in Cougar athletics.
Justin Felker grew up in Nebraska, cheering on the Cornhuskers and helping tear down the goalposts a couple of times, but a family move to Chehalis when he was a teenager -- followed by a week in a place called Pullman for summer basketball camp -- put him on a path he’s never left.
Felker graduated from WSU in 2000 and then went to work for his alma mater as a fundraiser. Today, he’s the regional director in Spokane for the Cougar Athletic Fund.
In that role he’s done stellar work raising money, but also in reconnecting former Cougar ballplayers with their school.
That’s why Price and several of the standouts from the 1997 team will be at Northern Quest Casino this Monday evening. They’re the centerpiece of the second “Great Games in Cougar History" event put on by WSU Athletics. The first such gathering, a year ago this month, reunited Cougar fans with Bill Doba and the 2003 Cougars.
Though he is quick to divert praise to others at WSU who have helped pull things together, the idea behind this now-annual gathering was Felker’s.
“I’ve always been fascinated by history, so when I first joined the Athletic Department, I read Dick Fry’s fascinating book, “The Crimson and the Gray,” and grabbed every old game-day program I could find. I wanted to make sure I had an understanding of who created the memories, laid the foundations and helped build the incredible Cougar spirit,” Felker says.
His office in Spokane speaks to his appreciation for the past. The walls are adorned with the framed jerseys and helmets of great Cougar athletes who grew up in the Lilac City, such as Jason Hanson, Mark Rypien, Steve Gleason, Cory Withrow, Erik Coleman, Gail Cogdill and Dan Lynch. (SEE PHOTO BELOW).
“I usually build an extra few minutes into the schedule when I know someone is coming by the office for the first time,” Felker says. “They walk in and think they’ve stepped into a mini hall of fame.”
THE MOST REWARDING “history project” Felker struck upon is nearly complete after three years of work: To have every living Cougar depicted or listed on the 1994 commemorative Bobo Brayton retirement lithograph sign each of the remaining 300 copies. That’s 59 star Cougar ballplayers, spanning parts of four decades, that he needed to track down.
“We had contact information for 18 of them when we started, and now we’re at 55. The best part about having these guys autograph the lithos is hearing their stories. Depending on how fast they can sign the entire stack, we’re looking at between 45 minutes and two hours. In that time I had the privilege of hearing a lot of memorable stories,” Felker says.
Once he locates former pitcher Eric Wilkins, Felker will launch an on-line auction at wsucougars.com for the lithos, with the aim of raising $200,000 for baseball capital improvement projects.
TALKING COUGS: RON CEY & FELKER.
One of the players pictured on the lithograph is Ron Cey, the former Dodgers All-Star and 1981 World Series MVP.
“Other than occasional phone calls with Bobo, Ron really hadn’t been involved with WSU since he left, but through this project those crimson roots have been reawakened,” Felker noted. “Ron was up for the alumni dinner Donnie Marbut held in 2010. And this really tells you how deep that Cougar pride is. When the Cougars beat Kansas State in the first game of their NCAA tournament series a couple years ago, I received a text from Ron about one minute after the final out. It said ‘How about them Cougs?’
“Ron’s renewed enthusiasm, even after so many years of not being connected to the university, illustrated to me how deeply the affection for WSU runs,” Felker said.
“As a fundraiser, it’s wonderful to get our former student-athletes and coaches involved in various events because athletics, as the old saying goes, is the front porch of the university. When those people, who are so familiar to all of us because of their efforts on the fields and courts, get involved it helps get other alums involved. That’s self-reinforcing. That helps build a stronger athletic program.”
A PORTION OF THE COLLECTION OF JERSEYS AND HELMETS OF SPOKANE COUGS IN FELKER’S OFFICE.