Grizzly Athletics Formation
During an SMSU-West Plains Development Board meeting, a discussion took place about ways of moving the University forward. One very well known citizen, Mr. Bob Neathery, spoke up without hesitation and said, "I think we ought to have a basketball team." [Mr. Neathery, widely known as "Papa Bob," passed away in the summer of 2003. He will forever be known as the "Father of Grizzly Athletics."]
Later, in 1993, the University began offering varsity athletics programs in women's volleyball and men's basketball. Both sports are affiliated with the National Junior College Athletic Association at the Division One level. The squads compete in Region 16 of the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) and play full schedules with teams from throughout the mid-western United States. The Grizzly Booster Club, also formed in 1993, provides community encouragement and support, including substantial funding for educational scholarships and other vital program needs. Without the support of the Grizzly Booster Club, Grizzly Athletics would not be possible.
Grizzly sporting events are held in the West Plains Civic Center. The 2,900 seat arena provides an ideal setting to showcase the University and its athletics programs. Grizzly athletics has elevated the spirit of the entire campus and affords the public within the seven-county service area opportunities to interact with their University. Attendance at athletic events is usually quite good and, on occasions, fans must be turned away for lack of sufficient seating. The continued increase in student enrollment may be attributed, in part, to the highly successful Grizzly athletics program.
The University (now Missouri State University-West Plains) places considerable emphasis on the scholastic success of its student-athletes. The coaches serve as academic advisors and teach courses as well. They continually monitor the academic progress of each student-athlete. Tutoring and other academic support resources, including the recently established "Promoting Academic Success With Student Athletes (PAWS) program, are available as necessary.
Both Grizzly teams have had impressive winning records every year. Both teams have had individual team members achieve All-Region and All-American honors. Both teams appear regularly in the NJCAA Division One poll of the top twenty teams in the nation. One of the finest accomplishments in the history of the athletics program came in 1998 when DeAun Gray (Grizzly Volleyball) was named NJCAA Academic All-American, and Chuck Campbell (Grizzly Basketball) was named NJCAA Distinguished Academic All-American. These feats were later repeated when Josh Daniel (Grizzly Basketball) was named NJCAA Distinguished Academic All-American in 2001 and Sarah Billingsley (Grizzly Volleyball) was named Distinguished Academic All-American in 2002. (Years later, it was discovered that Keri Elrod (Grizzly Volleyball) achieved NJCAA Distinguished Academic All-American status during 1996-1997, and that award was presented retroactively in 2005.) Since then, Grizzly teams and individual student-athletes have continued the tradition of excellence in the classroom and have earned NJCAA recognition for their accomplishments. The Grizzly Volleyball team has earned the NJCAA All-Academic Team Award many times, a difficult accomplishment requiring a team grade point average of 3.0 or higher.
Over the years, the Grizzly Volleyball team has won 12 NJCAA Region 16 post-season tournament titles and advanced to the National Division One Volleyball Tournament on 12 occasions. There, they advanced to the championship match on three occasions. Impressively, Missouri State-West Plains hosted the NJCCA National Volleyball tournament from 2000-2006 and again from 2010-2012.
During the 2010-2011 season, the Grizzly Basketball team reached the pinnacle of NJCAA competitive success. The team's record during the regular season was 28-2, the best in Grizzly history. With postseason play included, the Grizzlies were undefeated in NJCAA Region 16 competition with a record of 10-0. Additionally, the Grizzlies held the NJCAA Poll #1 ranking for five consecutive weeks and finished #1 unanimously in the final two polls. Complete details of that historic season may be viewed at Grizzly Program Highlights.