In the story Six Degrees of Separation we learn that everything is related. What we know about this day in this year in this stadium is that there are a bunch of different folks being recognized for a lot of different reasons and they are linked by one common thing, roots.
Nobody knows more about roots than Brook Whitaker. Every day of his life, Whitaker worries about the football field in Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, he is one of the many unsung heroes in the Texas Athletics Department. Five years ago, the guy who is in charge of the turf on Joe Jamail Field met Dale Gallagher, a special lady who was one of the best sports information directors in the country. She was an assistant athletics director at Kent State in Ohio when she fell in love with Brook and moved to Texas. In January, they will have their first child.
Annette Smith-Knight was one of the greatest women's basketball players in college history and she is as good a person as she was a player. She has worked tirelessly for Jody Conradt and today is being honored, along with 11 others, with induction into the Men's and Women's Halls of Honor. Last week, she and her husband Curtis celebrated the birth of their second child.
Today, all Longhorns letterwinners are gathering for the annual T Association reunion.
The day is also special because it will include recognition of the 2002 Longhorns National Champion baseball team. Head coach Augie Garrido understands roots perhaps better than anybody. He watched his mother cling to her Texas roots long after the family had to move to California to find work, and a couple of years ago, he buried his dad with a Texas baseball cap and ball alongside him. Last spring, he harvested the results of a planting that created one of the truly unique teams in Texas school history, a team that gave the school its first College World Series title in nearly 20 years.
Let us not forget the Longhorns football team, which is in the process of growing the most successful era in recent school history.
The common tie gives a strong message. Roots provide the mechanism by which a plant can turn water and nutrients into nourishment, so that it will grow. Webster tells us that in his most clinical description, but it also tells us something else about roots and that is the real message of this day. When the Longhorns baseball team went to Washington to meet the President and be honored on Champions Day this fall, they had a wonderful opportunity to spend a couple of days in the nation's capital. They visited the White House and toured the monuments.
Ray Dulak was a baseball player at Texas in the 1960s. He was a power hitter and would remind you a lot of the Houston Astros All-Star center fielder Lance Berkman. He had the gift of "pop." When the ball left his bat, it went a long way. Just as it did the day he hit a home run to beat the Texas A&M Aggies at Clark Field.
When Texas won the National Championship last June, a lot of old timers took the time to thank Garrido and his young players for bringing joy back to Texas baseball and the guys have had a chance to meet a lot of them. Kirk Dressendorfer, who is joining Smith-Knight and the others in the Hall of Fame inductions, was one of them. Dressendorfer was there in Omaha, cheering the kids on. In the very space, where on a Saturday in 1989, he and his teammates finished as runner-up in a heart-breaking loss to Wichita State, Dressendorfer came to Rosenblatt Stadium to be there for the 2002 boys of summer.
The Longhorns had a chance to see a lot of important people in Washington and they even crossed paths with Dulak, though they didn't know it. He wasn't there with Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison at the Capitol to greet them or in the corridors of the White House with President George W. Bush. He wasn't standing by the Reflecting Pool or at the Washington Monument or next to the statues of Abraham Lincoln or Thomas Jefferson.
He was there, a simple name inscribed on The Wall, the memorial to those who lost their lives in the Vietnam War.
That is the final piece of our recognition today. Seventy-eight years ago, this ground was dedicated as Texas Memorial Stadium. It was in memory of the Texans killed in "The Great War," as World War I was known. The first game in the stadium was actually played against Baylor.
Since that day, the stadium has undergone many changes and rededications. It stands today as a monument to the veterans of all of the wars that have involved men and women who have fought for The United States of America. On Veterans Day each year, we pause to pay tribute to them. UT benefactor Frank Denius, who has done so much for The University in the years since he hit the beach at D-Day and went on to become one of the most decorated soldiers in World War II, heads the Veterans Committee, which annually makes sure we don't forget those who fought so that kids can play.
Those men and women being recognized by the Hall of Honor committee this weekend represent a wide variety of sports and eras and they also have grown up as part of the field of glory in athletics at Texas. It is the 45th induction for the Men's Hall of Honor and it has been almost that long since Ralph Alspaugh was a great sprinter on a team that set a world record in 1959. Pete Lammons was a very famous football player who finished his career as a member of the New York Jets, playing on a National Champion college team at Texas and a Super Bowl Championship team in New York. Bobby Moses was the Outstanding Defensive Player in UT's 1961 Cotton Bowl victory and has continued to support the program for the last 30 years. The late law professor, Charles Alan Wright, was a tower of strength to the Longhorns and college athletics on a regional and national level. Eric Metcalf was one of the most exciting football players ever in the Southwest and Travis Mays led the Longhorns to some of the greatest moments in UT basketball history.
On the women's side, the young program recognizes its third induction class with Smith-Knight, tennis coach Jeff Moore, outstanding golfer Michiko Hattori, basketball star Andrea Lloyd-Curry and volleyball great Sally Schlobohm.
A year ago, the Longhorns football field was a mess. Last summer, they scraped the old field off, and Whitaker and his crew sprigged the barren dirt with grass from Poteet, Texas. When Texas played Iowa State two weeks ago after a siege of rain, the playing surface was incredible. Not one player slipped because of poor footing. The reason was that Whitaker grew the field from its roots.
That is the common thread this day.
Because Mr. Webster, in his dictionary for the ages, tells us that a root is "the essential core, the heart."
He also tells us one other thing that is important as we honor those who have played and are playing and those who have fought and are fighting:
He says the root is also the "anchor" of the plant, the life-giving device that not only gives it strength but keeps it standing throughout the years, regardless of the challenges. In the good times and in the tough times, it is the roots that survive. They are the keepers of the past and the power on which the future is grown.