If there is ever a Hollywood film about Hank Gathers’ life and legacy, it would open on the crowd of people standing right next to Sullivan Field as they count down from four and a giant white curtain drops to the ground. The scene, cinemative and inspiring, would prove to spectators just how incredible the LMU legend was.
In person, to witness such a moment was astounding. The curtain drop was the closing moment of the ceremony to unveil a statue of Gathers on Saturday, Feb. 29. The statue was made in recognition of the 30th anniversary of his tragic death, after which his LMU team made a magical run in the NCAA Tournament. The ceremony lasted about 30 minutes.
Just from looking at who was in attendance, it was clear that this was a monumental occasion. The space was packed, with crowds extending several rows deep. Everyone from Hank’s teammates, to other former LMU players, to the highest-ranking faculty of the University, both within and outside of the Athletics department, was in attendance. Television cameras and photographers lined the area directly in front of the statue.
The ceremony featured speeches from Athletic Director Craig Pintens, President Timothy Law Snyder, Ph.D. and Gathers’ coach while playing at LMU, Paul Westhead, all of whom touched on different aspects of Gathers’ life, career and legacy. Pintens spoke directly about the people who had made the day possible. Snyder discussed his own experience as a basketball fan of idolizing Gathers and the fast-paced offense that defined the Lions teams that Gathers played for. Westhead brought laughter and poignancy by telling humorous anecdotes about Gathers, quoting Shakespeare and remembering him as a great athlete and a better person.
Before long, it was time for the moment everyone had been waiting for. The countdown completed, the cover fell and the statue was revealed: Hank Gathers, immortalized in his No. 44 jersey, ball in his right hand, getting ready to score yet another basket. The applause from the crowd expressed awe at the finished product.
More than anything else, the ceremony left an impression of who Gathers was and what defined him. I have long heard about who he was and the story of him and his team. His legacy has been well-documented in the national media, and on the LMU campus, memorials abound. Gersten Pavilion is “Hank’s House.” He is the first name on the sculpture behind the chapel honoring students who died while attending LMU. The presence of the number 44 is hard to miss in the University’s athletics. There are still a number of people working on campus who knew him and can speak about him and his character.
But on Saturday, for the first time, I was able to begin to understand the impact he had. Seeing the number of people who attended the tribute made me comprehend just how many lives he touched. Listening to Pintens, Snyder and Westhead speak allowed me to learn more about who Gathers was — a brilliant basketball player who worked harder than anybody on the court and lived every second of his life to the fullest. Shortly after that curtain came down and the full statue was revealed, a hush fell over the crowd and the only audible sound was the crying of his mother, Lucille. At that instant, I was able to feel how, even 30 years later, all those vivid and beloved memories of Hank Gathers still resonate with not only his family but the entire LMU community.
This new statue adds a visual component to his legacy, and it assures that his spirit of hard work and larger-than-life personality is captured forever.
This is the opinion of Alex Hutton, a junior journalism major from Oakland, California. Tweet comments @AlexHutton35 or email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.