CLE ELUM, Wash. — “Any requests?” the parking lot DJ asked Thursday as people filed into the Suncadia Resort Lodge. “Anything? Just step up and ask.”
Seconds later, participants in the 11th annual Jon Kitna Wildcat Golf Classic were serenaded with AC/DC’s rock classic “You Shook Me All Night Long.”
A ballad befitting the occasion? Why not?
But just as this increasingly popular Central Washington University event is not about music, neither is it about golf. Not really.
As men’s basketball coach Greg Sparling candidly observed, after learning that he’d play in the same foursome with CWU president James Gaudino, “I told Jim that if he actually wants to win, he might also want to make a transaction ... maybe put me on waivers or try to trade me for a late-round draft choice.”
Coach Sparling’s game plan for this sunny, breezy outing? “Swing as hard as I can,” he said, “and hope I connect.”
So that — trying to connect — is part of the Kitna Classic plan. But only part of it.
“The great thing about this,” football coach Blaine Bennett said, “is it gives all these guys, some of whom might have gone to school and played at Central 40 years ago and some who might have been here last year, a chance to re-connect.”
And re-connect and re-connect again. Think of it as a family reunion without the squabbling relatives.
“Remember this guy?” one Wildcat asked, gesturing from one to another. “Oh hell yes,” came the response. “I’ve been trying to forget that sonofa(blank) for 25 years!”
Laughs, hugs and high fives all around.
For the new Wildcat on the block, athletic director Dennis Francois, the event was both an opportunity and a confirmation. It gave him the chance to meet many of the CWU personalities he’d heard of or read about, and also provided a first-hand look at the tightly-woven fabric of Wildcat Nation.
“It’s really part of what I’ve been trying to do during my three-plus weeks on the job,” he said. “I’ve tried to meet as many of our on-campus people as possible, and also get out in the community and meet our supporters and boosters. I want to have open discussions with people like those I’ve already contacted and others, including some who are here today, to determine how we can best work toward a common goal.”
Which of course would include increased fundraising for scholarships and facilities. Among Francois’ top priorities is a makeover of Tomlinson Stadium, which would involve relocating the track and field facilities, installing artificial turf for the football field, seating on both sides of the field, and lights.
It won’t happen overnight, of course, because such ambitious projects at NCAA Division II schools take time. They also require a passion for the product, and in that regard Central is already well-heeled.
Beau Baldwin, for example, is presently running one of the elite Football Championship Subdivision programs in America. His Eastern Washington Eagles won the FCS national championship in 2010, reached the playoff semifinals last year and have compiled a 30-10 record (.750) in the highly-competitive Big Sky Conference during Baldwin’s five years as head coach.
Before that, however, Baldwin was a head coach, assistant coach and player at Central. He was a backup quarterback to Kitna, in fact.
“I wouldn’t miss this,” he said Thursday while scanning the crowd for playing partner and EWU quarterbacks coach Zak Hill, yet another ex-Wildcat QB. “It’s not an option.”
As for Kitna, the 15-year NFL veteran who last fall served as head football coach at Tacoma’s Lincoln High School, his alma mater, he was unable to attend.
But that’s OK, too. Because the Kitna Classic isn’t really about golf and it’s not even about Kitna, necessarily. It’s about AC/DC, about swinging as hard as you can, about savoring the past and anticipating the future.
It’s also about using the term “sonofa(blank)” as a term of endearment.
Roger Underwood’s Under The Radar blog can be found at yakimaherald.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at 509-577-7694.