A scrapbook, the one you’re reading about today, bears the signatures of superstars.
But the real value isn’t in the autograph market. The real value is it represents a cherished quarter-century of Tulsa history.
For 25 years, the Rotary Club of Tulsa was responsible for presenting the Henry P. Iba Citizen Athlete Awards, held annually to honor athletes who excelled in their sport and showed, by their actions, a desire to help others.
It was a grand event that brought some of the biggest names in sports to Tulsa. At the beginning of 2019, the Rotary Club of Tulsa announced that the organization was no longer going to stage the Iba Awards. Consensus: It was a stellar event that shined a spotlight on many people who had accomplished noble deeds. But it was time to turn the page and focus on other initiatives that were broader in scope than just sports.
Might the Iba Awards resurface with a different overseer? Chatter about that topic started immediately after “the end” was announced. But at least for now, let’s wrap up the Rotary Club era of the Iba Awards.
A Jan. 9 Rotary Club of Tulsa meeting turned into a heartfelt tribute to the Iba Awards and its impact. Bob Lengacher, from whose mind the Iba Awards sprang, received a standing ovation at the end of the program. So did former Oklahoma State basketball coach Eddie Sutton, who played for Iba at OSU and was on board with the Iba Awards venture since the beginning. Sutton’s network of contacts made it easier for the Iba Awards to recruit “talent” for awards show rosters. For instance, the Iba Awards was in need of a keynote speaker in its first year. Sutton secured Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski by making one phone call.
Before and after the meeting, Rotarians and guests milled about in a hallway outside the meeting room and checked out a display full of Iba Awards eye candy, including programs, photographs and memorabilia that was amassed over the event’s 25-year run.
On the display table was the scrapbook referenced in this story, with a page opened to show this handwritten message: “Thank you for the wonderful hospitality. This is a tremendous honor for me to receive the Henry Iba Award. I appreciate it very much. Peyton Manning.”
Margaret Butler, who spearheaded public relations for the Iba Awards, talked about how appreciative she was that the one-of-a-kind scrapbook was part of the launch when the Iba Awards debuted in 1994. Many Iba Awards recipients, speakers and emcees autographed the book over the years and scribbled messages about their involvement.
A few samples:
• Swin Cash, former WNBA player: “Thank you for this amazing honor. It’s very humbling to receive an honor like this. Service to children isn’t work for me. It’s more of a joy! It’s in my DNA and I have to give credit to my parents and God. Continue your wonderful work and be the change our country needs! Love and peace.”
• Spencer Tillman, former NFL player: “Words can’t express how I feel to be welcomed back in this way. This event is the perfection of everything I attempt to stand for. From start to finish, this is a class event. All of you should feel proud for putting on such a class gathering. In my opinion, the Henry P. Iba Citizen Athlete Award is among the nation’s premier award events. Keep up the excellent work.”
• Lauren Chamberlain, softball player: “Thank you for all that you do. It does not go unnoticed. Of all the awards I’ve received for physical ability, none are as special as the one that rewards spirit and heart.”
• Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints quarterback: “Thank you to the Rotary Club of Tulsa and the Iba family for this prestigious award. It is a tremendous honor to be there and I commit myself to continuing the mission of the Drew Brees Foundation as well as supporting children’s causes nationwide. Thanks again for a wonderful evening.”
• Betsy King, professional golfer: “Thank you for the idea of the Iba Awards — honoring those who are making a difference in the world! Your club is setting the example. Thank you! I feel grateful to be a part of such a great event.”
• Will Shields, former NFL player: “To the best of the best. I have been to many (awards events) and this one stands all by itself.”
• Bill Self, University of Kansas basketball coach: “Being here is a great thrill for me. Anything with Mr. Iba’s name attached to it is very meaningful.”
• Doug Gottlieb, sports media personality and former OSU player: “I am humbled and honored to be associated with the Iba Awards. Mr. Iba was a giant of coaching and a man whose iconic footprint is still visible in sports. This award is what athletics is supposed to be about and I thank you for putting on such a great event.”
The awards were named in honor of Iba, a former Oklahoma State and U.S. Olympic basketball coach who died the year before the Iba Awards were born. Coaches from around the country traveled to Stillwater for Iba’s memorial service. A two-time national championship coach and a two-time coach of Olympic gold medal teams, he was a giant of his profession.
“A lot of young people didn’t know Mr. Iba, but he was a great man,” Sutton said at the inaugural Iba Awards. “I guess he’s the greatest man I have ever known. We need role models. I think that’s what this award is all about.”
Lengacher convinced fellow Rotarians that a citizen athlete award was needed. He chaired the first Iba Awards committee and said this at the first event: “We began to be concerned about the fact that, other than the scores of the games, much of the publicity coming out of the sports world was about athletes not doing the kind of things we would like our children to emulate. It seemed to us it would be desirable if we could start an award that would go beyond recognizing the God-given talent somebody has and also recognize what they do to make this a better world.”
Former Super Bowl MVP Mark Rypien and Olympic gymnast Shannon Miller were the first Iba Awards recipients. Krzyzewski and emcee Curt Gowdy added to the star power. And the Iba Awards was off and running with many great sports figures following their lead.
Asked about Iba Awards moments she will never forget, Butler mentioned legendary basketball coach Bob Knight, wearing a red sweater and praising Mr. Iba. (It was a black-tie event, but keynote speaker Steve Rushin gave Butler’s husband, Ron, a hard time for not making the dress code clear. Rushin wrote this in the Iba Awards scrapbook: “You have me writing on my day off? Thanks for having me at this great event. I’ll try not to screw it up. Steve Rushin (in a green suit).”
Wearing the wrong color suit is something a person might beat themselves up over, but, truthfully, no one really keeps score about such things. The important thing is you were there, period. Rushin’s wife, Rebecca Lobo, was there three times — as a wife, as a presenter and as a recipient. Lobo wrote that she was glad she could achieve the triple crown.
Butler recalled former UCLA coach John Wooden staying after the Iba Awards to sign all requested autographs. She has fond memories of keynote addresses by Krzyzeweski and Sherri Coale. She’ll never forget a picture of her late husband (not a tall man) standing next to recipient Dikembe Mutombo, a 7-foot-2 basketball player.
Mutombo’s name also came up when Rotarian Jeff Hassell was delivering an address about the Iba Awards at the Jan. 9 meeting. Hassell told where-are-they-now stories about Iba recipients. Gymnast Amy Chow became a pediatrician. Mutombo built a hospital in his native Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Rotarian Chuck Wilson shared previously untold tales about recipients’ visits to Tulsa. He said Nancy Kerrigan visited the Little Lighthouse while in Tulsa and, because of comments the figure skater made at the Iba Awards, someone in the audience wrote a “significant check” to the Little Lighthouse. Wilson said tennis player Andrea Jaeger arrived early and unannounced, then loaded up a rental car with toys to take to children at a local hospital. Basketball player Karl Malone met with a young man at a hospital and, without fanfare, paid for the young man to go to a Utah Jazz game in Salt Lake City. Malone gave his game shoes to the young man.
“It is amazing what has been accomplished and the lives that have been touched by this special program,” Wilson said, talking about the Iba Awards.
The scrapbook included a comment from Larry Fitzgerald, a former recipient who is one of the most prolific receivers in NFL history.
Said Fitzgerald, “Thank you for an extraordinary evening and weekend. The hospitality was first-rate and I will never forget.”
Neither will those who were fortunate enough to witness 25 years of the Rotary Club of Tulsa honoring sports figures who were, first and foremost, people.