by John Ring

The phone rang right in the middle of one of those projects on the house during which you hate to get interrupted.

The phone rang; I accidentally cut myself with a knife; I cursed and answered the phone with blood and sweat both dripping on the floor.

''Hi John,'' said the friendly voice on the other end of the line, obviously oblivious to the pain I was enduring.

It was Bill Spilman, the Sports Information Director at Knox College. He invited me to a tribute for retiring Knox College Athletic Director Harley Knosher on June 9th.

As the day approached, my wife kept reminding me about it. You need to go, she would say. You'll regret not going.

And so it was that I was one of several hundred people who came out to Knox in tribute to Harley Knosher. Name tags were at the door -- even Harley had one on.

He patiently talked to everybody at a gathering at the Fine Arts Center before the ceremony. He shook more hands on that day than George Ryan did when the Illinois Governor visited Knox a few weeks earlier.

But Ryan, when he isn't wiping pie off his face, is running the state -- which he has for almost two years. Harley Knosher is retiring after 40 years of service to the college -- the last 32 as Athletic Director.

He's just the second of three Athletic Directors to ever serve Knox in that capacity. His successor, Dan Calandro, took over officially on Monday.

Harley Knosher's stay at Knox College outlasted that of every current U.S. Senator, with the exception of South Carolina's Strom Thurmond. His tenure was longer than that of any current sitting justice on the United States Supreme Court.

But it's not just longevity which is why Knox honored Knosher. It's not the wins, the recruiting, the dedication. It's not even the honesty, the integrity or the charm that Harley Knosher brought to Knox.

It was more than that.

15 different speakers used a total of 260 minutes at Memorial Gym last Friday night to put into their own words what Harley Knosher meant to each of them and Knox College. The list included former players, politicians, administrators, current rivals and the chairman of the Board of Trustees.

President Richard Millman said it best: ''Harley Knosher isn't just the heart of Knox College. He's the heart and soul of Knox College.''

By the time Knosher approached the microphone at 10:20pm last Friday night, a crowd of several hundred people at Memorial Gym may have been hot and tired but they were ready.

Knosher's speech elicited numerous cheers, plenty of tears and gave a special feel for what Knox College is all about. It was vintage Harley Knosher. Highlights of it could have been on ESPN's Sports Center -- but naturally, it wasn't.

It ain't D-1, baby!

So what else did Harley Knosher bring to Knox College and Galesburg? Aside from the years of service, the loyalty or the dedication?

He made you feel special. You didn't have to be a 6'6'' jump-out-of-the-gym slam-dunking superstar to impress him. You didn't have to run a 4.6 time in the 40-yard dash.

Whenever I would see him in his office or around campus, his first words weren't directed at me. Instead, he spoke to my 9-year old daughter -- who gets dragged around by her Dad a lot doing interviews.

He talked to her. He gave her candy. He made her feel special. And she sure isn't a 6' budding superstar with a nice, soft left-handed jump shot (yet). But Harley Knosher made her feel that way. He made college students who weren't jocks feel that way. He made former players he hadn't seen in years feel that way.

I won't use this column to take a cheap shot at embattled Indiana Coach Bobby Knight. He's a genius when it comes to basketball but has had some rough times lately with his conduct, both on and off the court.

But I'll just say this.

Division I basketball is glamorous. It's big-time. It's television, exposure, attention, a lot of benefits and a lot of connections.

But if I were the parent of a son or daughter who wanted to combine athletics with a quality education, Knox would certainly be a consideration because of the Harley Knosher Factor.

You knew, with absolute certainty, that your kid could talk to him. You knew that Harley Knosher would look out for her. She wouldn't be just another statistic, a nameless face in a sea of students on their way to a class with over two hundred kids in it.

Does that sound naive? Is that too sentimental?

Sorry. It's just the truth.

Would you rather have your child under the guidance of Bobby Knight or Harley Knosher?

I know what my answer would be.

As Friday night progressed, I thought back to Bill Spilman's phone call. One of the things he said to me was that ''the Knox College family would like you to attend Coach Knosher's tribute.''

Family. Integrity. Values. Morals. Those all describe Harley Knosher.

This isn't about a guy running for political office. He's lived it.

There are a lot of Harley Knoshers out there -- in all divisions of colleges and at high schools. Good people who affect the lives of our kids in positive ways that cannot possibly be measured.

What's sad is this: we just lost our Harley Knosher.

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online June 13, 2000

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