Above photo of Dr. Mickey Kerr from the UMHB Athletics Department
BELTON, Texas- Dr. Mickey Kerr remembers when the current Red Murff Field did not exist. When the football team, now 16-time ASC champions, was just a thought. When there was just one ice machine on campus.
The new Vice President for Athletics has seen not only Crusader athletics grow exponentially through his 31 years at the University, but has seen UMHB itself grow, in campus facilities, enrollment and popularity.
“It’s exciting to see how the facilities have dramatically improved, to see the exposure that athletics is receiving and how it benefits the university,” Kerr told True To The Cru. “I really feel like our program is viewed in a very prestigious manner.”
There is no doubt about that, from the students, alumni, and even the supporters of rival ASC programs. UMHB has built up such a notoriety for being top-notch in both athletics and academics that head baseball coach Mike Stawski said “The brand of UMHB carries a lot of weight in Texas,” and in turn, makes recruiting slightly easier.
Each of UMHB’s coaches talked about their teams having “a target on their backs” at some point throughout this past season, as the Cru fought for ASC titles left and right during the spring.
At the core of that success lies Kerr. First as a baseball player, then as a head coach, later as an administrator and now in the position of Vice President for Athletics, he has not only seen UMHB grow, but has been an active participant in it.
“I can still remember the very first day I stepped on this campus, as a freshman, walking across campus to my dorm,” Kerr recalled. “When I walk across campus now, I still get that same feeling.”
One of Kerr’s lasting memories from his time at UMHB is the year the Cru joined the NAIA in 1978, which included current ASC member East Texas Baptist. After two full seasons in the NAIA, UMHB remained a member of the NAIA but also joined the Big State Conference, which featured St. Mary’s, St. Edwards, Huston-Tillotson and others.
“I was still a student-athlete at that time, and it gave us the perception that our athletic program was willing to work on those types of things,” Kerr said.
“Another exciting time for me was when I became the head baseball coach one year out of college. I had been an assistant coach for one year and then had the opportunity to head coach.”
What made Kerr a unique head coach was that he was leading a program composed of several players that he had taken the field alongside just two years prior.
“That is exactly right,” Kerr said with a chuckle when asked if he coached a lot of the players he had played with a couple years earlier. “If that had happened today, I’m not sure I would’ve had that same opportunity, but it took a really special group of ballplayers to understand that relationship of, ‘We played with this guy, but now he’s our coach.’ I’m still in contact with a group of players I coached and also played with and they still refer to me as their coach.
“Some of my favorite memories are just thinking back to the players. The relationships we established, either with guys I played with or guys that I coached. I’ve talked with our own coaches now, and reminded them that they’re not just going to be these players’ coaches for four years. They’re going to be their coach for the rest of their life. I’m still in constant contact with my college baseball coach from here.”
Two years after he had taken over the reins of the program, UMHB captured the conference championship. It was a tremendous accomplishment for the program, especially with a young head coach.
“That continues to be a highlight,” Kerr remarked.
But the difference between conference champions at UMHB now, compared to conference champions then was obvious in what he said next.
“Back in those days, the players and myself had to purchase our own championship rings, there was not a budget for those,” Kerr said. “You say that today, and you wouldn’t really believe it. But it meant a lot to those players for sure. To be honest with you, they pitched in and bought half of mine!”
As he looks ahead to his future at the helm of the athletics department, Kerr sees a mix of the addition of new sports, while giving the university’s current sports a stronger foundation, whether that be in the form of funds, facilities, coaches, etc.
“I think right now we just want to make sure that these new programs (cross country, acro & tumbling) are off to a great start, which they are,” Kerr said. “We’ve got beach volleyball coming along as well. I think in the back of your mind, if you’re stagnant, and not growing, you’re going backwards. So I think we’re always going to look for advantages to see what opportunities are out there and advantageous for the university itself, as well as for potential student-athletes.”
Kerr did make it clear that while growth is at the back of his mind, his immediate focus is being put towards the sports UMHB already has competed on campus.
“We do want to think about growing, but we also want to make sure we’re paying attention and all the resources are available to make sure the programs we have right now have every opportunity to compete at that national level.”
UMHB has become well-known in the Div. III athletics landscape for the last several years, considering the football team’s national titles in 2016 and 2018 (2016 national title has since been vacated by the NCAA), the men’s basketball team’s trip to the Final Four in 2013 and undefeated ASC record this past year, as well as success in several other sports.
Kerr said that he feels there has been both a gradual rise to national notoriety and a few key turning points on UMHB’s road to the top tier of Div. III athletics.
“I know there were some times when golf has competed nationally and won national championships for quite a while,” Kerr said. “They have a history of winning conference championships as well. That, to me, really got things started. Of course, when we implemented the football program, that really changed the culture of the athletics department. To me, it really changed the culture of the university as well. It enabled not just student-athletes, but students as well, to have that experience of being able to go to college football games and have that gameday experience. And get students and their families excited about what’s over here. For the longest time, Mary Hardin-Baylor was almost a secret.
“I can’t remember the year, it was in the early 2000s, and I was at home, watching something on CBS. And there was a ticker at the bottom and it showed “UMHB” and a score. It might have been a quarterfinal game. I just about fell out of my chair. I said, ‘Are you kidding? UMHB, on national TV?’ That was just so exciting to see that.”
In conversation, Kerr brought up a couple of areas that have brought UMHB more attention from across the state of Texas, both in the recruitment of student-athletes, and the overall increase in student enrollment.
“There’s been a long steady progress,” Kerr said. “Just things like taking care of the grounds. To me, the University is absolutely beautiful. The campus is beautiful, the grounds are pristine, and there’s a lot of attention to detail, because, whether it’s a student-athlete or student in general, their first impression of the campus is the way it looks.
The addition of facilities has also been critical in the building of one of the country’s most competitive Div. III athletics programs. Crusader Stadium, built in 2013, currently ranks as the fourth largest Div. III stadium in the nation, seating a crowd of up to 7,671. The current Red Murff Field and the current Dee Dillon Field, home of baseball and softball, were each constructed prior to the 2005 season. The Mayborn Campus Center is a far cry from where the basketball and volleyball teams began in their first several years of existence. And having a soccer-specific complex with a two-year old fieldhouse adds to the incredible facilities found on campus.
“Adding facilities as we go along is a great sign of progress,” Kerr said. “One that I foresee continuing to go.”