Coach Don Meyer celebrated for everlasting impact at memorial
To those only familiar with Don Meyer’s on-the-court accomplishments, the coaching titan will be remembered for his striking column of wins and his steadfast love of the game.
But, to the members of the Lipscomb community and others who gathered to celebrate the coach’s life Sunday in Allen Arena, Meyer will be remembered for far, far more than his legacy of hoops.
“[Meyer] used basketball as such a great ministry,” said Richard Taylor, a former Bison and member of the 1986 NAIA National Championship squad.
“He changed the lives of thousands and thousands of people, and his life was such a great example for all of us.”
Meyer died May 18 after a lengthy battle with cancer. To honor his legacy of excellence, Lipscomb hosted the Don Meyer Memorial Celebration Service, one of two major public services that celebrated the coach and his life.
The first one was May 24 at the campus of Northern State University in Aberdeen, South Dakota.
During Sunday’s service at Lipscomb, G. David England led two songs, ”To God Be the Glory,” and “The Lord Bless You and Keep You.”
Lady Bisons basketball head coach Greg Brown, also one of Meyer’s student assistant coaches, read Meyer’s obituary and led a prayer. A video was shown that featured an interview with Meyer .
Tom Kelsey, a former player of Meyer’s from 1982 to 1986 and the director of basketball operations at Louisiana State University (LSU), read a letter from the coach’s family.
Martha Ann Hawkins also sang two songs, “My God and I” and “Peace, Perfect, Peace,” at the opening and close of the service, respectively. She was accompanied by Phil Sanders on piano.
“This is such a bittersweet day,” Taylor said. “No doubt, it’s Coach’s greatest victory, but at the same time, a hard, hard time for everybody that knew him and loved him.”
Taylor, who played under Meyer from 1983 to 1987, said the coach’s influence on his life is immeasurable.
“It’s so humbling to reflect on the impact that Coach had on me, and it’s simply impossible to share how deep that impact was,” Taylor said. “But, it is fair to say that [Meyer] influenced every fiber of my being, and I’m proud to say that.”
Meyer’s lessons of surrendering, servant leadership and putting emphasis on your life’s pursuit and outcome were important to Taylor.
The former Bison said that, even when Meyer’s health took its toll, the coach always shined with character.
“Adversity is the great eliminator,” Taylor said. “And for Coach’s life, and especially in these last few years, he showed everyone that his priority was to role model the spirit of Jesus: In the way he chose to serve people, the way he chose to treat people, the way he chose to always be thankful and the way he always gave God the glory.”
Jonathan Seamon, the voice of the Bisons since 1987, worked with Meyer for 20 years, some of that time as Lipscomb’s athletic director.
While Meyer technically reported to Seamon, the former AD says the relationship was unique and rewarding.
“I never really considered that I was Coach’s boss,” Seamon said. “We were just friends.”
Seamon said he has adopted unique habits from his time knowing, learning from and even emulating Meyer.
“I collect aluminum cans – I even take them out of the trash,” Seamon said. “I can’t go to a professional game or a college game that has plastic souvenir cups without picking up a stack and taking them home with me. I like those little cards with logos and with sayings and with quotes.
“I take notes in every meeting, every class and every sermon I ever attend. I love to receive and send a short, personal note because they can go in a file and be looked at again long after that email’s been deleted. And, when I walk through a building, especially at church where I work, I’m always stopping and picking up that piece of trash that somebody leaves.
“Over the past two weeks every time I did one of those things, I had a flashback to when I saw coach do it and model it for me – great memories, great examples, life lessons that we’ll never forget,” Seamon said.
University president Randy Lowry directed his comments the Lipscomb community.
“Obviously, the Lipscomb community is a large community,” Lowry said. “6,000 students, 36,000 alumni, and as we look out over the years, virtually all of them have been affected by this coach.”
In 1975, when Lowry and his wife Rhonda went to Hamline University in Minnesota, Meyer had just left that school to come to Lipscomb. When Lowry became president of Lipscomb in 2005, Meyer had already left the Bisons to join the Northern State Wolves program.
Lowry says he came to “know” Meyer by learning about the coach’s reputation of excellence on and off the court.
“Coach Meyer was a legend, and we learned that. Coach Meyer established a national legacy for this university, and we appreciate that,” Lowry said. “But as you will hear over and over today, his legacy went far beyond coaching. He was an outstanding teacher and a passionate mentor to literally generations of young people.”
Greg Glenn, a former student assistant who player under Meyer from 1982 to 1986 and who was member of the ’86 championship group, spoke about how Meyer truly cared for people.
“[Meyer] would often say, ‘you need someone in your life who cares enough to tell you the truth.’ He cared, all right,” Glenn said. “He cared like nobody I’ve ever met. He cared at a level that I frankly could not grasp.”
Glenn referenced a favorite photo of his that shows the coach in a NSU Wolves huddle in the period after Meyer’s 2008 car accident claimed one of his legs and revealed the cancer that eventually killed him.
“Look into the eyes of his players – see the hunger to want to follow his every word,” Glenn said. “He taught how to be hungry – to always want to learn more.
“Coach Meyer was a master teacher. He was a master teacher because, just like the Great Stone Face, Coach had his eyes fixed on the master teacher – Jesus Christ.”
Ricky Bowers, a Bison from 1980 to 1984, remembers recent communication he had with Meyer.
He said “over the last little bit, I think seven times, he sent me James 3:13: ‘Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct, let him show his good works in the humility of wisdom.’ He wasn’t sending me that by accident.
“A second message he gave me, and really the last words that he spoke to me, was ‘Be a good coach.’ Now, I’ve thought about retiring soon, and now I will never retire,” Bowers said to laughs.
“But, being a good coach to him really wasn’t about coaching. It was about being the person that he was.
“His profession was just the vehicle for his message.”
Wade Tomlinson, who played for Meyer from 1986 to 1990, likened his talk to ones Meyer could engage in that would go every which way possible.
Tomlinson humorously remembered the affection that Meyer had for the play of Bowers – an affection he let others at the guard position know.
Tomlinson said that was the coach’s way of honoring his players for his past victories.
“That was Coach’s way of thanking you for his success,” Tomlinson said.
Tomlinson remembers that Meyer saw something in him that he didn’t see in himself.
He described himself as a shy, quiet person when he began with Lipscomb. Meyer changed that.
“Coach would make me do all the talking in practice. He would make me speak at camp, and I hated it,” Tomlinson said. “But Coach saw something in me I did not see in myself.”
Tomlinson says he feels lucky for having been the objectd of Meyer’s “tough love” personna.
“We are the lucky ones. We’re the lucky ones because we got yelled at,” Tomlinson said. “We are the lucky ones because, like Richard [Taylor] said, you learn how to give up for a team and put the team first. We were made to do it right – that tough love.”
Tomlinson also remembered how Meyer’s wisdom and guidance helped him get through the traumatic experience of losing a son. Even in his hardest days, Tomlinson says he clung to the lessons he learned from Meyer.
“That’s the only way I made it,” Tomlinson said. “I said them over and over in my head.”
Tomlinson then said to the audience: “Coach loved all of you.”
Love was a big part of the observance. “I love you, Coach. We love you, Coach,” Taylor said.
“Words can’t describe how important you are in all of our lives. Your value in our lives far exceeds your legendary coaching status. You were our coach. You were our role model. You were our friend. You give us hope, and you were so intentional with your affection, and we know that it was your pleasure. You were a rock, and we will miss you dearly.”
To Glenn, Meyer’s impact is difficult to measure. “His humility and drive to see processes improve, to teach, coach and genuinely care compelled all of us,” Glenn said.
“Coach, I’ll never be able to repay you. We’ll never be able to repay you for all you’ve done for us. We won’t be able to repay him for the love, for the friendship, for the servant leadership, but we want to say ‘Thank you, Coach, for being you, and we love you, partner.’”
Ways to donate to funds in honor of Meyer and his wife, Carmen, along with other information, can be found on the Coach Meyer tribute website.
Bowers read a poem he penned for the memorial after Meyer enjoyed one he penned in 1996. It can be read below.
Wolves replaced Bison, and purple gave way to red.
In Aberdeen, younger and more numerous disciples are bred.
The camps, not as big, but more fertile the ground.
Note-taking, pheasant-hunting, trash picker-uppers abound.
Special we felt while he dwelled among us.
Distance made challenges, but, by far, there was a plus.
For he remained true to his calling and mission.
Teaching life lessons, with some defensive transition.
The place and the colors and the league was all changed.
But, this was meant to be. It had all been well-arranged.
So a whole new crowd was subject to his trance.
The place very different, but there remains magic in a stance.
He mellowed from days when pain and suffering were the norm.
The Wolves, at 2 a.m., never sat on the wall in the dorm.
But, the town was a blessing for Carmen, Coach and all.
The Barnett Center often full with those hungry for ball.
And accustomed they were, these severe weather people.
In caring for neighbors, though few were their steeples.
So, when tragedy struck, and little buddy arrived.
Greater throngs of disciples were quickly derived.
Now nurses and docs and patient joined the bench.
Making Wolves or Bison of them was a cinch.
For he knew his gift now, and refining he has done.
Sharing it with others, not quitting ‘til he has won.
For the prophet from Nebraska who coached without hair.
Now teaches and preaches and demands from a chair.
That life and its struggles are a gift from our God.
No whining, no complaining, no excuses get a nod.
His passion for good has infected this new flock.
For his love for right living remains his bedrock.
The national stage comes now in his sight.
A small town coach now shares the bright lights.
Faith, family and friends receives a standing ovation.
Carmen gets well-deserved credit before all of the nation.
Coach saw this new world the platform for love.
Refine your gift and give it to others – the demand from above.
Find the little one, or Chuck, and give them a cause.
Give joy to the less-fortunate, and expect no applause.
For this is the calling we all must possess.
Care for the poor and free the oppressed.
But on this new stage, in him there is better.
He’s quick to forgive, and scripture has become his letter.
His message is tweaked, and the Christ is his goal.
Make today our masterpiece by considering our soul.
Carmen’s hard work allows his message to continue.
Though hushpuppies and Country-Style no longer his menu.
He was able to keep telling the world to obey.
The principles that count now – to love and to pray.
We now meet God’s coach without pride or shame.
He holds my hand and prays for all with my name.
Our talks always end with Brittney, Brooke and Jerry.
His love for them and their children is really so intense, it’s scary.
And then, of course, Carmen, a saint.
The exemplary wife, lifting, driving, nursing, caring and loving is her life.
She’s the toughest of all and maybe the reason
Coach was the best and had no off-season.
Her shoulder was injured and foot in a boot
Yet did all the packing, planning and still cared for all that loot.
(“There was a lot of loot,” Bowers joked.)
Together, they amazed us at the way they finished his race.
No gas in his tank, and yet the model of grace.
No days will go by where Coach is not here.
His message and love and care we hold dear.
Appreciative we are and thankful for our coach.
His conduit we became, his message, and we will broach.
For remarkable he was.
And his impact eternal.
Forever we’ll talk of Coach.
And place notes in our journal.
The entire service can be viewed on ESPN3.