By Scott Goode, sports information directorAt 43 years old, most baseball players have either ended their playing careers or are nearing retirement. It hardly seems the age to revive one’s playing days, like University biology professor and former Bison baseball player Mike Plummer (’67) did.
Plummer began playing baseball in his youth on the sandlots in Tuscumbia, Ala. His family moved to football-crazed Massillon, Ohio, when he was 11, and Plummer added the sport to his athletics resume in ninth grade. He was a standout in both sports, earning most valuable player honors and the title of best defensive back in football at Perry High School, and he was an all-star pitcher during summer league action.
Unsure of his college destination, a local preacher in Ohio introduced Plummer to Harding.“I had never heard of Harding, but the preacher told me that it was in Arkansas. That appealed to me because I was a Southern boy at heart. I appreciated everything about Ohio, but I just felt out of place. The second thing he told me was that it had an outstanding biology program, so that also interested me. The athletic program had just started football again in 1959, and I came in ’63, so I felt like I could play. I did not want to go any place and sit on the bench.
“He told me those three things, and I said, ‘OK, I’ll go,’” Plummer says.
Plummer received a scholarship to play Bison football as a defensive back and lettered four seasons. In 1964, Plummer set a school record with seven interceptions. The record stood for 14 years before Steve Johnson broke it in 1978.
“Football paid my way through school,” says Plummer. “We did not have any kind of financial help for baseball, so playing football allowed me to play baseball, which was where my love really was.”
And baseball was where he excelled. After going 3-5 as a freshman, Plummer rebounded with a 5-3 record as a sophomore and earned All-Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference honors. He missed much of his junior season following knee surgery but still managed a 2-1 record and was named second-team all-conference.
It was during his senior season that Plummer really turned heads. In his third start of the season, he pitched a no-hitter against Philander Smith College in a 2-0 victory. Four days later, the senior right-hander held Henderson State University without a hit in a 6-1 victory in the first game of a doubleheader.
Following the season, he earned his third all-conference honor and was bestowed the 1967 AIC Cliff Shaw Scholar-Athlete Award.
“Ted Altman was our baseball coach,” says Plummer. “He was a great baseball guy, and he really made it fun to play. The memories I have of playing baseball are the greatest memories I have of my time at Harding.”
When his college career ended, it seemed his baseball career was also over.
“After college, there was no baseball for me to play,” he says. “I played a little bit of slow-pitch softball, but, for a pitcher, what is there for you in softball? So I went to graduate school and the Army, all the time wishing that I could be playing ball.”
Then in the summer of 1987, Plummer picked up a copy of Sports Illustrated that included a story called “Hardball for Kids Over 30” about Steve Sigler who was starting an organization called the Men’s Senior Baseball League.
“Sigler wanted to provide an opportunity on an international basis for adults who take baseball seriously and who didn’t want to play softball. That caught my eye. Soon after that, there was an article in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette about two guys that were starting an MSBL league in Little Rock. I was at that first meeting, and I’ve been there ever since.”
For Plummer, it was a career reborn.
Beginning that summer, Plummer joined a team of players 30 years and older in the Central Arkansas Men’s Senior Baseball League. He has been a fixture and, at 64, is easily the oldest player in the league.
Now allowing players as young as 25, the league plays two nights a week in Little Rock. For the most part, teams wear major-league style uniforms. Many years ago, Plummer had a teammate from New York that joined the squad, and his team has been the Yankees ever since.
Plummer, who featured a fastball as his best pitch while in college, has not changed his style. He still throws hard (70+ miles per hour) and is occasionally a little wild. He once threw six wild pitches in a college game and now leads the senior league in hit batters every season.
“Those 40-year-olds have a tough time catching up with my fastball,” says Plummer. “Their reaction time has slowed down, too.”
When he talks about baseball today, it is with the excitement and enthusiasm he had as a child back in Alabama.
“Baseball is the greatest game,” he says. “I grew up when every kid in America wanted to be Mickey Mantle. For me, that has continued.”
Despite a recent right hip replacement surgery, the ninth joint-related surgery in his life, Plummer returned for the 2009 season that began in May. It will be his 21st season — not bad for a guy that restarted his playing career at 43.
When asked, “How much longer?” he answered, “I am going to play until I physically cannot play anymore.”
Men's basketball advances to tourney semifinals
The men’s basketball team reached the semifinals of the Gulf South Conference Tournament before having its season end with a 73-63 loss to eventual champion Arkansas Tech University.
The Bisons opened the tournament with an 82-56 victory over West Alabama and followed with a 60-53 upset of Christian Brothers, the top-seeded team from the GSC West Division.
The Bisons qualified for postseason play by finishing fifth in GSC West with a 6-8 conference record. The team ended its ninth-straight winning season with an 18-12 mark overall.
Two players earned All-Gulf South Conference honors — sophomore Kevin Brown and junior Trent Morgan. Brown led the Bisons in scoring with 13.4 points per game. He was also team leader in field goal percentage (56.5) and blocked shots (30). Morgan averaged 13.1 points per game and was team leader in three-point field goals (49), free throw percentage (74.8) and steals (55).
Senior point guard Steven Barnett ended his career ranked third all-time at the University in career assists (486) and steals (159).
Lady bison basketball achieves 20 wins
The women’s basketball team posted its first 20-win season in 12 years finishing the 2008-09 campaign with a 20-10 record. The Lady Bisons opened the season with 12 consecutive wins, the second-longest streak in program history.
Reaching its third-straight Gulf South Conference Tournament, the team finished fifth in the GSC West Division with a 5-9 record.Junior Stacey Owens earned First-Team All-GSC leading the Lady Bisons with 16.1 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. Senior Ashley Anderson was a Second-Team honoree scoring 11.7 points per game and shooting 52.4 percent from the field.
Men's indoor track 10th at nationals
Sophomore Daniel Kirwa’s two All-America performances at the NCAA II Indoor Track and Field Championships earned 14 points to give the Bisons a 10th-place finish in team competition. Kirwa placed second in the mile and third in the 5,000 meters to earn his fifth and sixth career All-America honors in track.
Three other Bison runners also qualified for the national meet. Junior Frank Bolling represented the University after breaking the school record in the 800 meters early in the season, and freshman Philip Biwott competed in the 5,000 meters. Sophomore Blake Arnold joined Biwott, Bolling and Kirwa on the distance medley relay team, which finished ninth.
Head coach Steve Guymon was named South Region Men’s Indoor Track and Field Coach of the Year.
Senior Vicky Schandevel ran an NCAA provisional time of 17 minutes, 33.86 seconds in the 5,000 meters at the Grand Valley (Mich.) State Big Meet, earning her NCAA Division II South Region Indoor Track Women’s Athlete of the Year. Junior Esther Komen also ran an NCAA provisional time in the 5,000 meters, finishing in 17:50.60 at the Razorback Invitational in Fayetteville, Ark. The distance medley relay team of Schandevel, Komen, and sophomores Laura Lovett and Rysper Sirma ran 12:07.04 at Grand Valley, also a provisional time. None of the times were fast enough to earn an invitation to the national meet.Sophomore Cathy Ebenja set a new school record in the 60-meter dash, finishing in 7.93 seconds at the Razorback Invitational.