PSU unveils Champions Plaza and creates new tradition.
By Andrew Nash
The band played, and cheerleaders shouted. Pittsburg State fans cheered loudly and the smell of tailgate wafted through the air. Although this scene seemed like either the glory days of a PSU championship run or, frankly, any given home football game, this was the scene for the start of a new tradition.
Pittsburg State officials kicked off new rituals on Saturday and unveiled Champions Plaza as “a centerpiece that will live on for generations.” The plaza was funded largely by an anonymous donor and has been in the works for more than a year.“The goal was to create an area that would honor the passion and pride of our students and alumni while at the same time, celebrate the achievements of our athletic teams,” said PSU President Steve Scott. “The result is what you see before you today, Champions Plaza. Everything about this area has been created with our students, fans and alumni in mind.”
The true centerpiece of Champions Plaza is a bronze statue depicting the school’s mascot, the Gorilla. The Gorilla statue took more than a year of work from bronze artist Tom Corbin, who also created the piece “A Student’s Life”, which is on display in the Kansas Technology Center courtyard. The gorilla is roughly 8.5 feet long by 7.5 feet tall and wasn’t designed overnight. Corbin spent a few days at the Kansas City Zoo studying silverbacks and creating a sketch. Corbin had a few things in mind, like finding a way to connect to the PSU football players, who will walk by the statue while along the Gorilla Walk. “I wanted something that was uplifting and powerful, not hostile. It’s something with a lot of strength and power. For the approach, he’s standing on the edifice of a cliff. Players can connect to the piece, because his fingers are going over the cliff, and they can tap his hand or fist bump it along the way,” Corbin said. That tradition began just a few minutes after the ceremony, as the Gorilla Walk made its way to the statue, and players did exactly as expected.
But there was a second part to the Champions Plaza. On the back side of the beautifully landscaped and designed plaza, there are three large medallions celebrating the head coaches of the PSU football teams that have won national championships.
On hand to unveil those medallions were the starting quarterbacks from the last four national championships. Zac Dickey was the most recent, starting for the 2011 national champions under the direction of Tim Beck. His medallion reads “Reserved for Tim Beck,” who remains the team’s coach and may have another championship or two to add to his resume. Brian Hutchins, quarterback of the 1991 championship team, revealed the medallion for Chuck Broyles. Finally, Bill Samuels and Phil Vogrin, representing the 1957 and 1961 NAIA championship teams, revealed the medallion for Carnie Smith. Samuels said it was an honor to be selected to reveal the medallion for a coach and team that he loved so much.
“It was an emotional thing. I’ve spoken with others, and [Carnie Smith] was like a second father. Every one of the players felt the same way,” Samuels said. “This brought back thoughts on the coach and my teammates. They were great times. I may have had a tear running down my face.” Samuels said he plans to high-five players after they touch the Gorilla statue before home football games as his own sort of tradition.
More than 1,500 pavers are available for purchase by the Gorilla Nation throughout the Champions Plaza to permanently etch one’s name in PSU’s gameday traditions. Fairly soon after the Gorilla Walk, families and Gorilla fans could be seen taking photos touching hands with the Gorilla statue and the surrounding medallions, while others talked about meeting at the plaza.
PSU President Steve Scott said he sees the plaza and the statue carrying meaning for generations. The base of the statue, for instance, includes the letters OAGAAG, standing for
“Once A Gorilla, Always A Gorilla.” “I don’t think there’s a better message out there,” Scott said. “Through the pavers, people can uniquely express their connection to the university. It does offer something multigenerational. Before it was unveiled, I saw a grandfather, father and a couple of kids in strollers headed for this space, and it wasn’t unveiled yet. Think about how it will be used now that it’s revealed.”