Coach Norm Stewart
“Mission” is an understatement and it’s been going on for a while now. Norm Stewart’s desire to accomplish his mission can be traced back to nights in Shelbyville. He would break into the high school gym to work on his game, the payoff resulting in All-State honors. The drive from Shelbyville to Columbia wasn’t far, and Norm chose to stay close to home for college. While at MU Norm met his wife, was named All-American on the court, and pitched for the team that won the College World Series… all three rarely accomplished by anyone. Equally unusual, Coach Stewart was drafted by the MLB’s Baltimore Orioles and the NBA’s St. Louis Hawks, spending a year with each team. After his playing career was over, he turned to coaching which in time returned him to his alma mater as their head coach. Over the next 32 years, he compiled enough wins and accolades to qualify for legendary status. And by the way, he beat colon cancer. Coach Stewart’s stubborn resilience continues to this day with his seemingly never-ending pursuit of raising money for cancer research and other causes, as well as the promotion of high school basketball. Yes folks, Norm Stewart is definitely a man on a mission and many of Coach Stewart’s passions collide every year in the form of The Norm Stewart Classic.
Ten years ago, Gary Filbert came to Coach Stewart with an idea to start a basketball shootout or event at Columbia College, where Gary shot free throws every morning. Gary suggested using Norm Stewart’s name. The Classic began with four games being played in just one day back in 2007 but eventually transitioned into 15 games to be played over the course of a weekend. Last year, the Norm Stewart Classic took an exciting and unique turn becoming the first of its kind in the United States. 48 hours of basketball. You read that right- 48 hours of continuous basketball. No breaks. No sleep for the staff. A lot of high school basketball. Most importantly, a lot of money raised for some great causes. The idea to switch to 48 hours was hatched by John Sprugel, a co-founder of Niles Media Group and an integral part of the Classic. When Sprugel and MBCA Executive Director Denny Hunt came to Norm with the idea, Norm wasn’t sure they could pull it off. Sprugel assured Norm that he could take care of the streaming and Hunt thought he could get the teams.
“Well, Denny called me the next day and said, ‘we have a problem’.
I said ‘I thought you might.’
Denny said, ‘we’ve got too many teams! Everybody wants to play!’
That’s the great thing about it,” recounts Coach Stewart.
Raising money for cancer research is, was, and always will be the focal point of the Classic, but it’s also about the kids. John Sprugel explains, “The concept for the 48-hour format is to give high school student-athletes a unique and memory-filled experience that they will remember for the rest of their lives. This is a celebration for their hard work on and off the court. There is no other high school basketball experience in the country with this 48-hour format. Playing at 10 am in the morning, 3 pm in the afternoon or 2 am in the morning will forever be a memory for them, but it is indeed the student-athlete that we celebrate and honor with this unique format.”
With all of his accomplishments, Coach Stewart hasn’t forgotten about those who have helped him along the way. He is most thankful for his lovely wife of over 60 years, Virginia. She was a constant comfort when Norm was diagnosed with colon cancer in 1989. The couple has battled health issues and has become stronger because of it. They use their influence and conviction to improve cancer treatment by lending their name to and supporting the Virginia and Norman Stewart Cancer Center at Boone Hospital in Columbia, Missouri.
Coach Stewart also expressed his gratitude for those who give their time and talent to this event. It requires numerous people using their strengths to pull off an event of this scale. This year, pay close attention to the all-star broadcasting team calling the games. Last year, talented personalities such as John Rooney from the St. Louis Cardinals, color commentator Rod Kelly who called the games while Norm coached, and Joel Goldberg from the KC Royals lent their talents in calling some of the games.
As much as Coach Stewart is thankful for the support of others, it’s ultimately him who should be thanked. “The Norm Stewart Classic is a tribute to Coach Stewart for his continued contributions to the game of basketball in the state of Missouri. Coach Stewart had a Hall of Fame career as a legendary basketball coach at the University of Missouri,” said John Sprugel. “His contributions to this state, to the game of basketball and to thousands of student-athletes is immeasurable. This Classic is named in his honor because of his passion for the game but also to showcase and highlight the student-athletes and coaches at the high school level who work tirelessly year-round to build good basketball teams in the spirit of competition and development of our youth.”
The Classic would not be possible without the hospitality of Bob Burchard and Columbia College. Burchard is the athletic director and head basketball coach of the Cougars. The Southwell Complex is the perfect venue for this event. The size of the gym is ideal for allowing fans to get up close and be engaged with the game. And we want them to be engaged. Really engaged. Ticket sales and halftime contributions are an important part of this fundraising venture. We would be remiss if we didn’t give props to the students who came out to cheer on the California Pintos at midnight after their FFA Barnwarming Dance. Even the barn warming queen, Hailey Cain, came dressed in her flannel shirt and crown, easily securing them “best student section” of the event.
** Pinto fans, you’ve got a reputation to protect.
**And a quick message to students from the other schools, you can’t let the Pintos beat you. Theme it up and come out to support your team!
Looking at the schedule, one would see a strong balance between well-known schools from cities, as well as schools from small towns. Coach Stewart explained, “What I want to do is promote high school basketball. So I want that kid in Shelbyville. I want that kid in Puxico. I want that kid in Kickapoo. Whatever. Small town and the majors, we’ve got ‘em all. 48 teams. Men and women. But I want them to have the opportunity to be the draw. They’re on TV and it’s their game. The first thing I thought of is that I wanted to honor Gary Filbert, and so we give a most valuable player award.” The MVP is recognized with the Gary Filbert MVP medal at half court after each game. The MVP and coaches have a post-game interview with a journalist, all of which is streamed live on ESPN3 from a studio near the gym.
Proceeds from the gate, donations, and halftime collections during the Norm Stewart Classic go toward Coaches vs. Cancer, Special Olympics Missouri, and the Missouri Basketball Coaches Association. The halftime collections are lovingly referred to as “pass the bucket.” Collecting spare change at halftime began with Norm, Gary, and Denny passing a hat to see who could collect the most money. It’s wasn’t unusual for the trio to collect over $1000. This tradition has become a beloved and fun way to spend halftime. Cheerleaders and kids from the crowd now join in on the fun of passing the bucket.
Originally, all the money from the Norm Stewart Classic went to Coaches vs. Cancer. Coach Stewart, along with Jerry Quick of the American Cancer Society, had founded an earlier program called 3-Point Attack that later became Coaches vs Cancer. The idea was centered around challenging fans to pledge a dollar amount for every three-point shot made by his team during the season. Within Coaches vs Cancer, over 500 Division I, II, and III college coaches have joined the fight to find cures for cancer and have raised over $100 million for the American Cancer Society. You can read more about ways to help through Coaches vs Cancer and the American Cancer Society at https://www.cancer.org/involved/fundraise/coaches-vs-cancer.html/.
Special Olympics Missouri is a program dedicated to empowering those with disabilities through sports. “Our athletes find joy, confidence, and fulfillment -- on the playing field and in life. They also inspire people in their communities and elsewhere to open their hearts to a wider world of human talents and potential.” More information concerning the Special Olympics can be found at https://somo.org/.
The Missouri Basketball Coaches Association was started by Norm Stewart and Gary Filbert. The MBCA works to honor student-athletes with awards and scholarships, as well as to provide a forum for basketball coaches across the state. The Norm Stewart Classic is presented by the MBCA. The MBCA is one of the largest coaches association in the nation. Find out ways that the MBCA works to support coaches and players at http://www.mobca.org/.
Executive director Denny Hunt comments, “I am looking forward to being involved in my sixth Norm Stewart Classic. I am very excited about our new format of 48 Hours of high school basketball. I am certainly thrilled about the opportunity to see the quality of high school players and the chance to visit with great coaches. As always, it is a privilege to work with Norm Stewart and his yearly participation with this event is greatly appreciated.”
The 10th Annual Norm Stewart Classic will tip off at 6:00 pm Friday, December 1st, at Columbia College’s Southwell Complex. Adults will pay $5 each, $3 for students, and children under 5 will be admitted for free. Rock Bridge and Hazelwood Central Girls will be the event opener. There will be non-stop basketball until the last game is played, which will begin at 4:00 pm on Sunday, December 3rd, with a contest between Rock Bridge and Vianney Boys. Basketball fans who can’t be there to cheer for their team can follow the Classic on social media, local television channels, and the website www.normstewartclassic.com. Through the courtesy of Niles Media, basketball fans can also stream the Classic live on ESPN3. By the way, Norm loves streaming. He says that having an iPad and being able to stream is “the thing now”. So take it from Norm, get “your iPad and pull ‘er up” on ESPN3 and watch some great basketball the first weekend in December.
When all's said and done this December, the Norm Stewart Classic and Niles Media Group will take to the open road. The 2018 Norm Stewart Classic Friday Night Game of the Week will plan to crisscross the state to hit 6 different Friday night basketball games over the course of the season. These games will be broadcast across the state of Missouri.
Friday, January 12, 2018 - 7:00pm
Friday, January 19, 2018 - 7:00pm
Friday, January 26, 2018 - 7:00pm
Friday, February 2, 2018 - 7:00pm
Friday, February 9, 2018 - 7:00pm
Friday, February 16, 2018 - 7:00pm
According to Norm, Missourians are different from people from other states. They don’t oversell. When presented with an outstanding athlete, singer, etc, they say “He’s pretty good”… “She’s pretty good”. That team? Well, they're pretty good. Stan Musial? He was pretty good. George Brett? He was pretty good. It’s the nicest compliment that you can receive from a Missourian. You know what? That Norm, he’s pretty good. It would be safe to assume that Norm’s mission for the Classic would be for people to say, “That Classic... it’s pretty good.”
Article from Missouri RoundBall 2017
Written By: Laura Hayes
Partial list of memberships and awards
All American Player for MU
7 time District Coach of the Year
5 time Big Eight Coach of the Year
1982 UPI National Coach of the Year
1994 AP National Coach of the Year
Associated Press All Time Big Eight Coach
Missouri Sports Legend
Missouri Sports Hall of Fame
MU Sports Hall of Fame
National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame
MU Alumni Association Faculty Award
American Cancer Society Courage Award
Missouri Citizen of the Year
MU Alumni Association Faculty Award