‘We came from the most humble beginnings’: Shocker baseball legend explains the reason behind $600k donation

‘We came from the most humble beginnings’: Shocker baseball legend explains the reason behind $600k donation

WICHITA, Kan. ( KSNW) — Legendary Wichita State University baseball coach Gene Stephenson says helping the program grow was his goal from the very start.

Nearly 46 years later, he is still giving back. Stephenson donated $600,000 of his personal funds as a gift to Shocker baseball.

“I owed it all to the players and to the future players and to the guys that would come in here and try to uphold the standards. And I just wanted to give back,” explained Stephenson.

The Council Grove native started his coaching career at his alma mater, Missouri, before heading to Oklahoma. He spent four years as an assistant coach for the Sooners but knew he was ready to be the lead of a program.

That opportunity came in 1978 at Wichita State. But the vision he had, at first, seemed far out of reach. Many didn’t believe the underdeveloped Shockers could amount to greatness.

“Professional baseball scouts told me at the time, ‘You don’t have a snowball’s chance in Hades of that ever happening. Why are you leaving the land of milk and honey in Norman, Oklahoma, to come to nothing?’ We had nothing here. We had no players, no equipment, no practice field …. There was no place to do anything. We had no baseballs anyway … We came from the most humble beginnings,” said Stephenson.

When he arrived in Wichita, Stephenson immediately got to work fundraising to purchase balls and other equipment for the team. Three years later, the Shockers had qualified for the first NCAA Tournament appearance in program history.

Over Stephenson’s 35-year career at WSU, he led the Shockers to seven College World Series and 27 NCAA Tournament appearances. In 1982, his team broke the NCAA single-season win record, finishing 73-14.

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The Shockers won their first College World Series title under Stephenson in 1989. Thirty-three of his players have gone on to play in Major League Baseball.

Stephenson elaborated, “We built this into something that people all over the college baseball world stand in awe of. It is, ‘How in the world did you ever get this built here and packed the stadiums over and over and over again?’ Well, I guess it starts with winning. And we won like nobody else. And I know that.”

His passion for Wichita State is what he says led him to give back.

“Every morning, I’d wake up when I was working, wake up, and I’d come from the east to the university. I’d come up over that last hill there at Oliver and 21st. And I’d look over that, and I’d say, ‘Ooh, wee! I can’t wait to get to work today. I can’t wait to see what’s going to happen today and what we’re going to do.’ I’m just thankful that we’re able to do something since I’m no longer coaching. But I wake up every morning, every day, wishing I was,” said the Hall of Fame coach.

He’s proud to see how Wichita State’s program and facilities have grown since he was coaching. Stephenson wants his donation to help the Shockers stay a successful college baseball program for years to come.

“I want you to know that this old guy loves everybody and Wichita State baseball and loves everybody in this community. It’s been a love of my entire life, and I don’t like to say ‘my’ or ‘I’ too much because it is all of our team’s visions over the years. And every year we tried to do something and make something a little bit better for the players. And what you see today behind me is it was really something special,” he said.

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