Adams State Cotton/basketball reunion set for July

(06-08-2009)

Dr. Jack "Doc" Cotton, in his mid-eighties, uses a cane periodically to maintain balance, but his love of life and passion for his community have not slowed down.

Dedicating a long career to Adams State, Cotton coached and taught hundreds of students, many who carried through with their own career in the teaching profession. During the course of a conversation, Cotton would lean forward and passionately proclaim the need to fully prepare future teachers for their chosen career.

A former Adams State basketball player and Colorado Hall of Famer, Alonzo Porter, BA '65 and MA '66, said, "His dedication to education is a trait of Coach Cotton's that inspired me to teach the youth of our country. His success on and off the basketball court speaks for itself and through his motivation and at some times, tough love, he has prepared many student-athletes for life after athletics."

The Adams State College Alumni Relations Office recognizes Cotton's many contributions to the college, his former students and athletes, and the community. A Cotton/Basketball Reunion is open to alumni, community members, and current and retired staff and faculty on July 17 through July 18 in Alamosa. Please call 719-587-8110 to reserve your ticket by July 10.

Porter said Cotton gave him the opportunity to play basketball at the collegiate level and his first coaching job after graduation. "He allowed me to be a leader both on and off the court. That has been influential in my experience as a head coach. My time at Adams State helped shape who I became, and Coach Cotton was instrumental in my growing process." As the head coach of Regis University's men's basketball team, Porter has compiled the most wins of any collegiate coach in Colorado.

Man of All Seasons

Cotton achieved a long list of accomplishments, before retiring in 1987. He coached the women's basketball team his last ten years at Adams State; prior to that he coached the men's team. He was the athletic director and coached golf, tennis, and helped with football, sponsored the rodeo club, and drove the athletic bus. Through all the years, he maintained a full teaching load, up to 15 credit hours a semester. "I am a man of all seasons."

Adams State football coach, Darrell Mudra, was on staff when Cotton was hired. He said Cotton is a person of integrity who kept up with the latest trends as a coach and teacher. Mudra admires Cotton's commitment to the college and community and said he recruited outstanding athletes and students. The two have remained in touch, since Mudra left Adams State in 1963. "Doc is the same person all the time."

The reunion will be a time to catch up with former students, athletes, friends and colleagues. Cotton shared secret codes and inside jokes from when he coached the women's basketball teams. "I love my girls."

Dominique Skeehan, '85, said Cotton inspired her through his years of experience as a player, coach and teacher. "He brought some 'old school' respect and experience to my generation."

Cotton received his Bachelor of Science in physical education and Master of Science in administration degrees at Denver University, in 1950 and 1952 respectively; he earned his doctorate in education at University of Wyoming, Laramie, in 1963.

Before accepting a position with Adams State in 1960, Cotton played for the Denver Nuggets, a member of the National Basketball Association, from 1948 through 1950, and he coached at a couple of Midwestern colleges, including Southwestern College at Winfield, Kan., which won the Kansas Collegiate Athletic title. "It was a little church school and we came in fourth in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA)."

Family Man

Cotton becomes emotional when speaking of his family. He voices pride in his children, Kelby, Jackie, and Todd; their spouses, and his grandchildren. During the interview, his cell phone rang and he spoke to Greg, a nephew, whose son was pitching in the Junior College Finals in Grand Junction, Colo. It was obvious Cotton was avidly interested in the progress of the team and his relatives' success.

He refers to Mabel, his wife of 62 years, as a "great gal," and chokes up when he tell of their meeting - a blind date - and his proposal, on a New Year's Eve. Mabel was the obstetrician nurse in the Alamosa hospital and later was the first director of Evergreen Nursing Home, a position she held for 40 years. "I love her so much," he expressed. "I count my blessings all the time."

Cotton said in his native state of Montana, "what you see is what you get. I’ve been that way all my life. That's how it is in Alamosa too, that's probably why I like it here so much."

Cotton is a World War II veteran, who enlisted in the Navy and toured in the South Pacific. As a young teenager he hopped a freight train to Yakima, Wash., to pick apples. "At that time you would often see the initials TKT, Tex King of Tramps, carved into camps of the tramps. I met him in Washington." Returning home, his father got him a job shoveling 10 to 12 tons of coal a day, for relief victims. "It put me a year behind in high school."

Community Involvement

Set on staying active, Cotton continues to play golf with friends nearly every weekday morning, and made a hole-in-one a month ago. He said he also keeps up with his "mental gymnastics," and is on a variety of committees, including the SLV Care Center, the Senior Citizens Center, and Home Lake; he was president of the Shriners, and served as an Elks exalted ruler.

Cotton was also president of NAIA coaches; and on the Olympic committee from 1960 until 1972. He helped select the teams in '60, '64, and '68 and convinced the Olympic committee to select Alamosa as the 1968 Summer Olympic training ground, since its altitude is the same as Mexico City's, where the '68 Olympics were held.

Cotton leans forward in his chair and said, "Let me tell you a story, this is so interesting." Through his numerous prestigious contacts, Cotton flew 40 cases of Coors beer, banquet cans, and Colorado Carnations to Washington, D.C. At the D.C. hotel, representatives from Los Alamos and Northern Arizona University had suites of rooms as they vied for the privilege of securing the Olympic athletes training site. "We had one room, but a tub full of cold Coors beer and a table of Colorado carnations. Everyone gathered in our room." That summer the 1968 U.S. Olympic athletes, for cross-country, wrestling, basketball, and walking, trained in Alamosa.

Education Commitment

As interested as Cotton is in athletics, he also values academia. He served on the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) for five years, traveling to colleges and universities throughout the region to review schools for accreditation.

Health education is another topic Cotton has strong views about. "Schools only bring in health education when there is a crisis like venereal disease, drugs, or pregnancy. Our schools need physical education and health education. I believe in the practical approach." He said school districts are dropping physical education and music programs, yet test scores are not improving and children are gaining weight. "They are developing the habit of not exercising."

Cotton coined the phrase "Top of the Nation" and he started a "Top of the Nation Coaching Clinic" at Adams State. Through the years, the event was held at the Wagon Wheel Gap, west of South Fork, Colo., Cotton scheduled a variety of speakers, including Robert S. "Bob" Devaney, former Nebraska Cornhuskers football coach; Stanley Watts, Brigham Young University basketball coach; Hall of Fame college men's basketball coach, Jack Gardner; and Morice Fredrick "Tex" Winter, basketball coach and innovator of the triangle offense.

Among the colleagues Cotton recalls fondly are Dr. LynnWeldon and Dr. Marv Motz, emeritus professors of psychology. Weldon suggested he and Cotton start their own department. "We liked to teach hands-on rather than the traditional lecture method." Cotton recalled a workshop for teachers on health education and he approached the class by asking the students to "teach" a class. Two women from San Luis brought in traditional plants and herbs and explained their health and medical significance. "Now isn't that something," Cotton said. Yes, that is something, and so is Cotton.

"Doc has a great attitude about life and people. He had confidence in me and helped me to develop leadership skills and patience," Skeehan said. "He is sharp and has a tremendous sense of humor. I am happy to have had his influence in my life."

Recalling a conversation with Dr. Littleton Bunch, former Alamosa physician, about the tears he and his son, Todd, shed while watching "Terms of Endearment", Cotton said, "Dr. Bunch told me 'if you can't cry, you can't love.'" It is obvious Cotton has loved - family, students, his profession, his community, his life.

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By Linda Relyea