Greater Tulsa Reporter
ROGERS STATE TEAM: Rogers State President Dr. Larry Rice, left, with his new Athletic Director, Chris Ratcliff, at halftime during a recent RSU basketball game in Claremore.
TERREL LESTER for GTR Newspapers
Chris Ratcliff talks like he’s running a fast break.
Up-tempo. No hesitation. Full speed ahead.
Quick. Quicker. Quickest.
Reach the goal. Make a point.
He will lead just about any league in words produced per minute.
In January, he was in peak form.
His words abounded. Flowed and cascaded.
He was just landing in Claremore, taking on the assignment of Director of Athletics for Rogers State University.
He had a new job, in a new city, in a new state. He was ready to shout it from the rooftops. He was in super sales mode.
He spoke with the energy of a winning coach. The passion of an evangelist. The pace of a quarter-miler. He quoted Maya Angelou.
Ratcliff was hired to head up the department that fields teams in 14 sports in its first full year of membership in NCAA Division II.
Ratcliff, a native of Houston, Texas, and a 2005 graduate of Henderson (Arkansas) State with a Bachelor of Science in Recreation and Leisure, followed by a Master of Science in Sports Administration in 2006, had spent the previous seven years at the University of Arkansas at Monticello, first as women’s basketball coach, finally as athletic director. In rapid-fire succession, he enumerated three reasons for departing Monticello and choosing Claremore:
• Quality of life.
“I’ve known about Rogers State since they started athletics in 2005,” he said. “I’ve always known Claremore was a great town.
“When you look for jobs, and I don’t look for jobs, you always want to look at their facilities. Are they better than I have right now?
“And, does the administration care about athletics? Do they want athletics to succeed?
“Then, thirdly, is it a better quality of life for my family?”
According to Ratcliff, with a population of some 9,000, Monticello is about half the size of Claremore.
“And, we were one-and-a-half hours from anything,” he said, referring to the southeast Arkansas community, close to the Mississippi border. Now, he is 20, 25 minutes from Tulsa.
He and his wife, Andrea, an elementary art teacher, have two children.
“There wasn’t a lot of opportunity for our kids to create a culture of arts and athletics” in Monticello, Ratcliff said. “Claremore had a lot of things for our family, a lot of things for quality of life improvement.”
The campus of Rogers State, which traces its roots to Oklahoma Military Academy and beyond, boasts a still-blossoming baseball and softball complex plus a shimmering soccer pitch.
The men’s and women’s basketball teams play in the off-campus Claremore Expo Center, not an ideal set-up but functional and virtually homey.
“Better facilities than what I had,” Ratcliff said, adding that UA-Monticello also fielded a football team, a sport RSU does not have.
When he trained his focus on the school administration, Ratcliff mentioned RSU President Dr. Larry Rice and Tom Volturo, executive vice-president for administration and finance.
Rice was a member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives (1991-04) and was on the staff at the University of Tulsa before assuming the RSU leadership in 2008.
“Athletics is important to (Rice and Volturo),” Ratcliff said. “Not just having a program, but being successful.”
For the 40-year-old Ratcliff, moving from one NCAA Division II school to another was “a no-brainer.”
Where football had been the No. 1 sport on the UA-Monticello athletics roster, men’s basketball is the signature sport at RSU. Or, as Ratcliff says of men’s basketball, “our front door.”
The program has been successful. The bell-cow sport, men’s basketball, fielded its first team in 2007-08 and has produced eight 20-win seasons in nine years.
Talks have long persisted within the RSU community of the need for an on-campus basketball facility. Mindful of the ever-tightening Oklahoma education budgets, Ratcliff admitted that such a facility was at the top of his priority list.
A native of Houston, Ratcliff is animated and dynamic. His workdays can stretch from sun-up to right near midnight. Always in motion, his mind is moving as quickly as his feet. He wears a tireless smile.
He can be found at RSU athletic home events and often on the road. Basketball, soccer, baseball, softball.
He might be more fan than administrator.
For sure, he is part cheerleader, part promoter.
He lunches with city leaders. Speaks to a litany of service organizations.
“We can build a brand here (at Rogers State),” he said.
“We can make Rogers State a regional brand. A national brand.
“A national brand, of course, comes with winning,” he said.
Ratcliff has inherited a foundation for winning.
The men’s basketball team won its Heartland Conference championship last season.
Junior cross country runner Baylor Harvey recently became RSU’s first NCAA All-American.
The baseball team finished runner-up in the 2012 NAIA national tournament.
When he left the coaching bench to become a full-time athletics director in 2011, he did so with minimal misgivings.
Sure, he would miss the competition of coaching. The camaraderie with his peers. The interaction with his players.
“But I believed I could make a bigger impact on more people as an AD,” he said.
He tries to set a good example every day. A handshake here. A pat on the back there. A kind gesture along the way.
“I always recall the words of Maya Angelou,” he said, establishing himself as perhaps the first coach to quote and reference the great poet.
“People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel,” he said, reciting her penetrating, provocative words.
For once, and for effect, Chris Ratcliff slowed the pace of his delivery.
But almost instantly, he returned to his rapid-fire mode.
Talking sports. Talking Rogers State University Hillcats.