After school spirit began to wane on Western Kentucky University's campus, a new men's head basketball coach has brought the Hilltopper Nation to its feet.
After Ray Harper was named head coach, the Tops won 7 straight games until they were defeated by the University of Kentucky in the NCAA tournament.
"I think our kids were ready for this and I think that Coach Harper really did a magnificent job of putting them into the right structure, into the right situation, and giving them the opportunity to be a good basketball team," says Jim Richards, who was the men's' head coach from 1971 to 1978.
During the tournament, WKU was making national headlines not only for their spectacular comeback season, but for their compassionate head coach was seen on camera hugging and encouraging a player from an opposing team.
Closer to home, the talk was about the spirit returning to the Hill as Coach Harper brought the local community together.
"He was high-fiving the band, and bringing the kids down through the stands in the last game, and getting the student body to react positively with him," recalls Richards.
It was this spirit that drove home attendance up, and reinvigorated students like Marcus Bagwell who see Coach Harper as an important member of the Hilltopper Community, "He's important to our campus community. This is one of the big reasons why allot of people go to this school because of the athletics not just the academics but also the athletics and since that we want to go to basketball games and we want to see our team win."
"I feel like they are a part of our program and I want them to feel like they know me not just as Coach Harp but as a person," says Coach Harper about his interactions with the fans, the band, and the cheerleaders at Hilltopper games.
He also says, "This program has a rich history, a rich history, and there were a lot of guys who came before us and we are just trying to up-hold that tradition, and I am proud of our guys for the way they finished this season."
Which is something that is possible, according to another former head coach John Oldham, who Coached the 1970-71 men's' team that advanced to the Final Four, "There isn't a lot of spirit unless you have a winning team and I believe that's one thing that's going to happen now that we are going to have a winning basketball team at Western Kentucky."
For returning the Hilltopper spirit to WKU, we honor men's' Head Basketball Coach Ray Harper as a Hometown Hero.