Special Rotator Story | Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Steve Prothero Elected into Willamette University Athletics Hall of Fame
Coached Bearcat Golfers for 44 Years
SALEM, ORE. -- Steve Prothero, who served as a head golf coach at Willamette University for several decades, has been elected into the WU Athletics Hall of Fame.
Prothero, who was the head men's golf coach for 44 years, has the second longest tenure for a Northwest Conference head coach in one sport. He trails only WU's Lestle Sparks, who coached the Bearcats in men's tennis for 50 years (1925-74). Prothero was Willamette’s men's golf coach from the spring of 1966 through the spring of 2009. He was the head women’s golf coach from 1995 through the spring of 2002.
In addition, he was a member of the Willamette faculty for 46 years. He was hired as an instructor of mathematics prior to the 1963-64 academic year and advanced to being a professor of mathematics during his career.
"It is an honor to welcome Steve to the Willamette Athletics Hall of Fame. Coach Prothero embodies the aspirations that we have for our students, excelling in the classroom and in his sport," WU Director of Athletics David Rigsby said. "This is a perfect tribute to his remarkable career at Willamette."
"Coach Prothero is a man, a teacher, and a coach who has done so much for so many at Willamette University. This is a well-deserved honor," said former WU golfer Brian Perko (CLA '75, Law '78).
Prothero led the Bearcats to six NWC titles in men's golf (1968-tie, 1987, 1991, 1999, 2003, 2004). He also guided the team to eight NAIA District 2 Championships (1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1981, 1986, 1987, 1988), with the team advancing to the NAIA National Championship tournament in each of those seasons. In 1975 and 1976 the Bearcats finished 14th in the nation.
He coached six men’s golfers to a total of eight NWC individual titles: Mike Hawkenson in 1968, John Kent in 1977, John Boyden in 1987, Kent Clark in 1991 and 1994; Jason Nichols in 1999, and Kyle Kuteira in 2003 and 2005. Kris Hunt earned All-NWC honors four times from 2002 through 2005.
His women’s teams won conference titles in 1995 (NCIC), 1996 (NCIC) and 1999 (NWC). The Bearcat women’s team advanced to the NCAA Division III National Championship tournament in 1998 and 1999. Kara Blair won the NWC individual title in 1999.
Prothero said the golfers from the Kuteira and Hunt era came from different backgrounds and had different academic interests, yet they became friends and succeeded on the links.
“They became very close, but I don’t think they would have known each other if they hadn’t played golf,” Prothero said. “That’s kind of fun to watch.”
One tournament stands out from all of Prothero’s years of coaching. It was the NAIA District 2 Tournament in 1988.
“It was the most exciting golf I’ve ever watched or been involved with as a coach,” Prothero said.
Although Willamette’s team score was high on the first day, two of WU’s golfers were among the individual leaders.
“I had two guys in the very last group,” Prothero noted. “It came down to that last group. One of my golfers finished birdie-par-eagle on the last three holes and the other finished birdie-par-birdie. That was a great comeback. It brought us back to a team tie.”
Willamette and Lewis & Clark College were tied for first place, but the tie had to be broken to determine which team would advance to the National Tournament. The teams prepared for a sudden-death playoff on the 10th hole. All six golfers from both teams competed, with the four best scores on the playoff hole combined to determine the winner.
“It came down to a freshman for us who teed off and got down (made the green in two shots),” Prothero said. “We wound up winning by two strokes.
“It was just so exciting, so thrilling,” he added. “That was far and away the most exciting game I’ve ever watched.”
Prothero also excelled as a badminton player, winning the State Singles Championship in 1970 and the State Doubles Championship in 1972.
Other new inductees in the Willamette Athletics Hall of Fame Class of 2013 will be announced over the next several months.