A fledgling athletics program with five sports, no facilities of its own, only two years of membership in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics and a terrible losing streak is what Coach Steve Ridder signed onto when he came to Embry-Riddle in 1989. Eleven years later (2000), he led the Eagles’ men’s basketball team to its first national basketball championship, defeating the College of the Ozarks in Branson, Mo. Since then, the Eagles have come close to doing it again, with 14 subsequent visits to the national tournament—but that legendary victory still stands as an extraordinary achievement for Embry-Riddle Athletics.
Coach Steve Ridder:
“We came out of the gates quickly. Our No. 1 goal was to control the tempo. We had to take the crowd out of the game because we only had about a hundred fans there. We scored the first shot and never fell behind. The Eagles were up 37-26 at the half, but the Ozarks' Bobcats didn't go down without a fight. With less than 5 minutes left in the game, the Eagles led by only 3 points.”
Jason Cruse (‘00, DB), who made the first 3-pointer for the Eagles that day, had broken his left forearm earlier in the season but ended up coming back and earning the tournament MVP:
“The Ozarks started making this run in the second half. They played great defense and our shot clock was running down. Yon Price was 3 or 4 feet behind the 3-point line. He banked the 3-point shot at the [shot clock] buzzer. It killed their momentum.”
Yon Price (‘00, DB), team captain that season, and one of Cruse’s roommates:
“I remember looking at the shot clock and seeing there were 3 seconds left. I just needed enough space to get a shot off. I tried to get open; I go up, and I just got it off. At the time, I didn’t think it was a big deal. After the game, I realized ‘the shot’ just took the momentum out of the Ozarks and their crowd. Fortunately, I had been in championship games before, so I was focused late in the game.”
The Mystery Mascot
At the final buzzer, the score was 75-63, Embry-Riddle. The celebration ensued, but one thing gave Coach Ridder pause ...
John Phillips (‘90, ‘92, DB), director of sports marketing (now director of athletics at the Daytona Beach Campus), recounts:
“Coach Ridder’s brother, Dan, drove all night from Kentucky to get to the final game. We didn’t have our mascot there, so he decided he wanted to be it. He went to the costume stores, but the closest he could get to an eagle was combining a Daffy Duck face with a chicken head.
“So this chicken is on the court, he’s in the huddle, he’s all around, and Coach Ridder is wondering why this chicken is part of our team now. It’s like this the whole game.
“Then the game ends. We win the national championship; it’s the greatest moment of his coaching career ... and this chicken is hanging out with everyone. And, Coach is saying, ‘Who is this? I want to celebrate with my team!’
“So he takes the mascot’s head off and sees that his brother was there the entire time.”
The historic 2000 National Championship win and the mystery mascot in action.