Har Bell Heritage Hero Administrator - Mark Stillwell
Article from May/June 2008 Issue of Big Sports
Life Done Strictly by the NUMBERS...
His business card officially says, Mark Stillwell, Assistant Director of Athletics for Public Relations and Sports Information Director.
Well, anyone that's known him for any amount of time knows its' truly the second half of the card that says it all about the man those same people call "Stillie" or more affectionately "SID".
Stillwell is in the process of winding down a thirty-six year career in his post with MSU. He had originally planned to retire at the end of this spring semester, but has instead decided to extend his stay through the fall and step down the end of December. The anticipated arrival of the new JQH Arena in November most likely had something to do with that calendar change.
Regardless of when he leaves, Stillwell's departure will leave a significant hole within the MSU athletics family, especially to the working media that have come to depend upon him for resources and details he seemingly has at his fingertips.
Win-loss records, sports histories, dates and places, statistics of every possible kind have been Stillwell's daily grind since he came to then Southwest Missouri State in 1972.
How easily will he leave all of that behind? BIG SPORTS talked with the man who's had the numbers about his career.
BS: If you hadn't found your way into sports information have you wondered what you might have ended up doing?
Stillwell: When I was a sophomore at Drury my dad had me take a battery of tests to see what I was suited for and the tests showed I wasn't suited for anything. But the thing that came up highest on the non-list was printer because of the way I put things together and arrange things. I know when I was on my last year of active duty in Korea I remembering thinking there were two things I thought I might do at that point were going to work at Drury in some sort of capacity or maybe take a job at the News-Leader. I had had some correspondence with both of them. Now in the spring of 1970 they named my dad acting president at Drury and he said he'd give me a job doing something and he did and that was how that evolved.
BS: Obviously your passion for sports has been there forever, but was there anything that pointed you towards the field of sports information?
Stillwell: I realized perhaps late in life that what I had known subconsciously earlier in life is that I was doomed to go through life keeping track of stuff. I keep track of way too much stuff and this type of work if you're interested in sports is ideal for someone that keeps track of stuff. I read something that I cut out and have at home that says there are two things that are important in life. What you like doing and what you good at. And if God is smiling on you those two are the same thing and there's no question but what that God has been smiling on me.
BS: Did you ever believe your time in this position would last this long?
Stillwell: There are two or three answers to that. I believed then and may still believe that my second favorite job in the whole world would be the public relations guy for the Cardinals in St. Louis. My most favorite job would be playing leftfield for the Cardinals and given that there was a season that they had Reggie Sanders, Jim Edmonds and Larry Walker in the outfield, I wasn't much older than those guys, so I haven't completely given that up. The second answer to the question is that I applied for jobs with the Cardinals a couple of times, got down to the final two one time for a job and talked with the Kansas City Royals a couple of times about jobs and talked to other colleges about jobs because in the seventies when I got into this, things just rolled off my back. You just went out and did your job and got things done. There was no time, no clocks, you just worked and it was fun and pretty much still is. But I said this would be neat to do on a division one level and within not too many years the division one level came to me (when SMS shifted from division II to division I). And as they say it's always best to be looking for a job when you've got one and I had one and a good one so I didn't need to look.
BS: What's the biggest thing about this job and this work that you've had to adjust to over the years?
Stillwell: Technology has been both the greatest blessing and the biggest detriment that you can imagine for sports information. It has enabled us in this profession to do a lot more things, but like the whole information explosion, the things that are out and are expected have exploded much more rapidly than SID's have been able to deal with. What's I think true of this profession is that we can do anything that anybody wants, but where we get into trouble is that we can't do everything that everybody wants.
BS: When you started there weren't the number of collegiate sports on campus that there are today. How has that changed your life?
Stillwell: When I started the women's sports were not a part of the athletics department. Dr. (Wayne) McKinney was running and funding the women's teams. When Dr. (Mary Jo) Wynn was named the first women's athletics director after I'd been here a couple of years that was the point at which things changed.
BS: Each time someone higher announced they were adding a new sport to the system did that make things more difficult?
Stillwell: No, not at all. It was an adventure because you could see when those things happened that it was time for them to happen. In the case of soccer, we'd had soccer for a long time as a club sport and it was due to come. Then women's soccer, a natural by-product and the same with swimming. Conversely, it's never been pleasant to discontinue a sport and we've discontinued six of them since I've been here and that's hard because it's like saying that those sports never existed. And last year we inducted a wrestler into our Hall of Fame and we haven't had wrestling now for thirteen or fourteen years.
BS: People think of your job as the guy with all the numbers and statistics, but there is another side of the job and that's dealing with situations and getting information out to the public. Is the numbers side the fun side and the other the tedious side of things?
Stillwell: The thing that's true of this job is that you have to have time in the office to do releases, features, game notes, publications, media guides, programs, seating charts and whatever it happens to be and you have to have time to sit down and do all of that. Then when people are coming through and the phone calls come and you have to return them and half of them are long distance calls and people wanting interviews it's a challenge. The thing that's hardest is finding the time to do the big item projects such as media guides.
BS: Have you ever had anything that resembled a forty-hour workweek?
Stillwell: No. I used to document it, and then I realized that nobody really cared how much I worked. The only time they cared is when I didn't get something done and that's sad. But that's the truth of it.
BS: Obviously great moments have happened during your career and picking out one "biggest" moment would be difficult, but have you had a time when you've been around an event, a game, a situation and thought, it just doesn't get any better than this?
Stilwell: I've tried over time to identify certain games and certain events and certain seasons. What sticks with you are seasons. The second year I was here went to the national runner-up game on the men’s side in basketball and Dennis Hill and Daryl Garrison were juniors. Or the last MIAA football championship or there's a period of time from '77 to '82 the last six years that Bill Rowe was our baseball coach and we were really good every year and I was going on the road with them and that was pure joy. And some of the years that Spoonhour was here. But the first time I think I said to myself that this was as big thrill as I've had was in 1997, when Wayne Boyer kicked in the Shrine Football Game in Palo Alto, California. We had played a basketball game at Long Beach State on a Thursday night and I had said to coach Rowe two weeks before that, what's the reason you, Art Hains and I don't go and watch Wayne kick in the Shrine game that weekend after Long Beach. Well, he couldn't go, but he said he's send us and after a memorable plane trip to Palo Alto, and a flat tire on a rental car we got out to Stanford Stadium it was just a neat deal. Then got on a plane the next day, flew to Des Moines for a basketball game on Sunday.
BS: Is it fair to ask if there's been a favorite athlete or for that matter a favorite coach you've worked with?
Stillwell: Not fair to answer. But I've said to some people the most interviewed athlete that we've had since I've been here other than Jackie Stiles was Blake Ahearn. Blake, it didn't bother him if someone called and asked how to shoot free throws, he was happy to do it. It was a delight to deal with. He would even come in on days when no interview was set and we'd just talk. But he was really a delight. To see a guy like that who was not blessed with unlimited physical talents, but who is blessed with an incredible work ethic, to make it to the level he's made it to at this point is special for me.
BS: What are you going to do when the time comes that you aren't working these forty-plus workweeks?
Stillwell: I know I want to go to some ball games and I know I'd like to see all the Major League teams play in the same year. I'd like to get on a ship and take an around-the-world cruise because I miss my time in the Navy, and I really cherished that. I'm as proud of my time in the Navy as I am of the time I've spent here at the university.
BS: Think there's any chance someone could convince you to hold on for a semester more or one more school year?
Stillwell: I don't think that's gonna happen.
BS: Now we'll embarrass you a little. Do you wonder if through your work ethic, you've set the bar a little high for the person that will follow in your place?
Stillwell: I done a lot of stuff by the seat of my pants and I have done a lot of stuff just because I've got the experience of having done it so long. My dad told me a lot of things that I can take to the bank, but while I may not have known it at the time, I now realize he was right. And one of the things he told me was that I'm not any smarter than anyone else, I just made all of the mistakes and learned from them and that's what experience will do for you. The kids that work in this office when they come in with a question or problem, it ultimately is a simply solution because you've run into it so many times before.
BS: Is there a future book in you detailing what this experience has been like?
Stillwell: There are two answers to that. There are a lot of great stories that I can't tell for a variety of reasons. Secondly, there are a lot of great stories if you were there and that are less funny and interesting if you weren't there. I wouldn't presume to write unless I could make it funny and if a person had to be there to appreciate the humor, then it might not work. The answer to the question is it would probably surprise me, but I'd also like to write a good murder mystery or a who-done-it, because I love to write.