As a Lebanon motor officer, Steve Green has been the lead driver on more than his share of funeral processions and Christmas parades.
His duties Monday were closer to his heart than most.
He led the NAIA national champion Cumberland Bulldog victory parade on his police motorcycle Monday.
Cumberland’s only baseball three-time All-American was in a police escort back to town when the 1995 Bulldogs returned by bus to Lebanon from a second-place finish in Sioux City, Iowa., their first NAIA title game appearance.
But Monday wasn’t about finishing second,
“It’s bittersweet,” Green said after he and fellow officer Wayne Howard led the Bulldogs back to campus. “Back in ’95 when we got to the championship game, you get so close, it’s right there in your pocket. Then something happens and momentum changes. Being that close to a national championship…
“As coach always says, it’s not just, even though this team won in 2004, ’10 and ’14, it’s not all about that team. It’s about representing the program that took them there. I’m glad I can do this.
“I told Coach Hunt back when they were in the regional, I texted him and told him, ‘Hey, tighten that belt up and continue on. I’d like to lead another parade for you’. He said, ‘I sure hope you can’.
“It’s an awesome feeling being able to do that.”
While Green was catching the pitches for the ’95 runners up, calling them was a young pitching coach named Nelson North. It was North’s only season on the CU campus. While Nelson was working, his 4-year-old son, Brady, was running around the stadium.
Nineteen years later, Brady North caught the final out at first base for Cumberland’s third national championship and quickly found himself at the bottom of the Dawgpile in Lewiston, Idaho.
“I guess I kind of finished what my dad started,” Brady North said Monday before he and his teammates boarded two Lebanon Fire Department ladder trucks for the championship parade to and from the Square. “My dad made a trip out there [Lewiston] and it was an emotional thing. Just seeing God put everything in line for us this year. If you asked me if I would move back to Tennessee and play for Coach Woody Hunt, I’d say you were crazy. To finish my college career here was a blessing.”
Nelson North became coach at the University of Tampa in 1996. He later went to South Florida and is now at Gaither [Fla.] High School. Brady North was born in Nashville while his dad, a former Ole Miss player, coached at Belmont as a volunteer Hunt gave him his first paying coaching job.
As a junior-college player, Brady North was being recruited by Miami, Fla., North Carolina State, Jacksonville and Alabama. He chose Jacksonville and played a year for the Dolphins. But Hunt told him a scholarship was waiting at Cumberland.
“He said if you ever need a place to play you got a full scholarship,” Brady North said. “My best friend, Josciel Veras, ended up coming here. I had an up-and-down year at Jacksonville. After that year I told my dad I’m going to call Coach Hunt.
“Josciel was super happy here. He really loved it. He was telling he I would love it here. I said I’m going to call Coach Hunt and see if he’s a man of his word. He kept every promise he gave me in Lakeland, didn’t fall short one bit.”
If Hunt had promised on April 1 the Bulldogs would win the championship two months later, it probably would have been taken as an April Fool’s joke. Cumberland was coming off a 13-10 March and was 23-14 overall. The Dawgs weren’t getting love from the NAIA raters, either.
Ranked 10th in the preseason poll, the Bulldogs were nowhere to be found when the first regular-season rating came out March 25. Even the program’s reputation didn’t help. It wasn’t until the final poll, May 9, that they finally returned to the top 25 at No. 23. That was why the Dawgs were the 10th seed out of 10 teams in the World Series as they became the first No. 10 seed to take the title.
“It was bumpy,” Brady North said. “But like Coach says, before the rainbow, there has to be a little rain. You have to be able to stand the rain. And we definitely had our storms. But we got our rainbow.”
For Chris Hall, this championship was a long time coming, just in his own household. His sister, Sarah, was a setter on back-to-back state volleyball champions at Friendship Christian. His stepfather, John McNeal, owns six state championship rings with FCS [three baseball, two football and one basketball]. Chris, who played on a runner-up team in baseball but graduated just before the back-to-back football championships, is now a national champion.
“Being from Friendship, bringing home championships all the time, I was never able to get one,” Hall said after returning to campus from the parade. “I was always close, always there. So being in Lewiston, getting to go, being able to compete and bring it home to Lebanon is an unreal feeling.”
John McNeal is high school coaching’s version of John Madden, whose well-documented case of claustrophobia kept him from flying to his assignments as a network TV pro football commentator. Thus, Madden started riding the bus across the country before a company gave him his Maddencruiser.
When John and Kathy McNeal wanted to see Chris play left field and bat leadoff in the World Series, they drove — four days one way and 34 hours back [with only a four-hour break] in time for the parade.
“He said if he got on a plane, it was going to come down before it got to Idaho,” Hall said. “They drove out in four days and 34 hours to drive back. They made it back in time to be here for the parade. They were right on the corner [of the Square].”
It may have been the last time Hall will wear a CU cap. Earning a degree in accounting in three years, he graduated last month and will pursue an MBA at Lipscomb, where he will have two years eligibility left for the Bisons. He redshirted his freshman year at Cumberland, a place where many transfers come from other schools to play, but few leave with eligibility remaining for other schools.
But this is not a case of disgruntlement.
“It was a great feeling to out of Cumberland on top,” Hall said. “I love Cumberland. I love everything Cumberland’s done for me.”