Coach Paul Westphal, Singer Amber Wagner Head Hall of Fame Class
Story by Doug Carroll
Photos by Darryl Webb
GCU News Bureau
Former basketball coach Paul Westphal spoke of a team that found itself and opera singer Amber Wagner talked of having found the perfect mentor as they and five others were inducted into the Grand Canyon University Hall of Fame on Saturday.
The inductees, who also included two educators, a pastor, a nurse and a literary agent, left no doubt about the impact that the University had made on their lives in appreciative, heartfelt remarks at Ethington Theatre.
“Twenty-five years ago seems like yesterday in my memory,” said Westphal, the coach of the 1988 Antelope men’s team that won the NAIA championship. Members of the team were honored later Saturday at GCU’s men’s and women’s games.
Westphal, who was only two years removed from a stellar playing career in the NBA when he signed on to coach the Antelopes, spoke of a season of ups and downs — and a budget that was way down.
“We got $5,000 and free Whataburgers (from a sponsor),” he said, “so we had Whataburgers for our pregame meals.”
The team endured a number of “Wild West” experiences, he said, and disciplinary issues included the dismissal of its two leading scorers late in the season. The Antelopes refocused and made a spectacular push to the national title, winning five games over six days in Kansas City.
“I’ve never been more proud of a team, to see how they came together and learned from their mistakes,” said Westphal, whose two years at Grand Canyon — and a 63-18 record — landed him a position on the coaching staff of the Phoenix Suns, for whom he had played and is in the team’s Ring of Honor. He later became the Suns’ head coach, guiding the team, led by Charles Barkley, to the 1993 NBA Finals against the Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan.
Wagner, who graduated in 2006 with a degree in vocal performance, spoke of arriving on campus as a sociology major before a fortuitous meeting with Dr. Sheila Corley, who remains a voice instructor at the University and was in the audience.
“I needed scholarship money and wandered over to the Music Department, and I still get emotional thinking about that,” said Wagner, who is expecting her first child with husband Gabriel Salazar, also a GCU alumnus, in June.
“To say that Sheila has been a surrogate mother is an understatement. She introduced me to opera and to the idea that I could have a performing career. … The most important thing I took from her is being a gracious and kind performer. My achievements are nothing more than God opening doors. The core of everything she taught me was that I had a gift from God and had to give it back to Him.”
Wagner said her “one little audition” for Corley provided the springboard to a career as a soprano that has taken her to opera houses all over the world. She is especially appreciated in Chicago, where her performances for that city’s Lyric Opera consistently have received rave reviews.
Corley “believed in me, and she poured into me,” Wagner said.
The others inducted on Saturday (their photos are in this order at the end) were:
Cynthia Mote Elliott, College of Nursing, B.S. in 2006 and M.S. in 2008, co-founder of Abundant Health Family Practice in Tucson.
Melissa Holdaway, Ken Blanchard College of Business, Executive M.B.A. in 2008, co-founder and chief operating officer of Arizona Charter Academy.
Steve Laube, College of Theology, B.A. in 1981, Phoenix literary agent.
Glenn M. Ramey, College of Arts and Sciences, B.A. in 1959, former pastor of West Dunlap Baptist Church in Phoenix. “I kept those folks from having a good pastor for 42 1/2 years,” quipped Ramey, who later sang the national anthem at the men’s game.
Kimberly Rimbey, College of Education, B.S. in 1988, administrator with the Rodel Charitable Foundation of Arizona. “I was sure I didn’t want to be in business and didn’t want to be a teacher,” said Rimbey, who had a music scholarship to Grand Canyon — but now has a career overlapping business and education.
Contact Doug Carroll at 639.8011 or [email protected].