Central Methodist has received a $100,000 gift from the retired dentist now living in Pensacola, Fla. The University will match Knowles’ gift in order to substantially upgrade its Cox Softball Complex, according to Central Methodist President Roger Drake.
“Ralph Knowles is a dear friend and a great fan of Eagles softball,” Drake noted. “His gift will dramatically improve the athletic experience for these talented student-athletes.”
Knowles, who spent most of his professional career in Tennessee, wasn’t big in extracurricular activities as a Central Methodist student. The Ferguson native enrolled at the University of Missouri after graduating from high school and shortly thereafter entered the U.S. Navy.
Following his discharge from the Navy he came to Central Methodist because of its academic reputation, Knowles said. After attending for two years and two summers he left for dental school in St. Louis in 1949; his focus was squarely on academics while at Central Methodist.
A staunch supporter of charitable initiatives at Central through the years, Knowles has become a fan of the highly successful Eagle program just in the last few years. Spring trips by Central Methodist to play in Florida and Alabama tournaments first brought him to the stands, and he has turned into one of Central Methodist softball’s biggest fans.
“It was obvious we had an outstanding softball program,” Knowles said. “However, after visiting several NAIA softball fields it was apparent our facilities couldn’t compare to some others. It was surprising to me how our coaches and players could be so successful under these conditions.”
The university completed a fundraising campaign and subsequent upgrades to the softball field and other athletic facilities just a few years ago, thus Central Methodist wasn’t soliciting funds for this project. Instead, Knowles called Alan Marshall, executive director of development and alumni programs at Central Methodist, and offered the gift.
Officials are working on specifics of the project and will announce details when they are finalized, but there is little question the Knowles gift will take the facility to a whole new level. The Eagle softball program under head coach Pat Reardon already is operating at an elite level.
This past season the Eagles qualified for the NAIA National Championship for the third straight year, and its 43-8 season set an all-time Central Methodist record for victories. The Eagles have won four consecutive Heart of America Athletics Conference titles and has compiled 160 victories in the last four seasons.
Central Methodist was rated as high as 14th in this season’s NAIA Softball Coaches’ Top 25 Poll. Nor are they lax in the classroom, with six Daktronics-NAIA Scholar-Athletes on the roster this past season – something for which Knowles takes special pride.
“Although the team members’ win-loss records are impressive, I feel their academic achievements even more important,” he said. “Hopefully the improvements here will help in continuing to recruit top notch academic students who are also interested in softball.”