As we celebrate each year, we reflect on how these Iba Awards began. Rotarian Bob Lengacher was ringing bells at the corner of 4th and Main in December 1993 for the Salvation Army, an annual tradition for the Rotary Club of Tulsa Rotarians. He was thinking about a story he read in the paper that morning about a famous athlete who was arrested. He thought how sad it was for someone so famous and wealthy to not be a good citizen and what a negative image that portrays to our young people. There are many famous athletes who do positive things to help others and yet they don’t make the headlines.
About that time Alex Adwon, with the Tulsa World’s editorial board, stopped by to say hello. Lengacher told Adwon his thoughts about a Rotary-sponsored awards program honoring athletes who are good citizens and asked if he thought the Tulsa World would be a supporter. Adwon liked the idea and suggested Lengacher discuss it with executive editor, Bob Haring. Haring agreed and suggested Lengacher contact the sports editor, Bill Connors.
Lengacher presented the concept to the Rotary Club of Tulsa board, which readily agreed to host the event as a fundraiser. A small committee of volunteers was formed with Lengacher as chairman. Ron Butler, Steve Clark, Sue Maxwell, Scott Petty, Rod Reppe, Linda Tabor and Chuck Wilson met every week after work at the Lengacher’s home for six months to develop the first Iba Awards.
Scott Petty came up with the idea of naming the awards after Coach Henry P. Iba who had died in January 1993. Some committee members were concerned that naming the awards after an Oklahoman would limit its national potential, so they presented the concept to Connors who was well connected in the world of sports. Connors readily agreed naming the awards after Mr. Iba was an excellent choice since he was nationally recognized, well respected and was Coach of the Year in 1945 and 1946. Connors put Lengacher in touch with Coach Eddie Sutton, his friend since both were students at Oklahoma A&M (OSU). Coach Sutton agreed to help and set up a meeting with the Iba family to ask approval of using Mr. Iba’s name. Sutton also agreed to be the chairman of the advisory board and contacted several well-respected sports figures to be members.
Over 1,400 sportswriters, TV sports directors, university sports information officers and professional sports promoters throughout the U.S. were asked to nominate both male and female athletes who best fit the criteria. Finalists were selected by a panel of Rotarians who chose the two most worthy candidates – Mark Rypien and Shannon Miller. Rypien was the NFL MVP of the 1992 Super Bowl and Miller won seven Olympic and nine World Championship medals.
Butler created the logo for the Iba Awards and, along with sculptor Chuck Tomlins, designed the solid bronze trophy. Table sponsorships and ticket sales followed. Only six months later, the first Awards were held at the Tulsa Adam’s Mark (today’s Hyatt Regency) with Curt Gowdy as the emcee and Coach Mike Krzyzewski as the keynote speaker. Coach Sutton and Bob Kurland each spoke about how much they respected Mr. Iba.
Now, more than twenty years later, the tradition continues, and the Iba Awards have become internationally known and respected for honoring athletes for their humanitarian efforts.