To honor the legacy of Robert White, longtime head men’s basketball coach, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh will host a reunion Sept. 16-17, featuring players from 1964 to 1984.
“Coach White was a true professional and a good coach,” said Ted VanDellen, current UW Oshkosh head men’s basketball coach.
VanDellen, a UW Oshkosh alumnus ’79 and MS ’90, also played on the men’s basketball team from 1974 to 1978. He recalled how White would give the men on the team money from his own pocket when they didn’t have enough for lunch.
“Coach White really took care of his players,” VanDellen said.
VanDellen’s favorite memory of playing for White was during his junior year when the team was up against UW-Green Bay. There was a huge rivalry between White and UW-Green Bay’s coach, Dave Buss.
“Our team was ahead three or five points when Coach White called a timeout,” VanDellen said. “I asked him why and he responded: ‘I want that guy to suffer for 60 more seconds.’”
White and his wife, Shirley, arrived in Oshkosh in 1964, when White accepted a job as head basketball coach at UW Oshkosh, then known as Wisconsin State University-Oshkosh.
In addition to coaching basketball and teaching, White coached track and field in 1965, chaired the physical education department from 1966 to 1968, and coached men’s golf in 1989. White even had to organize fundraisers in order to keep the golf program running.
In 1978, White was named WIAC Coach of the Year; and in 1997, he was inducted into the UW Oshkosh Hall of Fame.
“He was very competitive,” said Dale Race ’70, who was a member of the Titan basketball team from 1965 to 1969. “Coach White wanted to win.”
Although White was driven, Race remembered how he always was compassionate toward his players. Race, who also got into coaching, retired after 1,000 games at UW-Green Bay.
“Coach White was a valuable mentor for my career,” Race said.
Race’s fondest memory as a Titan is an event that made history. During the 1967-1968 season, White led his team to the national tournament, then the NAIA tournament. The team finished in third place, which remains the highest placement the Titans have ever reached in UW Oshkosh’s basketball history.
The team benefited as much from White’s dedication as from his wife, Shirley’s.
“Bob and Shirley were a team,” VanDellen said. “She was as much of the program as coach.”
Shirley was an associate professor of physical education and health promotion at UW Oshkosh from 1964 to 2005. She also was the cheerleader adviser for more than 20 years. Shirley would drive the basketball players when they needed a ride, and she took care of the cheerleaders during away games, VanDellen said.
During the national tournament in Kansas City, Mo., the couple would visit the laundromat every night because the men had only one set of uniforms. At Thanksgiving and Christmas, the Whites would have the team over for dinner after practice.
Dorian Boyland, who played both basketball and baseball at UW Oshkosh and went on to play professional baseball for the Pittsburgh Pirates, attended UW Oshkosh solely because of Coach White, he said.
White recruited Boyland from high school to play for UW Oshkosh from 1972 to 1976, and let Boyland stay at his home during his campus visit.
“Coach White was a pioneer in recruiting minority players and diversifying the team,” Boyland said.
When Boyland injured his knee and had to have surgery, White visited him every day and took care of him. When Boyland’s mother flew in, White invited her to stay at his home and drove her to and from the hospital.
“They’ve opened their hearts and family to me,” Boyland said. “To sum Coach White up in one word, he is fatherly.”
Boyland’s relationship with the Whites has grown so strong that he calls them “dad” and “mom,” and they treat him like a son.
“I’m looking forward to Coach White finally being recognized for the wonderful things he’s done, and hope to see him and Shirley happy,” Boyland said.
White clearly filled many roles in the lives of his players. Some considered him a father, others called him a mentor, but in September, he will be honored for his legacy as a brilliant coach.
The reunion activities will include:
Friday, Sept. 16
- 5:30-7:30 p.m., social hosted by VanDellen at Robbins Restaurant in Oshkosh
Saturday, Sept. 17
- 9 a.m., continental breakfast at Pollock Alumni House
- 10 a.m., bus tour of campus, featuring the new Sage Hall academic building
- Noon, golf outing at Oshkosh Country Club
- 6-7 p.m., reception, dinner and program at Reeve Memorial Union
For more information regarding the reunion, please contact the UW Oshkosh Alumni Relations Office at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (920) 424-0625 or 1-877-UWO-ALUM.
Teammates, coaches and fans are encouraged to attend and bring photos and memorabilia to share.