Herb Page has earned his reputation as one of the elite collegiate golf coaches in the land by turning a Kent State program stuck in the weather-marred midwest into a perennial national power.
The Golden Flashes' 23rd-year mentor is recognized as one of the game's top teachers thanks to the drastic improvement dozens of little-known recruits have made under Page's tutelage, players that have helped his teams claim eight of the last nine Mid-American Conference titles and crack the NCAA's top 20 three times.
Obviously, the man can flat-out coach.
Still, somehow Page isn't even sure teaching golf is his top talent.
"I think if I wouldn't have decided to coach golf, I'd have made an excellent fundraiser for this school," said Page, who led Kent State to a school record ninth-place finish at the 2000 NCAA Championships last spring. "It's something I enjoy doing, and I think I'm pretty darn good at it. I may be a better fundraiser than a golf coach."
Such a claim would deserve a snicker if Page didn't have evidence to back it up.
The Ontario native and his loyal and generous cohorts are currently celebrating the completion of a mission many deemed impossible back in 1990, when Page first formulated a plan to fully endow his golf program by raising a whopping one million dollars.
In less than 11 years Page has managed to help his program bankroll well over seven figures, five percent of which is used to fund 4 1/2 scholarships and send the golf team to elite tournaments across the country each year.
Here's how KSU's 'Little General' pulled it off.
The wheels began to turn in the fall of 1990, on a day Page could have easily spent patting himself on the back instead of kicking himself in the behind.
Page, who showed his grit by earning eight letters as a golf, football and even a hockey standout at Kent State from 1971-74 despite standing around 5-foot-6 and weighing a buck and change, took over the Golden Flashes golf program in 1978 after coach Frank Truitt retired. He proceeded to methodically construct a team capable of competing at the national level against the elite schools from college golf's south and west hotbeds.
Kent State qualified for the NCAA Tournament for just the third time in school history in 1987 under Page, and made a surprise return trip in '90.
"I didn't know if we'd ever get back after ('87)," said Page. "That should have been a great time for me. But I was miserable."
Page was miffed by the fact that every school his team was competing against at the NCAA Tournament had the benefit of five full scholarships, while his Flashes were limited to just two scholarships by the Mid-American Conference. During that era, the MAC placed scholarship caps on all of the 'non-revenue' sports.
"It made me sick," said Page. "How am I supposed to compete with the top 30 teams in the nation with 40 percent of their scholarship base? For our guys, going to the NCAA Championships was like going to a gun fight without a gun."
Trying to lure prized golf recruits away from the powerhouses in warm regions of the country was difficult enough, but doing so without the ability to match those schools dollar-for-dollar was nearly impossible.
"I'll overcome the snow and I'll get recruits in here, but you can't put me at a scholarship disadvantage," said Page. "All I asked for was an equal playing field."
So Page sought the aid of then Kent State president Michael Schwartz and vice president Bill Shelton, who eventually helped him convince the MAC to remove the scholarship cap.
"Without their help, none of this would have ever happened," said Page. "But once the caps were off, the next question was where do we get the scholarship money?"
Page knew the university was not about to fund five full scholarships.
"I said if I raise enough money for one scholarship, you give me 1 1/2. That was our deal," said Page. "That's how it all started out, and things just snowballed."
Page didn't have any former players on the PGA Tour he could simply call and hit up for a six-figure donation. But he did have friends, and plenty of them.
"This all started with what I call the Friends of Golf, a core group of friends and former golfers and their families who sent me a bunch of $25 and $50 checks," said Page. "Soon we had enough money for one scholarship, and my thought then was why not endow the whole thing. We determined that it would take a million dollars, and that number didn't scare us.
"We looked at it as a challenge."
Fortunately for Page, so did Richard and Dennis Rango.
Rich Rango was a baseball star for the Flashes during the early 1970s, while Dennis played golf with Page at Kent State. The Rango brothers were both enjoying lucrative careers as State Farm Insurance agents, and had lent support to the golf program in the past when Page once again came calling.
"Herb and I have been close friends since college, so he knew I'd help him out in any way I could," said Dennis Rango. "My brother and I sat down with Herb one day to set some goals, and we decided that we wanted the golf team to be nationally ranked. Herb told us if we could give him $20,000 a year, he would attract the type of talent needed to compete at that level.
"And Herb's done it."
Herb Kane, a distinguished Ravenna attorney who graduated from Kent State in 1947, soon joined the Rangos as major initial backers of Page's million-dollar quest.
"The Rangos and Mr. Kane are the people who got things going, then others started jumping on board," said Page. "I'm forever indebted to those guys. They bought into what I was trying to do, and never asked for anything in return."
Soon several other prominent Kent State alumni decided to pitch in.
Lou Telerico, a 1966 graduate who met Page while watching his son play golf for Miami of Ohio, donated $45,000 to endow a scholarship in 1994. He then created an annual benefit golf tournament to compliment one already established by the Rangos in the late '80s.
Now those two events alone, the Rango Invitational and Lou Telerico-Kent State Pro-Am, raise nearly $100,000 for the program each year. Telerico's personal endowment now tops $400,000, while both Rangos have eclipsed $200,000.
"I wanted to get involved early to grow that base," said Telerico. "When other people saw what was happening, they wanted to step up to the plate."
Next to join the fray was 1972 KSU grad Steve Cress and '66 graduate Chuck Messina, who each endowed $75,000 scholarships in 1996 to speed up the push toward $1,000,000.
"I was fortunate to sell a business and gain a few extra bucks, so I asked Herb what I could do to help," said Cress. "Everyone wants to be part of a successful operation. It's the same way in the business world. And it's nice to give back to a school that's been so good to me."
"Herb was well on his way before I joined in," said Messina. "I met Herb seven or eight years ago at the Telerico fundraiser, and was extremely impressed with the quality of his young people. Herb reached out, and I just wanted to be a part of it."
Finally, by continuing to add supporters and by investing the money that had accrued over the past 10 years, the Kent State golf program endowment eclipsed the one million-dollar mark last fall.
"Rich and Dennis Rango are two close friends and former Kent State athletes," said Page. "Lou Telerico is a proud Kent State alumnus who's a 24 handicapper. Chuck Messina was a third-string football player. They're all just real proud Kent State alumnus who are more than willing to help out, and I can't thank them enough."
Why are so many successful alumni willing to lend financial support to the Kent State golf program? Well, let's just say most of them would be sending checks elsewhere if Page wasn't in charge.
"Herb's built like my brother and I," said Dennis Rango. "If you do something you don't do it (halfway), you do it right."
"I can't say enough nice things about Herb Page. He's someone Kent State University should be proud of," said Kane. "I just hope nobody steals him away from Kent State. I'm fearful of that, but I don't think he'll leave."
Cress compared Page to one coach in particular who did give in to an offer he couldn't refuse from the University of Washington, two years after leading the Flashes to their only MAC football championship in 1972.
"Herb's a lot like Don James, in that he's a leader," said Cress. "James came to Kent State after the (events of May 4, 1970), and people said there's no way you can win at Kent State. But he won at Kent State, and then at Washington. Look at what Gary Waters has done with the Kent State men's basketball program?
"Leaders win, no matter where they are."
The people who support Page's program appreciate the fact that he delivers, in every way.
"When Herb asks for help, he tells you what he's going to do and he does it," said Cress. "A lot of people ask for money and you don't know what ever happens to it, but not Herb. He produces. He's firm with his players and he tells them what's expected, and they produce."
The vast majority of Page's former players never forget their fiery mentor, who has helped literally hundreds of former Flashes land jobs throughout the golf industry.
"One of the things Herb emphasizes is to give back to the program and school that helped you while you were there, and that's my philosophy as well," said Donnie Darr, a 1995 All-American who now works for Page at Windmill Lakes Golf Club in Ravenna. "When we traveled I roomed with Herb, and I got to know him real well and I respect the job he's done. He treats everyone like family and makes you feel welcome."
David Morland, who became the first Kent State golfer to earn his PGA Tour card last season, still keeps in close contact with Page. Ben Curtis, a three-time All-American who led the Flashes to their best season ever a year ago, has already promised to give back if he happens to strike it rich on the tour.
"I told Ben when he makes his first million, I'll be giving him a call," said Page. "He promised me he'd help out, and I guarantee he will."
Now that Page's golf program is backed by a rock-solid financial foundation, he has turned his attention to other lofty goals few outside the Kent State golf circles would consider truly attainable.
"We want to graduate every player we bring in, and we want to win a national championship," said Page. "I'd also like to endow our women's program, which is only three years old and already nationally ranked. We're proud of our female athletes at Kent State, and there's no gender in golf."
Flashes director of athletics Laing Kennedy believes the fruits of Page's fundraising efforts are shared by the entire athletic program.
"It's a great model, one I hope to duplicate many times," said Kennedy. "Herb has identified people who have expressed an interest in Kent State golf and kept them involved. It's a classic example of institutional fundraising, and the endowment will only continue to grow."
Those that have supported the Flashes' golf program in the past don't intend to stop anytime soon, and Page himself certainly hasn't lost his determination.
"When I think about it, this is pretty amazing," said a smiling Page. "I have no problem asking people for help because I'm proud of this program and this university, and I'm very thankful to the people who have lent their support. We've come a long way in a relatively short amount of time, and we're not finished yet."
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