He was under-handed for most of his 88 years.
For most people, that’s not the first line you want in your last story.
But for the eulogy of Gordie Wise, a man who did more for Wright State athletics than almost any other person, it’s not only fitting, it’s the trait that got him thrice celebrated.
Wise died last Friday at his home in Piqua. His funeral is this Saturday afternoon at the Jamieson & Yannucci Funeral Home in Piqua.
Three years ago, I sat with Gordie and his wife Susie at their kitchen table and listened to some of the underhanded tales.
“I think I’m the only person who can claim to have been the intramural free throw shooting champion of three separate universities,” he said with a laugh. “And I’ve got proof of two of those titles right here.”
He once was the charity stripe champ at Miami University, Indiana University and Wright State.
And he made every 15-foot toss under-handed.
He said when he was a seventh grader in the little Shelby County town of Houston, that’s how his coach taught him to shoot. And soon it paid dividends.
As a varsity player for the Wildcats in the early 1950s, he was the top free throw shooter in back-to-back seasons in the county league. As a senior captain, he led the team to the 1952 sectional tournament title.
Although he’d taken the academic route at Miami University, when the school held a free throw contest, he won it, making 99 of his 100 under-handed shots.
A few years later while working on his doctorate at Indiana, he won another campus-wide free throw contest.
As we sat at the table that day, he had Susie get the clipping from the Indiana Daily Student. the November 12, 1958, headline read:
“Wise Wins Free Throw Toss.”
That day he made 97 of 100.
After returning to Miami for five years to teach, he came to fledgling Wright State University in 1966 as an assistant marketing professor.
In one of his first years there, WSU sponsored a campus-wide free throw contest that even drew a Raiders basketball player. The intramural director told the two if they ended up tied, there would be a shoot-off at halftime of a WSU game.
That never happened because Gordy never missed.
He had the trophy to prove it.
And yet all those free throw fetes weren’t the reason he was enshrined in the Wright State Hall of Fame three years ago, nor why he’s getting one more newspaper clipping today.
He was so much more than a savant of the foul stripe:
>He is as important of a figure in Wright State athletics as almost anyone you can name.
>He used to compile a strength of schedule list for all Division I college basketball teams that was regularly published in The Basketball Times and often found him being sought out by coaches from around the nation.
>He was a respected college professor for 51 years.
>He was a caring member of the Piqua community for decades.
>He was a loving family man whose embrace included a blended family of seven children that has led to 16 grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren.
>”He was just a fantastic person,” Jim Brown, the longtime Raiders coach and current color commentator of WSU radio broadcasts, said Tuesday. “I can’t say enough good things about him.”
Part of Wright State’s ‘fabric’
“Gordie is part of our fabric,” is the way Wright State Athletics Director Bob Grant put it a few years ago.
When Wise came to WSU, the school had been open just two years and was a branch of Miami University and Ohio State.
Dr. J. B. Branch Jr., the first dean of the business school, appointed him to be part of a committee that determined the feasibility of athletics at the school.
Gordie told me some committee members didn’t want sports at WSU. He disagreed, lobbied for athletics, and won. Soon after he was asked to draft the original constitution of the Athletic Council that would oversee sports at the university.
“Back in the day, when Wright State started its program, the Athletic Council had to approve everything,” Brown said. “If you recruited a kid, before you could actually offer him (a scholarship), you had to get the Athletic Council to approve him academically.”
Wise was the first chair of the Athletic Council and remained a part of it for 21 years. He was also the school’s faculty representative to the NCAA for 19 years.
But Wise is most known for his 49 years at the Voice of the Raiders. He was the PA announcer at WSU first home basketball game at Stebbins High School, then did the games from the Xenia Fieldhouse and was with the Raiders when they moved into the 2,800 seat P.E, Building on campus.
When the Nutter Center opened in 1990, he was the man on the mic, and I can still hear his voice and catch phrase greeting: “Welcome to Wright State and another night of Raider Roundball.”
“You hear his voice, and you immediately think of Wright State basketball,” Grant said. “He was very much like Joe Nuxhall was with the Reds and Jack Buck was for the Cardinals.”
Gordie loved the Raiders and saw more games than just about everyone but Brown and Mike Zink.
At his kitchen table, I asked him about some of his favorites.
Players: Vitaly Potapenko, Bill Edwards, DaShaun Wood and Gary Monroe.
Coach: The late Ralph Underhill, though he made Brown his presenter for the Hall of Fame ceremony.
Biggest upset: The Wright State team that had won just three of its previous 11 games stunning No. 6 Michigan State, 53-49, at the Nutter Center in late December of 1999.
Favorite victories: The Raiders three against the University of Dayton, the team he grew up rooting for, in the long-since jettisoned Gem City Jam.
He especially loved WSU’s 101-99 triumph over the Flyers at UD Arena in 1990.
“We couldn’t come home after that,” he laughed. “We celebrated too much and had to get a hotel room down there.”
But the best part of Gordie Wise was what he did back in Piqua with his family, his church and various groups in town.
He founded a fast-pitch softball team that toured the country. He hosted a jazz radio show for nine years on the radio and he especially cared about kids.
Every Thursday morning for years he went to a local elementary school and helped first and second graders who were struggling with their reading skills,
For nearly a quarter century he spent one day a week at the West Central Juvenile Detention Center between Piqua and Troy mentoring teen felons in rehab.
“Typically, I meet with three teenagers each for an hour or so,” he said. “Sometimes I just ask: ‘How was your week?’ and we go from there.
“I love ‘em. How could you not? It just breaks my heart.”
In 2015 he was given the Friends of Piqua Schools award.
A year later the Piqua Chamber of Commerce gave him the Order of George award, its most prestigious community service award.
Visitation at the funeral home (333 W. High Street, Piqua) will be from noon to 2 p.m., Saturday and the service follows.
But if you want to honor him today, go out and shoot a free throw or, better yet, put your arm around a kid who needs a hug.
More than under-handed, Gordie Wise as at his best with his hands open.