ATHLETIC ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT - RUSTY GREER

 

RUSTY GREER

BASEBALL

CLASS OF 1995

University of Montevallo alumnus Rusty Greer hears his youth baseball players conversing about playing at a big-name university and fulfilling their big-league dreams.

The youth baseball coach and mentor can offer up a different path to the pros to the next generation of stars on the diamond near his home in Colleyville, Texas, where the retired professional baseball player makes his home with his wife, Lauri, and the couple’s three children, Clayton Paul and twins Mason and Taylor.

Greer, a former Falcon who turned his lone scholarship offer from Montevallo into a nine-year career in Major League Baseball, uses his playing career to teach his players a valuable lesson.

“I use it as a point that it doesn’t matter where you play,” Greer said. “If you’re good, scouts will find you. Playing at Montevallo proved that to me.”

Greer, the owner of a decorated professional career with the Texas Rangers, is arguably the most distinguished athletic alum the University has produced. Despite an award-filled collegiate career that paved the foundation for his success on the diamond, Greer recalled receiving his bachelor’s degree in physical education as an equally important accomplishment during his time at the University.

“I was pretty insistent on getting a degree,” Greer said. “That’s what I try to impress on my kids and the children’s groups that I talk to. A college degree is really important.”

Greer said the University of Montevallo went above and beyond to create a successful environment in the classroom for its student-athletes, which the Albertville, Ala. native called a benefit of attending a smaller institution. Greer served as a resident assistant at Napier Hall during his days at the University.

“Being at a small school,” Greer said, “I really felt like I was important. Everyone knew everyone, and professors went out of their way to get to know you and really took care of you.”

For three years, from 1988 to 1990, Greer ruled the outfield at Kermit A. Johnson Field.

Greer got off to a strong start with the Falcons as he recorded the best-ever freshman season at Montevallo, batting .451 with 54 RBIs and seven home runs while being selected NAIA All-District 27 and All-Area 5 and being tabbed a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Honorable Mention All-American.  During his third season with the Falcons in 1990, Greer achieved NAIA first team All-American status and was voted the team’s Most Valuable Player.

In his collegiate career, Greer amassed 216 hits, scored 158 runs, hit 54 doubles, pounded 25 home runs, drove in 133 runs, recorded 53 stolen bases and finished with a career batting average of .394.

Greer flourished in the Texas Rangers organization after being drafted in the 10th round, 279th overall, in the 1990 MLB First-Year Player Draft. Greer worked his way through the organization’s farm system quickly and finished third in the 1995 American League Rookie of the Year balloting in his first season in the MLB.

Greer, who finished his professional career with a .305 batting average, 119 home runs and 614 RBIs, was named an American League All-Star in his third full professional season in 1997. Greer was inducted in to the Texas Rangers Hall of Fame in 2007.

Greer’s name is often tossed around as a famous alum when the Falcons make national headlines, which included a shout out from Tim Cowlishaw on ESPN’s Around the Horn last fall when the Falcons opened the men’s basketball season with an exhibition against top-ranked Kentucky at historic Rupp Arena.

Greer said he is proud to carry the flag as the University’s most recognizable athletic alum.

“I take a lot of pride in Montevallo,” Greer said. “Once I got to the big leagues, everyone would ask me where I went to college. I would tell them all about Montevallo.”

 

ATHLETIC ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT - MARCUS KENNEDY

 

MARCUS KENNEDY

MEN'S BASKETBALL

CLASS OF 2007

University of Montevallo alumnus Marcus Kennedy retired from the sport of basketball in 2013 following a career filled with life-long memories.

None will ever match one moment on a Tuesday evening in March 2007 at BankTrust Arena, now known as Trustmark Arena.

Kennedy drained a desperation heave from near half court as time expired to lift Montevallo to a 64-61 win over Eckerd College in the NCAA Division II South Region championship game, sealing the Falcons’ second consecutive trip to the Elite Eight in front of one of the largest crowds the facility has ever seen.

“It was magical,” said Kennedy, as he recalled students rushing the court. “I’ve never seen the campus with so much energy and excitement. It’s never been duplicated in my life.”

Kennedy, now a licensed realtor at ARC Realty in Birmingham, Ala., said his experience as a student-athlete at the University helped him succeed both on and off the court following graduation in the spring of 2007.

Kennedy went on to play professional basketball in Europe for six years when his collegiate career ended at Montevallo, where he finished his playing career as a three-time NCAA Division II All-American and two-time Player of the Year in the Gulf South Conference East Division.

Kennedy remains third all-time in career scoring at Montevallo with 2,173 points in his career from 2003-07, while also holding nine school records.

Kennedy signed his first professional contract with the Etzella Ettelbruck and played his first two seasons in Ettelbruck, Luxembourg. The 6-foot-4 small forward then signed with the Residence Walferdange and spent the final four seasons of his professional career playing for the team in Bereldange, Luxembourg.

Kennedy left the sport as one of the best players in the Diekirch Basketball League in Luxembourg, averaging a double-double with 23 points and 10 rebounds to go along with 2.5 assists per game in his final season.

Kennedy said a desire to be more involved with his alma mater played a big role in his decision to return to Birmingham. Kennedy joined the University’s Foundation and Office of Advancement and Alumni Affairs as the Annual Fund Alumni Chairperson.

“When I was overseas,” Kennedy said, “I wasn’t able to participate as much as I wanted to on campus.”

“I kind of missed that. I wanted to be involved outside of just making a monthly donation. I wanted to impact the University with my participation.”

Kennedy, who graduated from John Carroll Catholic High School, is also in the early stages of a successful career in real estate in his hometown. Kennedy credits his bachelor’s degree in marketing in the Stephens College of Business with establishing a solid foundation for his future.

“Being part of the business program at Montevallo helped jump start my career,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy served in various leadership roles during his time on the University of Montevallo campus, including participation in the Student Athlete Advisory Committee and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes during his junior and senior year.

“It kind of helped me prioritize my responsibilities,” Kennedy said. “I learned how to have balance and thrive both on and off the court.”

Kennedy developed life-long relationships with several close friends in the Montevallo community during his time as a student-athlete, but no one had a bigger impact than men’s basketball coach Danny Young.

Kennedy said Young’s impact on his players' lives extend beyond the court.

“Coach Young is a player’s coach,” Kennedy said. “I have a lot of respect for him. He’s one of those guys you can relate to off the court.”

 

ATHLETIC ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT - STACEY BALAAM

 

STACEY BALAAM

WOMEN'S SOCCER

CLASS OF 2009

The learning curve for University of Montevallo alumna Stacey Balaam was a little more difficult than the one experienced by most entering their freshman year of college.

In addition to new surroundings, Balaam arrived on a new continent to begin her career as a student-athlete at Montevallo. The native of Suffolk, England, crossed the Atlantic Ocean to become a Falcon.

“Obviously, it was a little bit of a culture shock,” Balaam recalled. “It was a bit of an adjustment in a different environment. It was a huge maturation for me.”

Balaam, a member of the Class of 2009, said her new teammates and head coach Patricia Hughes, a native of Dublin, Ireland, helped ease her transition as a college student.

“The team environment was good for me,” Balaam said. “It helped me grow and develop as a person. Coach Hughes was a great mentor for me.”

Balaam is now entering her third season as the assistant coach of the University of North Georgia women’s soccer team after serving two seasons as an assistant coach for the Falcons.

Balaam has also continued her playing career following the last three seasons playing with the Atlanta Silverbacks W-League team. In her first season with the Silverbacks in 2011, the team won the W-League championship while losing just one game all season. Balaam has served as a team captain during each of the past two seasons.

During her playing days at Montevallo, Balaam was a two-time NCAA Division II All-American, three-time All-Southeast Region and four-time All-Gulf South Conference player. She was named the NCAA Division II South Region Player of the Year in her junior year and led the nation in assists both her junior and senior seasons.

Balaam was a captain for three years at Montevallo and was awarded the Most Valuable Player award three times while equaling the school record in career points.

Balaam said serving as the team captain for the Gulf South Conference championship in 2007 during her junior season stands out as her most memorable accomplishment during her playing career.

“We opened people’s eyes,” Balaam said. “It really boosted the program and put us on the map. That was my most memorable experience.”

Balaam was a member of the Under-19 national squad in England before beginning her college career in the United States.

After completing her collegiate career, Balaam was scouted to play professionally in Iceland where she ended her season with a game-winning goal and was named to the National Premier League’s Team of the Week.

Balaam also served as an assistant girls’ soccer coach at Hoover High School in the spring of 2009 following her graduation at Montevallo and was a part of the coaching staff for the Alabama Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program, which is held annually on the University of Montevallo campus.

Balaam said her time as a student-athlete at Montevallo helped prepare her for the coaching profession.

“I was able to build my leadership skills,” Balaam said. “It helped prepare me for the leadership role as a coach.”


ATHLETIC ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT - TONI LEO

 

TONI LEO

WOMEN'S BASKETBALL / WOMEN'S TENNIS

CLASS OF 1980

University of Montevallo alumna Toni Leo has touched the lives of many children in the state of Alabama during a professional career spanning more than three decades as a teacher and a coach.

Leo, a member of the Class of 1980, said her time as a physical education student and a student-athlete on the University of Montevallo women’s basketball and women’s tennis teams helped build the foundation for her professional success.

“It taught me how to be a leader,” said Leo, a member of the University of Montevallo National Alumni Association. “It taught me about continuing to achieve and not settle for being mediocre. My time at Montevallo not only prepared me to be a great teacher, but also to be a great coach.”

Leo said her experience as a student-athlete at Montevallo helped prepare her both in the classroom and on the court.

“Being a student-athlete at Montevallo taught me so many life lessons,” Leo said. “It taught me about teamwork and perseverance and fighting for something bigger than yourself. It prepared me to become a coach and to lead the teams that I’ve had the honor to coach.”

Leo coached student-athletes at the collegiate, high school and middle school level during her professional career.

The Huntsville, Ala. native began her career as a teacher and coach at Athens High School while earning her Master’s degree in the summer at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

After earning her Master’s degree, Leo coached the women’s volleyball and men’s tennis teams at Elizabeth City State University in Elizabeth City, N.C.

Leo soon returned to her hometown, teaching and coaching at the Randolph School in Huntsville, which led to an opportunity to return to her alma mater. Leo left Randolph to become an assistant girls’ basketball and tennis coach at Grissom High School in Huntsville, where she said her most memorable accomplishment in her professional career occurred. Leo led the tennis team to the Alabama High School Athletic Association Class 6A state championship in 1992.

“It was probably my greatest achievement as a coach,” Leo said.

Leo spent eight years at Grissom before embarking on an opportunity that she couldn’t pass up.

Leo was asked to take over as the first ever girls’ basketball head coach at Clay-Chalkville High School when the school opened in the greater Birmingham area in 1998. Three years later, Leo was again presented the opportunity to build a program from scratch as she accepted the girls’ basketball head coaching position at Oak Mountain High School in Shelby County, where she also coached the volleyball and tennis teams in her first year at the school.

After seven years at Oak Mountain, Leo joined the Alabama State Department of Education as the state’s health and physical education specialist. Leo spent only one year with the Department of Education before her desire to be back on the court returned.

“I missed the kids and coaching,” Leo said.

Leo returned to the Birmingham area as the girls’ volleyball coach at Leeds High School before another opportunity to build a program from scratch arrived at Liberty Park Middle School in Vestavia Hills. Leo spent two years coaching volleyball and basketball at Liberty Park before returning closer to her home in Hoover as a girls’ basketball coach at Bumpus Middle School, her final stop before retirement following the 2012-2013 academic year.

Leo has received plenty of recognition for her achievements over the years, including her induction into the University of Montevallo Athletic Hall of Fame in 1992 and being selected as the Department of Kinesiology Alumna of the Year in 2008. However, one award Leo earned as a student-athlete left the biggest impression on her.

Leo received the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) “Whit” Lee award as the top female student-athlete at the intercollegiate level in the state of Alabama.

“It was truly something that was surprising to me,” Leo said. “Being recognized by my peers and the women’s coaches in the state was quite an honor.”


ATHLETIC ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT - TODD STRANGE

 

TODD STRANGE

MEN'S GOLF

CLASS OF 1966

University of Montevallo alumnus Todd Strange plays an important role in the state of Alabama as the mayor of Montgomery and serving as a member of his alma mater’s Board of Trustees.

Strange, a member of the Class of 1966, draws from his experience as a member of the University of Montevallo men’s golf team to help him stay on top of his responsibilities in his leadership role.

Strange said he owes much of his success in his professional career to his experience as a student, athlete and active member in the community during his time in Montevallo.

“I was juggling a lot,” Strange said. “It takes a lot of discipline and work to organize your schedule. It definitely helped me establish my priorities.”

Strange, a resident of Montgomery who began his second 12-year term as a University trustee in 2008, is the former chairman of the Montgomery County Commission.

Strange, who earned a bachelor of science degree from the University of Montevallo in 1966 in political science, is president and CEO of Blount Strange Holdings LLC. He is former president, CEO and co-owner of Blount Strange Automotive Group.

Strange formerly served as director of the Alabama Development Office. His professional credentials also include previous service as senior vice president for administration of Blount International, as well president and CEO of the Blount Development Corp. He also has held leadership roles with South Central Bell Co.

Strange is chairman of the Capital City Club. He serves on the board of directors and is former vice chairman of the Montgomery Business Committee for the Arts.

A former president of the University of Montevallo National Alumni Association, Strange is former president and campaign chairman of the Montgomery area United Way and is former chairman of the board of directors for the Montgomery Chamber of Commerce.

He also is a past president of the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind Foundation. Strange is a former board member of the Automobile Dealers Association of Alabama and National Dealers Association and is a former chairman of the YMCA Metro Board and of the Community Education Committee. He also served as chairman for Montgomery’s Riverfront Development Committee and Montgomery’s Riverfront Alliance.

Strange was named Boss of the Year by the Business and Professional Women and the March Of Dimes’ River Region Citizen of the Year. He received Time magazine’s Quality Dealer Award for Alabama and, in 2000, the Auburn University-Montgomery Outstanding Community Leader Award.

Strange is married to the former Linda Davis, a 1967 University of Montevallo graduate. They have two daughters.

Strange has maintained a strong connection through the years with many of his classmates at Montevallo, including a few of his men’s golf teammates.

Strange and a few of his friends gather annually at the Bluewater Bay Golf Resort in Destin, Fla. to catch up on life and reminisce about their time at Montevallo.

“For 36 hours,” Strange said, “we’re back at Montevallo.”