It’s the untold story of the volleyball team’s 2007 national championship run: exceptional athletes, a seasoned coach and Kathy Lasater’s socks.
A superstitious Bears fan who never misses a big game, Lasater, intramural administrative assistant in the Department of Athletics, traveled to Bloomington, Ill., last November with a group of WUSTL employees. As Lasater, a jovial woman with silver hair and a lustrous smile, tells the story, she bubbles with excitement.
“I had found these socks at Walgreens, heavy cotton but kind of nubby with red, green and white woven in a swirling pattern into the fabric,” she says. “At first, we were doing OK. We won the first game, but then the lead changed, and I took my shoes off and started pacing like I usually do if the games get tight.
“When we started losing, I had to do something, so the socks switched feet and we started winning again. The socks were changing feet all night!”
The socks worked their sartorial magic — the Bears won in five games — and the rest is WUSTL athletic history. It’s history Lasater could pull up a chair and talk about for hours.
Lasater is one of those staff members often overlooked, a behind-the-scenes person who is so much a part of the fabric of the University they often are taken for granted. Yet, try to imagine life without them.
Officially, Lasater has been intramural assistant for 20 of her 28 years at WUSTL. Unofficially, she also is den mother, babysitter, promotions director, caterer, florist, driver, hospitality coordinator, assistant coach, head cheerleader, friend, confidante and No. 1 Bears fan.
“Creating a positive undergraduate experience is one of the University’s top priorities, and many contribute to that effort,” says Justin X. Carroll, assistant vice chancellor for students and dean of students, who was in that contingent to Bloomington last November. “But there are also those who work tirelessly behind the scenes who go unrecognized. That’s Kathy. She has done so much in 28 years to enhance the experience of not only our student-athletes but the entire campus community.”
The human element
Whether it’s typing a letter to a recruit, organizing the hospitality room of one of the annual tournaments, baking brownies for tournament-bound Bears or helping a young assistant coach get acclimated to WUSTL, Lasater is the glue that holds together the athletic department.
“Kathy is the type of person who would do absolutely anything for anybody,” basketball coach Mark Edwards says. “To give her some recognition is great for all of us. Anytime we have tried something new in the department, she has been the one to spearhead it. She brings the human element to all athletic events — and has from the very beginning.”
Basketball is special to Lasater, and she sits in the same spot at home games — the top row of the south end of the bleachers — so she can have a good view of the court and the bench. Unless the game gets tight — then she starts her famous pacing.
Edwards says Lasater takes it upon herself to get him a red carnation to wear as a boutonniere in big games. “Every year when we’d play the University of Chicago, their coach, Mike McGrath, would ask Kathy where his was,” Edwards says. “One year she surprised him with a white carnation. She’s bought him one ever since.”
Football coach Larry Kindbom says Lasater’s office is always occupied with people talking to her about their kids or their lives. “Usually there is great laughter in every instance,” he says.
Lasater also is godmother to Kindbom’s daughter Kelsey, now 15. “What we see in her with our daughter is what we see in her with everyone that has graced her office,” Kindbom says. “She always greets visitors with a smile, and they all leave with a little laughter feeling good about themselves.”
Women’s basketball coach Nancy Fahey says Lasater helps bring cohesiveness to the athletic department. “A few years ago, one of our assistants left and went to a different school,” Fahey says. “I asked him how it was going, and he said, ‘It’s fine, but we don’t have a Kathy.'”
Whatever is asked
Lasater often can be found in the intramural office on the second floor of the Athletic Complex. She has a desk in the corner, but don’t count on her sitting there for eight hours. She’s behind the big steel counter signing up students for intramurals or dashing around the building doing whatever is asked of her.
Years at WUSTL: 28; 8 in student affairs, 20 in the athletic department
Education: B.A., education, 1978, Harris-Stowe State University; M.Ed., 1979, Saint Louis University
If she didn’t work at WUSTL: “I have a secret desire to be in a rock band,” she says. “Have a tambourine in my hand, doing ‘Ooh, ooh, ooh, baby.’ But it would have to be a quality act. I’d love to be a backup singer for Eric Clapton.”
If she could have any other job at WUSTL: “I’d love to teach,” she says. “It’s the finest profession you can have, a noble career. Who’s to say I won’t go back to it? Maybe English literature.”
The office is warm, welcoming and filled with WUSTL memorabilia and bulletin boards that are a hodgepodge of photos and headlines.
“Behind the scenes, she’s the one people rely on for help,” says intramural director and women’s golf coach Sean Curtis. “She has a real passion for this department.”
Kathy deflects any of the praise thrown her way. “In my job description, there’s the line ‘and duties as assigned by the director of athletics.'” She laughs. “Those ‘duties’ end up being, on any given day, 50-60 percent of my job. You never know what you’re going to be called to do.
“I just do whatever they ask me to do,” she says. “(Athletic Director) John Schael has an attitude that he wants this department to operate at the best level it can. There is a high level of professionalism here, and anything less is unacceptable. There’s an expectation of excellence, so you do the best you can for anyone in this building.”
Lasater came to the University in 1980, first as administrative assistant in the Office of Student Affairs, where she worked with Carroll, then to the athletic department in 1988. Before that, she was a reading teacher for one year after earning a bachelor’s degree in education in 1978 from Harris-Stowe State University and a master’s degree from Saint Louis University in 1979.
“I loved to teach, but I didn’t like the paperwork,” she says.
She has a high appreciation for the WUSTL student-athlete. “These kids, these athletes, are all something, aren’t they?” she says. “They manage their time extremely well. Some of them could probably play Division I, but they come here for the academics. They’re driven.”
Bleeding red and green
As for outside interests, she admits there are times when it’s good to get away and spend time with a good book, good friends or her family, which includes three generations of nieces and nephews. Lasater says she’s constantly looking to improve herself. “If it’s not challenging, it’s not interesting,” she says. She takes classes at night and is working her way through a creative writing course this semester.
Lasater also ushers at St. Louis Cardinals games when her WUSTL duties don’t conflict. She started out working in concessions but “got tired of coming home smelling like bratwurst.” She has worked all over the stadium and has a permanent home now in right field. But her athletic heart will always belong to the WUSTL Bears, and her eyes dance when she talks about the most recent titles.
“Last year was amazing — to have three (national titles) in one year! There are stories about all three of those teams that could be made into movies,” she says.
She speaks with pride about men’s basketball, recalling how the players acted at the banquet honoring the Final Four teams. The other teams were introduced first, with the starters and bench players ending up in separate spots on the dais — except for the Bears, who made a point to stand together even as they were introduced separately.
“I just knew that was a sign, and that this year would be different,” she says. “The entire weekend was magical — like ‘Hoosiers.'”
Or when the men’s tennis team played for the title the afternoon before Commencement. The Undergraduate Recognition ceremony for the School of Engineering was being held in the gym while 20 athletic department staff members crowded into the office of Sports Information Director Chris Mitchell to listen to an Internet broadcast. “A huge roar went up from the office when we won,” she says. “Chris was e-mailing Chancellor (Mark) Wrighton, who announced it later to everyone. It was something.”
She smiles at the memory. She smiles at a lot of memories.
The socks, she says, are going to be framed, along with a piece of the gym floor from the title match that the players all signed — memorabilia that will go in her office with the other knickknacks.
She looks around that office and opens her arms as if she’d like to encompass the entire building. “This is like family to me,” she says. “It’s a small town, but one where everyone works together. It’s a wonderful atmosphere.”
Would she call herself the mayor of the small town? “Oh, no. I’m not the one in charge.” She smiles and gets that twinkle in her eye.
“I’m the person who makes the person in charge look good,” she says.