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Evangel University celebrates final regular season games in historic Ashcroft Center, honors Ashcroft family and legendary men’s basketball coach

Published on Mar 8, 2024 by Erin Hedlun

EU President Dr. Mike Rakes (right) says the Pledge of Allegiance with former Attorney General John Ashcroft (left) before presenting General Ashcroft with a framed photo of the construction of the historic Ashcroft Center.

SPRINGFIELD, Missouri – Evangel University hosted its final regular season basketball games on February 24, an event that signified the end of an era in the historic J. Robert Ashcroft Center. Next season’s games will be played in the university’s Valor Center athletic arena. The games on Feb. 24 also honored the legacy of the Ashcroft family and legendary EU men’s basketball coach Steve Jenkins.

Named for Evangel’s second university president, Dr. J. Robert Ashcroft, the Ashcroft Center has been the heart of EU’s indoor athletic programs since its opening in 1967. During two special pre-game ceremonies, EU president Dr. Mike Rakes honored the Ashcroft legacy and presented a framed photo of President Ashcroft at the building’s construction site to the Ashcroft family, represented by former U.S. Attorney General and longtime EU supporter John Ashcroft.

“We pause to honor the legacy of the Ashcroft Center and the hundreds of student athletes that dedicated themselves to the discipline of their sport within its walls. Their stories would not be possible without the legacy of Dr. James Robert Ashcroft, president of Evangel University from 1958-1974,” Rakes said.

The building’s unique architecture has served as a campus landmark to visitors; housed the athletic weight room, locker rooms, training and treatment facilities; and provided a home to the Evangel basketball and volleyball teams for the last 57 years.

During his tenure as EU president, Ashcroft played an instrumental role in the construction of not only the Ashcroft Center, but also of Spence, Walther, Scott, and Krause Residence Halls, Kendrick Library, and EU’s Dining Hall. Several Evangel athletics programs were launched during his presidency, including men’s and women’s basketball, track and field, cross country, baseball, softball, tennis, field hockey, men’s wrestling, and soccer.

Dr. Mike Rakes (far right) presents former EU head men’s basketball coach Steve Jenkins (middle) with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his decades of service to EU with Jenkins’ wife, Rhonda, by his side.

As part of the celebration on Feb. 24, EU’s longtime men’s head basketball coach Steve Jenkins was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award. The honor was presented by Dr. Mike Rakes at a pre-game luncheon, attended by more than 200 former players, coaches, and staff.

In addition to the award, EU announced that the arena in its new Valor Center would be named in honor of Jenkins.

“Coach Jenkins has clearly made an impact for generations,” Rakes said. “We are excited to celebrate his legacy as we move into the future.”

During his 39-year tenure as the head coach of Evangel men’s basketball, Jenkins accumulated 692 wins, ranking 22nd in all-time wins in the NAIA. He led the team to an NAIA national championship title in 2002, seven championship titles in the Heart of America Athletic Conference, and 13 appearances in the NAIA national tournament.

Jenkins has received National Coach of the Year honors from the NAIA and has been inducted into the NAIA Hall of Fame, the Missouri Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame, the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, and the Evangel Athletic Hall of Fame.

A total of $1.1 million has been donated to EU in honor of Jenkins.

The games on Feb. 24 brought a fitting end to the regular season for the men’s and women’s teams. Both scored victories against Oklahoma Wesleyan University, with a men’s team ranked number 4 in the nation. The men’s final score was 80-74 and the women’s final score was 80-69.

The arena in the new Valor Center will be named the Steve Jenkins Court.

The men’s team earned a spot in the NAIA national tournament for a third consecutive season under third-year head coach Bert Capel. Evangel will travel to Waxahachie, Texas as a 15-seed and open the tournament against No. 2 seed Florida Memorial, on Friday, March 15.

The Valor Center, Evangel’s new 70,000 square-foot athletics complex, is slated for completion in summer 2024. The facility will house EU’s volleyball and men’s and women’s basketball programs, a training facility with a state-of-the-art varsity weight room and exercise complex, sports medicine lab, and athletics administration and coaches’ offices. It will serve as an athletic venue, campus activity space, and community event hub.

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About Evangel University

Evangel University, with its embedded Assemblies of God Theological Seminary (AGTS), is a comprehensive Spirit-led Christian university located in Springfield, Missouri. It is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and a member of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. Under the leadership of Dr. Mike Rakes, EU is committed to excellence in educating and equipping students to serve the Church and society globally and becoming compassionate innovators in their chosen vocations. EU offers more than 70 degree programs, including cutting-edge majors, pre-professional programs, and affordable and flexible online degree options.

EU is highly regarded and has been ranked:

  • #1 Best College in Springfield & #2 Best Christian College in Missouri by Niche
  • US News & World Report Best Colleges Top Performer in Social Mobility
  • Colleges of Distinction Best Christian University
  • Top 10 Best Universities by AcademicInfluence.com
  • Third Most Beautiful Campus in the Midwest by Christian Colleges & Universities
  • Top 10 Best Colleges in Missouri by BestColleges.com

With additional accreditations in business, counseling, music, social work, and theology and certification as an Excellence in Giving university, EU is focused on providing students with hands-on experience and real-world training for today’s professional careers. Learn more about the university at evangel.edu.