As May draws to a close, so does the 38-year career of College of the Ozarks Athletic Director Al Waller as he retires on May 31st. Steve Shepherd, who assumed Waller’s role coaching the men’s basketball team in 2002, will continue coaching and also assume the role of athletic director on June 1.
Waller began his career at College of the Ozarks in 1977 as men’s basketball coach and physical education instructor. Although his team posted a 9-19 record during Waller’s first season, losing records were not the norm as he moved forward in his coaching career. Waller’s 25-year stint as the College’s head coach found him accumulating 458 wins, 12 conference championships, and six national tournament appearances; he was also named conference Coach of the Year on twelve occasions.
Over the years Waller has garnered numerous accolades, some of which include NAIA Athletic Director of the Year, NAIA Athletics Administrator of the Year, Branson Chamber of Commerce Ambassador Award, and Rotarian of the Year. In addition, he has been inducted into the College of the Ozarks Sports Hall of Fame, NAIA Hall of Fame, and Missouri Sports Hall of Fame.
Waller has served in multiple roles throughout his tenure. At the College, his roles included men’s basketball coach, associate professor of math and physical education, athletic director, and men’s and women’s cross country coach. He concurrently served as the commissioner of the Midlands Collegiate Athletic Conference for 17 years and president of the NAIA Men’s Basketball Coaches’ Association from 1995-96. Over time, Waller has also been an active member of the community—serving on the Board of Directors for Christian Action Ministries, the College of the Ozarks Associates Board of Directors, and as a long-standing and active Branson-Hollister Rotary Club member.
Waller served as co-director of the NAIA Division II Men’s Basketball National Championship, which he helped bring to the College and community. The championship, previously held in Idaho, moved to Branson in 2000 and has provided the College and surrounding community with exceptional national exposure. Each year in March, 31 men’s basketball teams, their families and friends descend upon the area, bringing a strong economic start to the tourist season. Waller’s work in encouraging community business leaders to embrace and support the tournament these past 16 years has significantly contributed to the championship’s success.
At the half-time of most ballgames, Waller has engaged thousands of fans in laughter and mad dashes from the stands to center court through his game of "Al Waller’s What’s in Your Wallet."
Waller founded the Bobcat Booster Club, which has played an active role in enhancing the overall quality of the athletic programs at College of the Ozarks. The Club has enabled the purchase of equipment for sports teams and sponsored social events to encourage interaction between Boosters, players, parents, and coaches. A large portion of these funds are also used to support a library of books which are loaned to athletes each semester for general education classes.
"Coach Waller has done a great deal to bring the College’s athletic program to the national forefront," said Sports Information Director Dori Rapinchuk. "He has made a positive impact on our student
athletes thanks to his strong work ethic and servant’s heart. Coach Waller has traveled with groups of students on mission trips to Nicaragua and Guatemala, initiated opportunities to build community between the athletic teams, and gone above and beyond to help those in need. The Wallers also established a fund to award an annual scholarship in honor of their son, Chris, who was tragically killed in a car accident several years ago, demonstrating once again how to serve others even amidst adversity."
Coach Steve Shepherd remarked, "Al Waller is a unique individual, who is appreciated by many on and off the College campus. The Keeter Gymnasium on the College of the Ozarks campus will not be the same without him. As Al and the College end this era, may both be headed toward exciting new beginnings."