Tanner Loves LA Tech, Athletics
July 30, 2015 by Malcolm Butler
RUSTON – One of the true unsung heroes in the Louisiana Tech Athletics Department is a mild-mannered, motherly-like office administrator by day, but an over-the-top, fanatic by night … at least on nights when the Bulldogs or Lady Techsters are playing.
Meet Kim Tanner. Just make sure you aren’t wearing any attire of another college team when you do. You wouldn’t like her when she is angry.
“I love it all: football and basketball,” said Ms. Kim as she is affectionately known by Tech staff and the student-athletes. “I love all sports and have ever since I became a student at Tech. I just love everything about Louisiana Tech.”
The love for Tech athletics led to a desire to eventually become a bigger part of the Tech Family.
“I always wanted to work here (back when I was in school). However, once I did not finish school (at Tech), I was not sure what to do with my life.”
After getting married to Travis Tanner in 1988, this Farmerville, Louisiana, native finally got the opportunity to fulfill that goal when she began working part time for the school of performing arts in 1994.
“I went to work for Katie Robinson,” Kim said. “She hired me part time. I was working for the Louisiana Tech Concert Association. I went from part time to full time in 1995 when the lady ahead of me retired. I moved into her position and stayed there for three years. I then moved to the College of Education. I worked (in the College of Education) for seven years before my move to Tech Athletics.”
That’s another story in itself.
The daughter of JoAnn and Billy Grafton, Kim started going to Louisiana Tech sporting events with her parents. It stuck, and over time, turned into a passion.
“I think it started with my parents,” Kim said. “My first game was football when I was in fifth or sixth grade. Most people went to the movies or things like that, but we went to Tech games.
“Basketball was my mother’s favorite sport. She played it and wanted to coach it but did not and got married. She started going to Lady Techster games, and I started going when I was a student in 1979. This was in (Scotty Robertson) Memorial Gym. We would stand in line forever to get in. We had a certain place we sat and every game was packed. That started my love for the Lady Techsters.”
Her love for the Lady Techsters is only matched by her love for her family and church.
“I lived in Farmerville all of my life,” she said. “I came to Tech after I graduated from Farmerville High School. I was very involved in church work and things like that growing up. I started at Tech in 1979 and was here until 1985, and I still did not finish. I got married. I have never gone back (to school). I’m only 30 hours short.”
The lack of the diploma hasn’t prevented Ms. Kim from making her mark in life, especially on people. Stephen Pate currently works as the Senior Director of Community and Governmental Affairs for the NFL’s New Orleans Saints and NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans. He owns a firsthand knowledge of Tech Athletics, of Lady Techster basketball and more importantly, of Mrs. Kim.
“I've been attending Lady Techster games since the early 1990s and remember seeing Ms. Kim and her group at all of the games,” said Pate, who earned his bachelor’s in education in 2003 and his master’s in 2005, both from Louisiana Tech. “I didn't officially meet Ms. Kim until the mid-’90s when I started traveling to away games. There was a large contingent of Lady Techster fans in those days that traveled to almost every game. There was a group that always sat together, including Ms. Kim, her mother, Ms. Judy Gates, Mr. John Brynsvold and Mr. Rae Greer.
“I always admired how much fun they had together. The 1996-1997 season we were playing Florida in West Lafayette, Indiana, at the Sweet 16. We fell behind early and never really got back into the game. Ms. Kim was sitting close to me, and bless her heart, she got so upset and nervous that she had to leave the stands. I remember thinking that she had to be the Lady Techsters’ biggest fan in the world. She loved them so much and was so passionate and vocal.”
Pate’s observation is one that is common to anyone who knows Kim Tanner. And by the time he had met her in the mid-’90s, Ms. Kim was almost a 15-year veteran of Techster games.
“I went to the first NCAA Final Four in 1982,” Kim recalls. “Tech took two buses; a student bus and then a bus with older people. We went on the older bus because our parents wanted us to go with some people we knew from Farmerville. We drove straight to Norfolk, Virginia. We won it and I have never had any feeling like that. It was the most amazing thing to win a national championship. We beat Cheyney State. The game was never really close.”
Of the 10 NCAA Final Four appearances made by Louisiana Tech (not counting the three AIAW Final Fours), Kim Tanner has seen eight of them in person. The only ones she has missed? Tech defeated Auburn, 56-54, to claim the 1988 national title in Tacoma, Washington. She also missed the 1989 Final Four when Auburn defeated Tech in the national semifinals.
“I have been to every one of the NCAA national championship games except 1988 because I got married that year,” Kim said. “My mother sat down and cried. She said she would never miss another one. I remember sitting in my mother’s living room as she cried. I said I will never miss another one. We have not. We went to every national championship game after that.”
Pate’s love for Louisiana Tech and the Lady Techster program left little doubt he would attend the University after graduating from Castor High School. By then, he knew Ms. Kim extremely well from the games and would eventually become one of “her kids” in the college of education.
“In the late 1990s, I finally became part of her group on the road,” Pate said. “Ms. Kim sort of adopted me and insisted that I sit with her at the away games. We were sitting very close by each other in San Jose in 1999, the last time we played in a Final Four. She sat behind me in 2000 when we lost in the Elite 8.
“While I was in college, Ms. Kim was like a second mother and made sure I was getting along OK. She would call me and check up on me and almost all of our conversations turned to our love of the Lady Techsters and Jesus. Growing up in a small town and going to a very small rural north Louisiana high school, you are sort of in a bubble, people genuinely care about you.
“One great fear I had was would anybody care for me at Tech. Ms. Kim calmed any anxiety I had about that. She was a very special lady in that education department and everybody loved and adored her. There is a reason she is affectionately known as Ms. Kim.”
Pate became the video coordinator for Leon Barmore and the Lady Techsters at the start of the 2000-01 season, working practices and traveling to every game. It allowed him to be a part of a program he loved around people he loved even more.
It also allowed him to play middle man when the secretarial position opened up in women’s basketball a few years later.
“When long-time secretary Betty Jensen retired from women's basketball, I was in graduate school and by this time an alumnus,” said Pate, who was still working for the Lady Techsters. “I walked into Coach (Kurt) Budke's office and said I knew who the new secretary should be.
“I went to Ms. Kim's office and told her the program needed her. Surprisingly, she was hesitant. She felt an enormous loyalty to the education department. I convinced her to interview and Coach Budke loved her and hired her. She did an amazing job and everyone within the program adored her.”
The transition wasn’t quite as easy as all of that, according to Kim.
“Kurt hired me, and I took the job and started crying,” Kim remembers. “I called him back and turned it down. I said that I could not leave education. I loved my job. I called Kurt and said I cannot do it. He was really disappointed.
“That weekend, I had all weekend to think about it. That Sunday, I called Stephen and told him that I was not going to call Coach Budke, but that I had changed my mind again and I would take it if Coach Budke still wanted me. I told Stephen that if he was still interested to call me on Monday morning. About 10 a.m., I had not heard from anyone so I called Stephen. Stephen said, ‘What are you waiting on? He is waiting on you to call him.’ I ended up calling him and taking the job.”
Kim spent three years in women’s basketball before transitioning once again, this time to the office coordinator for athletic facilities with added responsibilities to baseball, softball, track and field, golf and bowling.
And like everywhere else she has worked along the way, she is loved by those who work closely with her on a daily basis.
“Kim is an energetic, hard-working employee that has dedicated her life’s work to Louisiana Tech University,” said Tech Associate Athletics Director for Internal Operations Adam McGuirt. “She has a true passion for Tech Athletics and can be seen at many of the sporting events throughout the year. She cares for our student-athletes and their well-being on and off the court. She is a true asset to this department and embodies the meaning of the Tech Family.”
She considers all of the student-athletes that she works closely around “her kids.” As a result, Tech sporting events have taken on even a deeper meaning over the last 10 years.
“The game is more personal now,” Kim said. “You know the athletes, where they are from and all about them. It is like your kids. You just want to see them succeed. It is just different.”
Thus, when you go to a Bulldog football game on a Saturday evening in the fall at Joe Aillet Stadium or you watch a hoops game at the Thomas Assembly Center or a spring sporting event, don’t be surprised if you see a familiar face in the crowd.
“There have been a number of Lady Techster fixtures over the years,” Pate said. “From where I was sitting at my first game nearly 25 years ago, I saw five student-athletes in sleeved uniforms on the court, the greatest coach to ever roam the sidelines in Leon Barmore and a lady in the crowd, constantly yelling and clapping named Ms. Kim.”
It’s more than just another game to Kim Tanner when her Tech “kids” are playing. It’s a fanatical way of life.
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