WKU Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Ross Bjork was the keynote speaker at the Tournament of Champions Breakfast at his high school in Dodge City, Kan., on Saturday. Below is a recap of the speech that appeared in the Dodge City Daily Globe:
"Western Kentucky University's athletic director, Ross Bjork, speaks at Tournament of Champions Breakfast"
By Mark Reagan, Dodge City Daily Globe
DODGE CITY, Kan. — The Dodge City Red Demons inched past Scott City to capture the 68th Annual Tournament of Champions crown with a 62-58 victory Saturday night.
But earlier that morning — before the elation of a championship victory — a few hundred people attended the Tournament of Champions Breakfast in the Dodge City High School cafeteria.
The first meal of the day was sponsored by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Boot Hill Adult Chapter.
The keynote speaker was Western Kentucky University’s athletic director, Ross Bjork — one of Dodge City’s own.
“A lot of emotions are running through me being here today, at this breakfast, at this tournament,” Bjork said. “I believe in never forgetting where you came from and always paying tribute to the journey that got you to where you are today.”
Bjork played football for Dodge City Middle School, DCHS and Dodge City Community College before moving on to Emporia State University, where he started as fullback for two years while earning a bachelor’s degree in recreation administration. He earned a master’s degree in athletic administration from Western Illinois University in 1996.
Bjork’s career took him coast to coast, from the University of Miami to UCLA, before he landed in Bowling Green at Western Kentucky University as the youngest Division One athletic director out of 120 schools.
Despite his success, his roots in Dodge City stuck with him. He never forgot his home.
"When I was growing up here in this town, there was nothing better than Dodge City,” he said. “There was nothing better than being a Red Demon football player.”
Bjork said he could not get enough of athletics while growing up in Dodge. He watched sports. He played sports. He talked sports. He breathed sports.
“I remember sitting with friends watching Final Fours growing up,” Bjork said. “I remember sitting there watching the Final Four going, ‘How do you get there? How do you get inside that arena? How do you become a fan of the Final Four and attend one of the Final Fours?’”
He figured it out, because he’s been to every single one since 1998.
Sacrifice, attitude and effort
Bjork traced the origins of his career to the Tournament of Champions.
“I remember attending every game I could — when they would let us out of school,” he said. “A lot of time they would let us out of school, especially if Dodge City was playing.”
But the action on the court wasn’t the only aspect of the tournament that intrigued Bjork. He wanted to know how the operation worked.
How did the game programs get put together? Those people at the score table — what were they writing? What about the ticket takers? How did you get on the Tournament of Champions committee?
“The one thing I’m upset with is it was all girls,” Bjork said. “They wouldn’t let guys on the committee.”
He just couldn’t get enough of how it was put together.
Meanwhile, he continued to play football for DCHS. He said his coaches instilled hard work into him. And Bjork, he learned the value of earning.
“Our coaches set a standard for greatness and for excellence. They did not let us have that attitude (of entitlement),” he said. “We had to earn everything that we got.”
Out of it all, Bjork realized that there are two things people can control: attitude and effort.
“Your attitude toward life, toward school, toward family, toward sports is all up to you,” he said. “Nobody else can control your attitude.”
And both effort and attitude made the difference in his career and life, he said.
“I didn’t just step into the seat of being athletic director at Western Kentucky,” he said. “I had to work to get here. I had to go the extra mile in order to get to where I am.”
Bjork did everything from selling tickets to cleaning up vomit while walking that extra mile.
“I knew that if I sacrificed early that it could all happen,” he said.
What’s your life lens?
Finally, Bjork challenged the audience.
“As I close today, I’d like to challenge you a little bit to think about other people that can help you,” he said. “You should not take your journey alone. Because it will be hard. You will be faced with consequences and actions and things like that where you’re thinking, ‘I can’t get out of this.’
“So don’t do it alone. You have to rely on people that have really forged a trail ahead you, a trail of greatness.”
He’s been at Western Kentucky University for nine months. But before that, he worked at UCLA as senior athletic director for external relations.
While he was there, he had the opportunity to know and work with the late, great basketball coach John Wooden.
Bjork left the eight teams and everyone else at the breakfast with the seven principles Wooden kept in his pocket:
• Be true to yourself.
• Make each day your masterpiece.
• Help others.
• Drink deeply from good books.
• Make friendship a fine art.
• Build a shelter against a rainy day.
• Give thanks for your blessings every day.
“A lot of things relate back to these simple things. So think about those simple things that should go through your life,” Bjork said. “What is your life lens? That’s really a life lens. What is your life lens?”
To view the article on the Dodge City Daily Globe's website, which include pictures from the breakfast, click here.