Xavier honors retiring president Norman Francis _lowres

Advocate photo by VERONICA DOMINACH -- Xavier's President Norman Franc1s waves to the crowd as he is presented with gifts to commemorate his service to Xavier University at halftime of Saturday's game against Dillard University at Xavier.

Xavier University on Saturday night surprised president Norman Francis, immortalizing its legendary leader by unveiling his personal rafter, the latest addition to the sports achievements chronicled atop the Convocation Center.

It marked a fitting tribute to a man and mentor whose dedication to academics and athletics inspired Xavier athletes.

A visionary who led the re-boot of sports on the campus of the historically black college in 1967 and since then, has watched thousands of athletes in men’s and women’s basketball, tennis, volleyball, soccer and others.

“We’ve won some and lost some, but won a lot more,” Francis said. “It’s been great to see all the athletes that have come through here and develop into leaders in this community and others.”

Francis said he plans to continue his regular attendance at Xavier sporting events after his upcoming retirement.

The moment marked one of Francis’ last Xavier sports appearances in his final season as the school’s leader. His love affair with the Gert town campus dates back several decades to his undergraduate days. Which is why no story about Xavier’s re-booted athletics effort, starting in 1967, is complete without Francis.

Former Xaver football player Vidal Easton summed up Francis’ impact by glancing around the Convocation Center courtside.

“This is it,” Easton said. “This says it all.”

More than two decades after Ed Lumpkin (1983-88) played basketball at Xavier, the former letterman remembers walking through campus in recent years and hearing a familiar voice.

“He yelled my name; first and last name,” Lumpkin said of Francis. “I should have been acknowledging him, and he acknowledges you.

Dorcas Harvey, who played basketball during the same span, said Francis’ constant presence at Xavier sports didn’t add pressure. After all, he was more of a father than public figure. More supportive than supervisor.