Those who gathered to honor Wes Kittley (’81) and Joel Wells, M.D. (’06), at the 2020 Alumni Day Luncheon on Feb. 23, 2020, made it clear the two men are known for putting others first. The 2020 Outstanding Alumnus of the Year and Young Alumnus of the Year, respectively, were celebrated not only for their exceptional careers but for their servant leadership and being ambassadors for their alma mater.
Kittley is in his 21st season as director of track and field and cross country at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, having first coached the Wildcats from 1984-99. Wells is an assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery and comprehensive hip surgeon at The University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas, Texas.
Two of Wells’ professors from his time at ACU, where he was a biology major and a standout on the Wildcat baseball team, offered tributes. Dr. Paul Morris (’66), professor emeritus of physics and Bible, missions and ministry, recalled not only Wells’ intellectual prowess as a student, but his talent on the diamond, likening his swings to those of legendary Yankee Mickey Mantle’s.
But what truly impressed Morris was than when Wells was recruited by the New York Mets his senior year, he instead chose to go to Tulane Medical School in New Orleans, Louisiana, as part of its first class to return to the reopened campus after Hurricane Katrina.
“Not going into the major leagues showed his character,” he said.
Dr. Perry Reeves (’65), professor emeritus of chemistry, agreed. He remembers once writing in a recommendation for Wells, “Joel should be the poster boy for the NCAA because he is the ideal scholar-athlete.”
Wells interned in surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, served his residency in orthopaedic surgery at Harvard Combined Orthopaedic and Surgery Residency Program at Massachusetts General Hospital, and received advanced training through a fellowship at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri. He is now one of the top surgeons in North Texas to treat hip dysplasia, hip impingement and complex hip deformities, and he is considered an expert at performing periacetabular osteotomy.
“You’re having a tremendous impact on the lives of people who are suffering great pain and discomfort, and you’re making their lives better,” Reeves said. “I’m proud of you, and I’m happy that Paul and I have a small part in you becoming the man you are. You chose the right path.”
Wells thanked his mother and grandparents for raising and supporting him, and he gave credit to the people who continue have always made up his team.
“I performed on the field not because I was the best, but because my teammates were,” he said. “I’m living an inspired life and loving what I do, and I can honestly say I have the best job in the world. But it’s not because of me, it’s because I have the best patients.”
Don Garrett (’77), director of endowment strategy and senior advancement officer, had two words to describe his friend, Kittley: “Fiercely loyal.” Garrett first took notice of Kittley when he was running track for small Rule, Texas. He helped recruit Kittley to ACU, where he was a three-time NAIA All-America performer in the 800 meters, and Garrett noted that at both ACU and Tech, Kittley has made it a point to recruit student-athletes from smaller schools to give them the kind of chance he was given as a Wildcat.
Kittley was hired by legendary athletic director Foy Wallace “Wally” Bullington (’53) in 1983 as the ACU women’s track and field coach, a role he said changed his life. Another huge ask came in 1993 from then-athletic director Cecil Eager (’71), who in the midst of budget cuts, asked Kittley to coach both the men’s and women’s teams, but without a pay increase. Kittley said yes and made it work, Eager said at the luncheon, because that’s just what Kittley does.
“That boy knows how to work,” Eager said. “You’re not raised on a farm in Rule, Texas, plowing ground without learning how to work.”
Kittley served as the Wildcats’ head coach until 1999. In 1996, he led the men’s and women’s teams to all four Division II titles (indoor and outdoor) as ACU became the first university at any level of NCAA competition to accomplish the feat. And the Wildcats did it again in 1999. At Tech, Wittley has consistently led the Red Raiders to success, including their first NCAA team championship in the history of men’s athletics at the university in 2019. He also was named Outdoor Coach of the Year for 2019 by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association, a first for a Red Raider coach.
“Wes, this is the easiest thing I’ve ever done – pay tribute to you,” Eager said.
People are drawn to Kittley’s “winsome personality,” Eager said, calling his spirit of enthusiasm “God-inspired.”
“The spirit of God in him is the source of what he does,” he said. “His faith is remarkable.”
Kittley said Eager asking him to coach both men’s and women’s teams was “the greatest opportunity of my professional life,” and he said he experienced nothing but love and encouragement during his time as a coach in Abilene and even when he left for Lubbock. That sense of welcome and belonging began even before Garrett watched him run in high school.
In eighth grade, he attended a two-week summer sports camp at ACU called Camp Wildcat. Kittley ran and won a 400m race on the final night of camp, after which Don Smith (’53), a longtime football and track and field coach for the Wildcats, came up to him and said, “You’re going to get a scholarship to ACU.” Later, Kittley was named “Most Outstanding Camper” and given the award by Dr. Curtis Allen Dickson (’66), the late professor emeritus of exercise science and health.
“I can’t begin to tell you what a tremendous positive influence ACU had on me beginning that week,” Kittley said. “I don’t know what would’ve happened to me if I hadn’t come to ACU. The education I got here was second to none. I thank the Lord every day that I’m a Wildcat.”
“My prayer for you,” he continued, “is to be that person that picked out Wes Kittley at Camp Wildcat. Keep picking out the Wes Kittleys of the world, and keep planting those seeds that you planted in me, because everything started right here for me.”