When Ray Vaughn accepted the job as the athletic director at Central Christian College in 1958, the school - which had just moved from Bartlesville to the northern edge of Oklahoma City - had no athletic facilities for its fledgling intercollegiate basketball and track and field programs. It was a far cry from the local high school powerhouse he’d helped build at Capitol Hill High School.
“They told him, ‘We’re going to hire you to start this athletic program and you have zero facilities with which to do it,’' said Vaughn’s son, Ray Vaughn Jr. “But Dad never let the lack of facilities inhibit what we needed to do. He had a good run.”
Soon enough, through Vaughn’s hard work and persistence, facilities were built, programs were created and thrived, and lives of students were changed - so much that it was difficult to tell where Vaughn’s job at Oklahoma Christian ended and where his ministry began.
And make no mistake about it - Vaughn was the first of many OC coaches and athletic staff members through the decades who have used sports as a ministry vehicle.
“He was good at showing all of us that you could be competitive, successful and want to win and do it legally and ethically and in a Christian manner,” said Randy Heath, who was one of Vaughn’s track athletes and later succeeded him as OC’s Cross Country and Track Head Coach.
“One quote he always said, that’s always been in my mind, is ‘Under-promise and over-deliver.’ That speaks a lot about him. He was able to achieve in business and church and the school. He was a deliverer of action and promise.”
Read Vaughn Jr.’s book, “More Than A Coach,” and you’ll see story after story about how Vaughn’s faith was an integral part of his coaching. He prayed with track athlete Hal Ballou - who wasn’t yet a Christian, but became one while attending OC - before a race in which Ballou posted his career-best time to that point.
“I looked at him with a different set of eyes after that,” Ballou said. “I’d run any race he asked me to.”
Jeff Bennett - US Olympian and the greatest athlete in OC history - credits Vaughn and Vaughn’s wife Sue with nurturing his faith and helping convince him to become a Christian.
“Coach Vaughn was much more than my coach. He was my father figure, my mentor, my financial counselor and my confidant. Sue Vaughn… also was like a mother. My experiences at Oklahoma Christian helped me develop physically, mentally, socially and spiritually,” Bennett said.
Vaughn oversaw the development of what became a successful small-college athletic program, one that produced not only dozens of All-American athletes and many championship teams, but also faithful Christians who went on to successful careers in business, medicine, law enforcement, education and many other fields.
Coach Vaughn died in 1980 at age 63, but his influence lives on to this day, as OC’s athletic department has continued its steady growth during the ensuing decades. Now a member of NCAA Division II, the university now sponsors 17 NCAA sports and seven club-sports programs.
Coach Vaughn built OC’s first track facility, on the northwest corner of the campus, in 1961. In 1991, the cinder track surface was replaced with an all-weather running surface, and OC named the renovated facility the “Ray Vaughn Track.” It served the Eagles well over the next two decades, but by 2010, the surface began showing extreme wear and tear, forcing OC to stop hosting its annual Ray Vaughn Classic meet. By the mid-2010s, OC’s teams began having to practice off campus because of the track’s condition.
But now, the Eagles again practice on campus with a new Ray Vaughn Track, as part of OC’s long-awaited $700,000 project to renovate the facility. Vaughn Jr. and his wife Suzanne, his sister, and her husband Drs. Lynn and Barry Mitchell along with Dennis and Dena Lovett made significant gifts to get the project off and running. Track and field alumni helped bring it to the finish line by contributing more than $165,000 in a little over two months.
“I think he’d be very glad that we were able to continue on after his passing and of the things we’ve been able to accomplish,” Vaughn Jr. said. “I think he’d be very proud that we’re still a force to reckon with in the athletic field and that we’re persevering. We’re doing it in spite of all odds.”
Ray Vaughn spent his life dedicated to using his story for God’s purpose. Now, almost a half-century later, his story lives on through OC athletes and the lives he touched. Click here to read about the 2022 rededication of the Ray Vaughn Track.