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Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Cinderella Stories: Belmont University

By Patrick Dorsey

Vince Gill and Belmont Bruins men's basketball coach Rick Byrd
Rick Byrd, left, coaches Belmont, a school with ties to many country musicians, such as Vince Gill.
The 68-team field is set, the bracket is out, and the NCAA tournament soon will begin. Before the final 64 take the court on Thursday and Friday, Playbook has chosen a few small schools to examine a bit closer, taking a look at their exploits inside sports -- and far away from the fields of play. Click here for more Cinderella Stories.

Like South Dakota State, Belmont has been here before. Actually, many times more -- six tournament trips in the last eight years, counting this one (in which the No. 11-seeded Bruins face Arizona on Thursday in the West region).

But the Christian liberal arts university in Nashville offers much more than a recently successful men's basketball team. Especially if you're into music ...

• This Music City institution offers multiple music majors to its 5,000 undergraduates and 1,600-plus grad students. Is it any wonder so many big names have studied here? From country artists Josh Turner, Lee Ann Womack and Trisha Yearwood to Christian mega-seller Steven Curtis Chapman to former "American Idol" finalist Melinda Doolittle to rapper/producer FYÜTCH (formerly Future) -- not to mention old-school star Minnie Pearl of "Hee Haw" fame, who attended when it was the Ward-Belmont School for Women -- the list is something to sing about (sorry).

• Another country giant carries weight on campus, although he never studied there: Vince Gill, a longtime friend of men's basketball coach Rick Byrd. Gill has created three endowed Belmont scholarships, and received an honorary doctorate in 2011.

• One last musical note: Assistant Professor Mark Volman was a founding member and vocalist for The Turtles, whose 1967 hit "Happy Together" is sung loudly in stadiums nationwide (and even louder at Bruins home games).

• Even further into history -- much further -- is the story of Adelicia Acklen, a wealthy 19th-century Southerner whose summer villa (complete with bowling alley, large art gallery and bear house -- more on that later) once rested on Belmont's campus. Her Belmont Mansion still stands today, and she is said to haunt its hallways.

• Yes, bear house -- a unique octagonal building erected to, well, house Ms. Acklen's pet bear. It was razed sometime around the Great Depression's start, but in 2010 rebuilt (in a way) as a freshman residence hall called Bear House.

• All right, one more musical tidbit: on Friday, Belmont put on the United States' first college production of "Les Miserables."

• The aforementioned coach Byrd isn't just the program leader, the man at the helm of men's basketball since its NAIA days in 1986. He's also a fashion star -- just ask Esquire, which is among the coach's sweater vest admirers.

• More sports success: Brian Baker, a Belmont assistant tennis coach, reached the round of 16 at Wimbledon last year in dramatic fashion.

• Speaking of winning ways, Belmont claimed the 2012 Enactus World Cup, an entrepreneurial/activist competition among students around the globe.

• One final notable name: actor DJ Qualls.