Basketball statistician Mike “Biggs” Wirta hasn’t missed a home game in 34 years
by Rob Felton | firstname.lastname@example.org
They come to cheer the janitor. Alumni, parents, and professors parade courtside congratulating Mike Wirta, a friend they call “Biggs.” As the game clock counts down to tip-off, even a visiting coach leans across the scorer’s table and shakes his hand. Wirta settles into his courtside seat. The players walk onto the court, and he calls out uniform numbers to his assistant typing on a laptop computer. Moments later, the players dart into motion. A George Fox player lofts a jumper. It goes in. “J 42 Q” shouts Wirta.
No one has watched more Bruin basketball than Wirta, who tonight witnesses his 1,000th George Fox men’s basketball game. The team’s volunteer statistician, he hasn’t missed a homegame in 34 years. Wirta’s legacy at George Fox goes beyond precise statsheets and dust-free floors. The cheerful custodian has created a life centered on his alma mater and its people. In exchange for his devotion, the university provides the 56-year-old bachelor with an occupation, a hobby, and a family.
Before computer statistics, Mike Wirta alone could track a basketball game’s statistics with three sheets of paper and several pencils. He needed extra pencils because missed free throws often caused him to snap his lead in frustration.
A 1974 graduate, Wirta has been linked to George Fox for more than half his life. “I’ve got a house, but this is my home,” he says. On most work days, he’s “home” from 9:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. “I can stretch an eight-hour day into 12,” he says. He’s often back on campus on weekends. Several years ago, he realized he had worked 163 days in a row.
Wirta’s flexible schedule allows him long lunches on campus with coaches and colleagues. He often holes up in the library, reading newspapers or burrowing through the archives. He’s become the unofficial historian of the university’s Sports Hall of Fame. He was inducted in 1998, 10 years after he was named the university’s Volunteer of the Year. Wirta’s role at the university seems so natural he doesn’t question why he invests so much into the school and its teams. When asked, he shrugs, “Why do you breathe?”
The second of four children, Wirta visits his mother once a year in Reno, Nev. His father died an alcoholic in 1980. “The university is his family,” says Jim Jackson, the team’s public address announcer. He’s “Uncle Biggs” to the children of former player Dave Adrian, a university administrator, and often joins the extended Adrian family for holidays.
Never married, Wirta lives a simple life structured around work and sports seasons. The night before game No. 1,000, Wirta drove a team van to game No. 999 in Tacoma. They returned to campus at 1:15 a.m. Before heading home, he roamed through Wheeler Sports Center for 30 minutes, turning off lights, locking doors, emptying trash, and tidying up for the upcoming game.
Wirta eats most meals on campus in exchange for hauling out kitchen garbage. His oven can go years without use. He owns the typical bachelor toys — a five-and-a-half-foot-wide television and the sports car. His current ride is a 1981 De Lorean, the stainless steel car featured in Back to the Future. Like his previous cars (see Wirta’s wheels), its vanity license plate reads “BRUINS.”
How Biggs became Biggs
Many know Mike Wirta only as Biggs. Wirta became Biggs after shaving his head in 1972. A classmate saw a resemblance to cartoon character “Biggie Rat.” Over the years, Biggie Rat became Biggs.
In the evenings, Wirta’s TV is more likely to be on the History Channel than ESPN. He prefers his sports local, where players are also friends. During the season, he’s an auxiliary team member, attending practices and joining pregame meals and postgame pizza. He’s an amiable resource for players and others seeking scores, stats, or schedules. “Biggs seems to always have positive affirmations to give out to anyone he sees,” says Ernie Sturzinger (’04), a stat assistant who enjoyed hearing Wirta’s stories about Sturzinger’s father, a ballplayer in the mid-1970s.
One thousand games ago, it was a friendship with a player that drew Wirta to old Hester Gym. The year was 1968 and Wirta was a freshman recently graduated from Newberg High School. After occasionally helping at the stat table, he was recruited in 1972 to his front-row seat by then-coach Loren Miller. Two months later, the Bruins won their first district title. He was hooked. Other than that year and the 1989-90 championship season, he won’t name highlights. “It’s like asking who’s your favorite child,” he says.
From University of Alaska-Fairbanks to Hawaii Pacific University, Wirta has been there for the Bruins. He hasn’t missed an away game in 20 years — a streak that twice nearly ended.
February 18, 2006
Mike “Biggs” Wirta at his 1,000th George Fox men’s basketball game. He has attended nearly half of the 2,028 games played in school history.
The day before a 1988 playoff game, he woke up dizzy, nauseous, and unable to reach a telephone. His unusual absence from lunch caused a friend to drive to his house, where Wirta lay dehydrated on his bathroom floor. At the hospital, he was diagnosed with an inner ear infection, given an IV, and sent home to recuperate. Too weak to work the next day, he nonetheless propped himself up courtside and recorded stats.
In 1994, a snowstorm temporarily closed the highway to La Grande and made him 45 minutes late to a playoff game at Eastern Oregon. The referees also were delayed, and Wirta walked in seconds before the game started. The streak continued.
“Someday it’s going to stop,” he says. “But I won’t stop it intentionally.”
Game No. 1,000 is over. A spirited Bruin comeback fell short, leaving Wirta muttering about missed free throws. A stat sheet is folded and tucked in his back pocket alongside a plastic trash bag. The crowd files out as Wirta assigns cleaning duties to his student helpers. On his way to the broom closet, more friends come by to offer congratulations. One tells him “You’ll be 94 when you see game No. 2,000.” Wirta laughs. The well-wishers drift away. He pauses. He stands silent, hands on hips, watching a group of children shoot hoops. He pushes up his sleeves and begins to stack chairs.
Wirta’s wheels: through the years
- 1965 MG Midget
- 1967 Jaguar
- 1974 MG Midget
- 1978 MGB
- 1987 Pontiac Fiero
- 1981 De Lorean