Wingate Faces

Wingate alums find value in coaching

2/27/2012
Wingate University students learn to excel in academics and how to apply that learning toward an extraordinary career and life. Life lessons are learned through character-building and community service opportunities. Student-athletes also develop core values and team building on the field, the court or the track in sports offered on campus. The in-class learning gels with the out-of-class experiences for a complete well-rounded education. Perhaps, this competitive, yet caring environment is why many of our alums become coaches.

Coaching takes many forms. Whether it is success coaching to guide students through the challenges of college life or on the field perfecting athleticism and team-building, coaching can be a valuable tool in shaping lives.

Chris Burkey ’93 coached football for many years after graduating from Wingate, with coaching stints at Wingate University, Tennessee Tech University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the Miami Dolphins. Now, as director of pit crew development, he travels all over the country to recruit athletes, then trains and coaches them for the Rick Hendrick Motorsports pit crews. “The personal relationships built at Wingate with staff members and coaches inspired me to follow my dream of professional coaching. My love for competition began when I was very young, however my realization that I could stay in the ‘game’ forever began here,” he said. “The time I spent at Wingate as a student provided me with the knowledge and maturity I needed to focus on my strengths as a teacher and a coach. Most importantly my very first coaching position was for the Wingate University football program.”

Ron Ladimir ’97 was recently inducted into the SAC Hall of Fame. He coaches men’s and women’s varsity soccer at Porter Ridge High School in Indian Trail, N.C. Ladimir credits Coach Gary Hamill for setting examples that he still finds pertinent today. “The fact that he was able to take a group of talented players with diverse backgrounds and make us into a winning, cohesive team is what forms my coaching mentality on a daily basis,” he said. Wingate helped him major in a great life. “True character is built on the field, with the help of your team. Camaraderie and teamwork cannot be learned in a classroom,” he said. “Your teammates are the first to find your flaws and celebrate your successes. Life is inundated with teammates that help you in being honest with yourself.”

Michael Royal ’01 coaches men's and women's cross country, men's and women's indoor track & field, and men's and women's outdoor track & field at Mooresville High School in Mooresville, N.C. “My experience as a member of the cross country team at Wingate from 1998-2001 helped me a lot, but mainly my relationship with Coach Dennis Johnson really is what inspired me to chase after my dream of being a coach, Royal said. “Wingate University allowed me to pursue my dreams and gave me the experiences that I needed to be ready for the real world.”

Michael Craft ’90 is a basketball coach at Ardrey Kell High School in Charlotte. He returned to Wingate University to work as an assistant basketball coach for six years from 1994 – 2000. “Playing college basketball was full of ups and downs and it was tough, but it taught me that life is not always fair and you have to keep plugging along,” Craft said. “I was able to learn from people like Jeff Reynolds, John Thurston, Doug Malone, Bill Nash, Ron Christopher, Johny Jacumin, Frank Pait and Gary Hamill. I also got to know President McGee on a personal level and still marvel at the job he has done at Wingate.”

Mike Martin ‘64 coaches baseball at Florida State University. Martin, a very successful Division I coach, has taken teams to the World Series 18 times. “Of course, the two years that I spent at Wingate were immeasurable in preparing me to coach, he said. “My two coaches, Bill Connell (basketball) and Ron Christopher (baseball) were men of the highest integrity that demanded your best effort with the understanding that nothing came before the team.” Although Martin grew up in Charlotte, attending Wingate was his first time away from home. “Attending Wingate was an experience I’ll never forget,” he said. Martin recalled riding the ‘Blue Goose’ into the mountains to play out of town. “It gives me appreciation today - funny how times change traveling. We now charter almost everywhere we go, just a little bit different from the old days.” Martin keeps in touch with many of his Wingate acquaintances, including Vinnon Williams ’64 when they to play in the ACC. A two year All-American, Martin credits Ron Christopher for promoting him. “I learned much about life and to this day, I am very appreciative to Ron Christopher who promoted me in the game of baseball. “There is no doubt I would not be where I am today had it not been for him. It may have been 40 years, but it seems like yesterday,” he said.

Ann Hancock ’92 is an assistant women’s basketball coach at East Carolina University. Prior to her current coaching position, she spent ten years as head women’s basketball coach at the University of North Carolina Wilmington and eight years as assistant women’s basketball coach at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. “My experiences in the classroom, on the court and travel abroad prepared me for the many challenges of Division I college basketball,” Ann said. “Being an English major with a minor in Public Relations definitely prepared me for the various communication skills required to be a successful coach. Recruiting student-athletes demands that you are able to effectively use the written word to communicate your message to players and parents.” During her senior year, she traveled to Norway and France with a travel abroad program. “This experience broadened my horizons to new cultures, lifestyles and cuisines. I have also been privileged enough to travel to several different countries as a basketball coach,” she said. “I felt I had an advantage on others because I had already been abroad and was open to trying new things.” Hancock played basketball at Wingate and remembers Coach Johnny Jacumin as a father figure to the team, who taught them life lessons. “Coach Jacumin’s goal was to prepare us to be successful at whatever our next step would be. He taught us core values that will be with us forever.” She continued to comment on the impact he has had in her life and she tries to pass along the lessons he taught to her players now. “More than offensive or defensive strategies that Coach Jac taught, it was his personal relationships that stand out in my mind,” Hancock said. “When he recruited me he said, ‘I am not recruiting you for the four years you will play. I am recruiting you for a life-time.’” Coming from a small town, the people at Wingate made her feel welcome. “Almost 20 years later, it still feels like home,” she said. “For me, Wingate University was a spring board into my dream job and a great life.”

Corey Iacofano ‘08, coaches 12 men on the golf team and helps coach nine on the women's golf team at Wingate University. "Just the fact that I went here helps the students because I know what is expected of them in the classroom," Iacofano said. "I have a lot of other 'coaching opportunities' with students especially since I have a lot of international students.” He meets with the athletes weekly and keeps tabs on their grades.

Gary Curneen ’03 and ‘09, women's soccer coach at Wingate University. He earned his MBA from Wingate in 2009 and has coached at Wingate for seven years. "Graduating from Wingate made me aware of the standards and expectations of academics and athletic excellence,” Curneen said. “Gary Hamill recruited me from Ireland to play soccer at Wingate. He heavily influenced me in my coaching, especially off the field in the management of people."

Gary Hamill ’94 and ‘08, men's soccer coach, came to Wingate 20 years ago from Ireland and earned his BLS degree in 1994. He went on to graduate in the first class to earn the Master of Education in Sport Administration at Wingate University. "Coaching here for 20 years, I've bought into the Wingate philosophy,” Hamill said. “I believe in the university and how it prepares students for life after college."