Several former Catamount football players from the late 1950s through the early 1970s recently kicked off an effort to establish a new endowed scholarship fund at Western Carolina University in memory of their late coach, McDaniel “Dan” Robinson, who died in February 2022 at the age of 95.
Established in April of this year, the Coach Dan Robinson Endowed Scholarship Fund has sprinted across the goal line to reach the $25,000 mark in total gifts received. The fund soon will begin providing annual financial support to future members of the Catamount football team with financial need.
Preference will be given to non-scholarship “walk-on” members of the team who hail from the Western North Carolina counties of Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon and Swain. Those counties are within the district represented by Robinson when he served as a member of the N.C. Senate from 1999 until 2003.
Organizers of the endowed scholarship fund said they were searching for a way to pay tribute to a man who not only coached them in the sport of football, but who also helped equip them with tools to succeed in the bigger game of life, said Les Herrin, a former player who earned his bachelor’s degree at WCU in 1972. Head football coach at WCU from 1956 through 1969, Robinson aided in the development of hundreds of public school teachers, coaches and administrators, successful business executives and government leaders.
“Coach Robinson gave me an opportunity to come to Western Carolina, to play college football, to get a college degree and to develop from a young man into a man,” said Herrin, who went on to earn his master’s degree in 1973 at WCU before embarking on a 40-year coaching career including stints at three North Carolina high schools with stops collegiately at Appalachian State, East Carolina, the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Clemson, Citadel and Middle Tennessee State University.
“I had a chance to visit Coach Robinson at his house not long before he passed. It was the first time in 40 to 50 years that I had seen him. I was glad to have the chance to tell him how much that he meant to so many of us and how appreciated he was. I knew right then that we needed to do something,” he said.
Herrin repeatedly emphasized that he is just one of several former WCU football players who huddled after Robinson’s death in February to discuss a game plan for a meaning memorial for their former coach and mentor.
“This is a group effort. Several of us were talking that we needed to do something special for this man,” he said. “I was one of the ones who kept running my mouth about doing something to honor him. It was either quit talking about it or get started, so we got started. We all felt that he need to be honored because he honored us by taking a chance on us.”
Mike Biggerstaff, a 1970 graduate of WCU and member of the Catamount football team from 1966 to 1969, also visited Robinson shortly before his passing. “Coach Robinson gave me an opportunity to play by letting me join the team as a walk-on. To honor him with this scholarship was ‘the right thing to do,’” said Biggerstaff, a retired coach and physical education teacher at East Burke High School who is an inductee into the WCU Athletics Hall of Fame.
“He coached boys to become men, and he made life better for many others during his life after football. His requirement for us to be prepared both physically and mentally as an athlete and as a student stuck with me throughout my life,” he said. “Coach Robinson was a great man and an even better person.”
For Keith Elliott, a member of the football team from 1965 through 1968 who was the first African American student-athlete to receive a football scholarship in the state of North Carolina and at WCU, supporting the scholarship fund is a matter of paying it forward.
“This scholarship relieved some of the financial burden of my parents who were struggling with the burden of tuition and housing for two additional kids going through college at the same time. This was an amazing help for our family. I know the value of scholarship funds. I will always be thankful to him and this great institution for the opportunity given me,” said Elliott, a WCU Athletics Hall of Fame inductee who earned his bachelor’s degree in business in 1969 and his master’s degree in business administration in 1973.
“I support the effort because a deserving student will receive financial help and in return may support other deserving students in the future. I believe we all should invest in education. Coach Robinson was a very good role model, and his story of helping others throughout his life is worthy to be remembered,” said Elliott, who retired from the U.S. Postal Service in 2004 and now serves as pastor of Sentertown Missionary Baptist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee.
A native of McDowell County, Robinson enlisted in the U.S. Navy at age 17 and participated in the invasion of Normandy. After World War II, he enrolled at Western Carolina through a G.I. Bill scholarship and was an all-star lineman who helped the Catamounts win the 1949 North State Conference Championship.
Robinson earned his bachelor’s degree in 1950 and began teaching and coaching at the high school level for six years, first in Greenwood, South Carolina, then in Morganton before returning to Western to become head football coach.
He stepped down as WCU coach after 13 years while continuing to teach physical education at the university until his retirement. He also served as North Carolina wildlife commissioner and as county manager for Jackson County.
A total of 53 donors have made contributions and pledges to the Coach Dan Robinson Endowed Scholarship Fund to date, helping the fund reach the $25,000 minimum needed to begin providing scholarships. Additional contributions in Robinson’s memory will increase the amount of support available for student-athletes. For information or to make a gift, contact the WCU Division of Advancement at 828-227-7124 or email@example.com, or give.wcu.edu.
Many of the former players involved in the effort to honor Robinson also are working to build support for existing summer scholarships that honor another former coach – Bob Waters. The final event in the 2022 Catamount Golf Tour, sponsored by the Catamount Club and Western Carolina Athletics, the annual Bob Waters Memorial will be held Friday, Sept. 16, at the Maggie Valley Club and Resort, which was one of Waters’ favorite courses to play during his 20-year career at WCU. Proceeds from the tournament benefit WCU student-athletes.
The tournament will be held the day before the Catamounts open the home portion of their 2022 football schedule against Presbyterian College, which was Waters’ collegiate alma mater, on the field in Cullowhee that bears Waters’ name. For more information, including tournament sponsorship opportunities, contact the Catamount Club at 828-227-2013 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.