By Bill Studenc
Beloved Western Carolina University physical education professor Jim Hamilton was fond of reminding his students, “You can’t do everything, but you can do something, and that which you can do, you ought to do,” a sentiment made famous by American author Edward Everett Hale.
WCU alumnus and longtime college football coach Dave Roberts has taken that adage to heart and is making gifts and pledges totaling $250,000 to help fund enhancements to his alma mater’s athletics facilities.
Roberts earned his bachelor’s degree in physical education in 1969 and his master’s degree in physical education in 1971, playing defense on the Catamount football team. He said he was moved to make his gifts out of deep gratitude for former professors including Hamilton and appreciation for his WCU teammates, many of whom have gone on to achieve success outside the world of athletics.
“You have to know what’s happened in the past in order to add to the future,” Roberts said. “Jim ‘Doc’ Hamilton is probably the most meaningful person to me. He was a great professor and great friend. Probably most of the coaches in South Carolina got their master’s degrees through Western under him,” Roberts said.
Hamilton joined the WCU faculty in 1966, retiring in 1988 as chair of the physical education department. He was inducted into the WCU Athletics Hall of Fame as a Patron Award recipient in recognition of his contributions to the Catamount sports program. Hamilton died in April 2020.
“He probably affected thousands of people like myself – people on the football team, people on the basketball team and people who didn’t play athletics. Along with Gurney Chambers (former dean of the College of Education and Allied Professions), they are pretty special people. For Western Carolina, if they continue to have professors like those guys, then the future is going to be great,” Roberts said.
Roberts is among those making leadership gifts as part of the initial stages of WCU’s $75 million comprehensive fundraising campaign, which has a significant focus on improvements to athletics facilities. As a key priority within the comprehensive campaign goal, WCU aims to raise at least $30 million in philanthropic gifts to support upgrades to athletics facilities.
In addition, the university intends to fund an additional $30 million toward athletics facility improvements, financed by debt serviced from fees paid by WCU students. The WCU Student Government Association passed a resolution in 2021 supporting the use of increased student athletics fees for those improvements. Currently, no state-appropriated funds are allowed to be used to support intercollegiate athletics, including facilities, at any UNC institution.
A resident of Greenville, South Carolina, Roberts retired from coaching in 2004 following a 32-year career that included stints as head football coach at Western Kentucky University, Northeast Louisiana University (now Louisiana-Monroe) and Baylor University. He held assistant coaching positions at Eastern Kentucky, Davidson, Vanderbilt, Notre Dame and South Carolina. He was induced into the University of Louisiana-Monroe Athletics Hall of Fame in 2020 as the winningest football coach in school history.
For the past 14 years, Roberts has owned and operated Vital Care EMS, an ambulance service with offices in Columbia and Greenville, South Carolina.
Roberts credited numerous former football players with inspiring him to contribute to WCU’s fundraising efforts for athletics facilities. Among them is Tobe Childers, ex-quarterback who founded “the Herd,” a group of football alumni who continue to support the team. “Even in the worst of times, Tobe and his group always showed up,” he said.
“Then there’s people like my roommate John Mosbey,” he said. Mosbey logged more than 30 years of military service including flying jets for the U.S. Air Force, working in the Pentagon and conducting training in Iraq. “He was kind of my hero,” Roberts said. “He defended this country, and that’s a Western Carolina graduate who has done some great things for the United States.”
Roberts named other teammates who unknowingly influenced his leadership gift to the campaign. They include Leroy Holden, who became a successful basketball coach and received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the North Carolina Athletic Directors Association in 2008.
“There’s guys like Jim Taylor, who played center and won a state championship in Shelby; Ronnie Scott, a hell of a football player and big-time business guy; Don Powers, who coached with me at Western Kentucky; Keith Elliott (the first African American to receive a football scholarship in North Carolina and a retired U.S. Postal Service supervisor); and Joe Love (the first minority to graduate from WCU with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, who became an executive with Union Carbide),” Roberts said.
“These guys came out of little ol’ tiny Western Carolina, and look how successful they’ve been in their own endeavors – some in coaching, some in business, some doing this, some doing that, some in the military. But that little ol’ place, because of people like Jim Hamilton and Gurney Chambers, produced some pretty damn good people. This is why I did what I did,” he said.
Roberts also pointed to two people from present-day WCU who played a role in his recent contributions – Alex Gary, director of athletics, and Julie Miller, associated athletics director for development.
“They came to see me and talked about their plans. The vision that Alex and Julie have, I’ve bought in. Those are obviously two very important pieces to the puzzle of the dreams of Western Carolina. They have dreams and goals and I have dreams and goals, I thought, well, if they are doing that, I need to do like Dr. Hamilton said. I can’t do everything, but I can do something, and that’s what I’m going to do,” Roberts said.
From his vantage point as a longtime coach, Roberts said he has seen firsthand the need for improvements to WCU’s athletics facilities.
“Athletics is the billboard of the university. So, you would like to see the program be successful. Part of the success is having the facilities that you can recruit to. A lot of these recruits want to see new locker rooms. They want to see a new weight room. Although in the end it doesn’t matter, it matters to them. And if you get better players, you have a better chance of winning more games.”
Deflecting attention away from himself and toward others is typical of Dave Roberts, Gary said. “If you ever want to brighten up your day, just call Coach Roberts,” he said. “I’ve not met too many people who are more encouraging, positive and optimistic about pretty much everything. All that Coach wants to do is help people, and we are grateful for his most recent commitment.”
Among the priorities of the fundraising campaign are expansions for strength and conditioning, sports medicine and academic space for student-athletes. Updates to E.J. Whitmire Stadium will include a new press box, premium space for fans, a rebuilt east concourse, football offices and meeting space, and a new football locker room. The Catamounts will look to vacate Camp Lab Gymnasium and open a new facility to support the golf, track and field, and women’s soccer programs. Other improvements are in the master plan as well and will benefit all 16 Catamount athletics teams.
Currently underway is the first of a long list of improvements to WCU athletics facilities, a $1.6 million project in support of the Catamount men’s and women’s basketball programs featuring renovated locker rooms, polished and refined players’ lounges with nutrition areas, and an updated film room.
For more information about how to support the Catamount athletics program, contact Julie Miller, associate athletics director for development, at 828-227-3084.