By Bill Studenc
“That’s a Catamount first down, brought to you by Stanberry Insurance” is a frequent refrain echoing from the public address system across the cozy confines of E.J. Whitmire Stadium during the Western Carolina University football team’s home games every fall.
Insurance company co-owner Kevin Stanberry and wife Lynn Stanberry will soon be sponsoring a lot more than just first downs, thanks to recent gifts and pledges totaling $400,000 for the Catamount athletics program. The longtime boosters of WCU intercollegiate sports have pledged $250,000 toward athletics facilities improvements and $150,000 for the Catamount Club in support of scholarships for student-athletes.
The Stanberrys are among those making leadership gifts as part of the initial stages of WCU’s 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.
Kevin Stanberry, a 1994 graduate of WCU with a bachelor’s degree in business administration, and Lynn Stanberry, a 1999 graduate with a bachelor’s degree in economics, both are serving as members of the fundraising campaign steering committee. He is vice president of Stanberry Insurance and she is the former owner of O’Malley’s Pub and Grill in Sylva, where she worked as a WCU student.
Although they both took in the occasional WCU sporting event during their time as students, both Stanberrys said they became more involved with Catamount athletics as alumni.
“I attended events while in college, mainly with my Pi Kappa Phi fraternity brothers. However, shortly after graduating from college, I became more and more involved, going to games and starting my support of the Catamount Club and WCU’s teams,” he said.
“I also attended events while in college, but I worked a lot of football weekends at O’Malley’s, so not as many as I would have liked,” she said. “Definitely, we amped up our involvement once Kevin and I were married in 2001, and since then we haven’t missed many home games if we can help it. We have season tickets for football, basketball and baseball and love to attend as many games as possible.”
Both Stanberrys are active members of the Catamount Club, and Kevin serves on the Catamount Club Board of Directors. Lynn was integral to the creation of the Purple Zone pre-game events for Catamount Club members. The husband-and-wife team received the Southern Conference Distinguished Service Award in 2011 in recognition of their support for WCU athletics.
They said they have been motivated to remain involved in supporting WCU’s athletics program for decades out of their deep love for their alma mater and their high regard for the university’s student-athletes.
“If you ever get an opportunity to meet these young women and men, you will be so impressed,” Lynn Stanberry said. “They work so hard for the same school that we all love, but it’s not just on the fields and courts. It’s also in the classroom and in the community. They are just special.”
In their nearly 30 years of involvement with Catamount sports teams, the Stanberrys say they have seen a lot of changes in the environment of intercollegiate athletics, with former members of the Southern Conference moving on to bigger conferences and new institutions joining the SoCon and quickly becoming successful.
That is why they were willing to increase their contributions to the Catamount Club and make a leadership gift to the comprehensive fundraising campaign in support of improvements to athletics facilities, they said.
“Western Carolina University is a special place in so many ways, but there is no doubt we’ve fallen behind our SoCon competitors regarding athletics facilities. This isn’t fair to our student-athletes and coaches. They deserve the best we can do for them,” Kevin Stanberry said.
“We also, of course, think these facilities improvements will help with recruiting and retention of student-athletes and will bring championships to Cullowhee,” Lynn Stanberry said.
Supporting WCU athletics has become a Stanberry family tradition. His father, Larry Stanberry, who founded Stanberry Insurance, was inducted into the WCU Athletics Hall of Fame in 2005 as a Patron Award winner in recognition of more than 30 years of support for WCU student-athletes.
“Our main goal with our philanthropy is to help students at WCU,” Kevin Stanberry said. “My dad was a first-generation student, and WCU still to this day leads the University of North Carolina System in serving first-generation students. Helping these kids get their educations means the world to us.”
Alex Gary, WCU’s director of athletics, expressed gratitude to the Stanberrys for their long history of financial support and for their leadership gift to the comprehensive fundraising campaign.
“When people think about Catamount athletics, they think about the Stanberry family,” Gary said. “Kevin and Lynn’s leadership through their philanthropy and volunteerism is second to none, and we are grateful for this most recent commitment.”
In addition to their service on the campaign’s steering committee, the Stanberrys said they were eager to be among the first to make a major contribution to the campaign, especially toward the improvement of athletics facilities.
“I’ve never in my 25-plus years of support felt better about WCU and where we are at,” Kevin Stanberry said. “We have a chancellor who truly understands what the next step is for WCU to be at the top in all aspects of a great university. Our only thing lacking is in the area of athletics, and she is doing everything in her power to change that, as well.”
Lynn Stanberry agreed. “To have athletics being part of a comprehensive fundraising campaign at WCU is unprecedented. We have to take advantage of this with the other things that have been put in place to get these facility updates that are slated to be done,” she said.
Among the priorities of the comprehensive 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.