App State’s black coaches use leadership positions to educate athletes – The Appalachian

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Of 54 coaches in App State’s 16 sports, 10 are coaches of color, nine of whom are black. With a position of leadership at a predominantly white university, these coaches have a unique opportunity to lead and nurture student-athletes of color.

“I feel like that’s one of the biggest things that comes to mind because I have some of the… kids on the team who want to contact me or text me on how they feel,” assistant wrestling coach Randall Diabe said. . “It’s a really big thing for these young guys…to see someone who’s been through the program, is the same color and he’s in a higher position.”

Track and field throwing coach Whitney Smyre is one of three black coaches on the track and field team, the most of any mountaineering team. Smyre competed for the track and field team as a student-athlete from 2006 to 2011, where she was an eight-time All-SoCon performer, 12-time All-Region athlete, and Division I NCAA East regional qualifier in the hammer throw .

While at App State, Smyre was mentored by two coaches who continue to influence her today. Former coaches April Smith and John Weaver guided Smyre through the competition, but also taught Smyre how to be a good coach.

“I wouldn’t be half the coach I am today without them,” Smyre wrote in an email.

Smyre also credits her mother as a role model for her growth. His mother was an athlete in high school and college and was Smyra’s first basketball coach and biggest fan.

“She always kept me cool and grounded when I needed it most,” Smyre said.

Smyre’s position allows him to seek out student-athletes who might struggle with being a minority at App State.

Track and field throwing coach Whitney Smyre chats with freshman Graysen Arnold during the App State invite. (Courtesy of App State Athletics)

“I think it’s important to put aside those student-athletes who look like me from time to time, just to let them know, ‘Hey, I’ve been where you are, and I’m here for you if you need anything.. I got you.” Smyre said.

Leading the track team is the only black head coach on campus, Damion McLean.

“It means a lot,” McLean wrote in an email. “To my knowledge, there have only been six head coaches of color since I entered campus as a freshman in 1997.”

McLean hails from the small town of Lincolnton where he played football, basketball and ran track. His initial interest in sports was mainly due to his natural athletic abilities and he never planned on becoming a coach.

“Coaching wasn’t something I imagined myself doing, but whatever I engage in, I always try to be the best,” McLean said. “I quickly realized that I had found my passion.”

Finding his way to the top position in a Division I sport was far from easy, and part of that was due to McLean’s run. McLean said he had to work extremely hard as a black person in a predominantly white field.

“As a person of color, I’ve found that you often have to be 10 times better than everyone else to get the same level of recognition,” McLean said. “So you’re constantly in a position to prove yourself.”

McLean mentors student-athletes of all races, but is aware of his unique opportunity to develop athletes who look like him.

“I train and treat all of my athletes the same, regardless of color or nationality,” McLean said. “I sit down and have a conversation with parents and recruits of color because in the last 19 years training at Boone, I’ve been asked what it was like to be black at Boone or to AppState.”

While training young athletes to become excellent track runners is an important part of her job, McLean also has the opportunity to guide students through a pivotal time in their lives. McLean thinks back to two of his high school coaches, Lavell Hall and Chris Knott, as he counsels his athletes.

“There are two coaches I looked up to because they wanted to help me improve. Others coached me to look good,” McLean said. “Those two men taught me a lot about life. and the importance of relationships in your life.”

Randall Diabe is also grateful for the opportunity he had to train student-athletes of color as an assistant on the wrestling team.

“We also have kids of color on the team. Some of them feel comfortable coming to me because I can relate,” Diabe said.

Diabe racked up numerous accolades while competing at App State, including a 77-48 record, multiple All-SoCon recognitions and two NCAA Championship qualifiers. Diabe concluded his career in 2019 and made his Mountaineers coaching debut later that year.

Diabe became a source of solace for the wrestlers of color on the team. Athletes sometimes reach out to Diabe for advice, knowing he has been in the position they are in before.

“I’ve had personal discussions with guys who don’t know if this is the right place because we’re just outnumbered,” Diabe said. “We have like two black people, and the rest of the team is white, so they have a black person on staff that they can come and talk to.”

Men’s basketball assistant coach Frank Young came to Boone after being on head coach Dustin Kerns’ staff at Presbyterian College for two seasons. Prior to coaching with Kerns, Young spent three seasons in North Florida as operations manager as the Ospreys reached the NCAA Tournament in 2015 and the NIT in 2016.

Men’s basketball assistant Frank Young instructs senior guard Adrian Delph during the Mountaineers’ eight-point win over the Warhawks. (Courtesy of App State Athletics)

“After three seasons there, I got a call from Dustin Kerns to join his team at Presbyterian College, and he had worked with one of my best friends at Wofford, Darris Nichols, so there was a connection there. -down,” Young wrote in an email. . “Coach Kerns got the job here at App State and brought all the staff with him.”

Growing up in Tallahassee, Florida, Young was raised by his mother and older brother after his father died in a car accident when he was 14.

“Growing up, my mentors were my mom, my older brother, my godfather, and my high school coach,” Young said. “They all taught a lot of life values. I learned a lot from each of them on and off the pitch. Many of these values ​​that I still hold today.

Young’s mother made sure to involve him in sports from an early age, playing soccer and baseball before he chose to stick with basketball. After a successful college career in West Virginia and after spending time abroad, Young began coaching.

“The itch started after I stopped playing pro ball overseas in Europe and started missing the game,” Young said. “I got a call from a college teammate to join his team as an assistant and decided to give it a shot and have loved coaching ever since.”

Beyond his status as a coach, Young acknowledges that being a black man in a predominantly white city presents challenges. Even upon entering a room or business where he is the only black person, Young fears receiving strange stares from others.

“It’s not because of any specific situation that happened in Boone, but it’s the thought process of being in any city and knowing that you have to be aware of your surroundings and know what is happening around you on a daily basis. base,” Young said. “Everyone is naturally more comfortable with people who look like them, so when you don’t see anyone who doesn’t look like you, a natural discomfort sets in immediately. That being said, the folks at Boone made me feel very comfortable since I moved here.”

Young devotes much of his attention to giving life lessons and advice to his players, emphasizing that there is life after basketball. He especially tries to nurture the student-athletes of color on the team as he can offer advice based on his own experience.

“It’s something that worries me with them because they’re outnumbered here, and in addition to being an athlete, they’re under an extreme microscope and have to understand that a lot of eyes are on them at any time,” Young said. “I have a lot of difficult one-on-one conversations with our players about things that are happening in the world because I want to know how they deal with those things and I want them to be able to express their emotions and their opinions. “


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