The Charlotte Observer
Donnie Whittington passed away on February 15, 2012, but his legacy lives on through the many lives he has touched during his 55 years working at the Boys and Girls Club of Cabarrus County.
Whittington, who retired as Athletic Director in 2009, began his 65-year relationship with the BGC-Cabarrus in 1946, when he became a member at 5 years old. According to Valerie Melton, the Executive Director of BGC-Cabarrus, Whittington started working part-time for the club when he was only 14 years old in 1955.
By 1961, a 20-year-old Whittington began coaching 6, 7, 8 and 9-year-old’s football. E.Z. Smith, retired Head Football Coach for Concord High School, said that he was one of the thirty-five boys on Whittington’s first official football team.
Smith, a 58-year-old Concord resident, said of Whittington’s death, “I’ve lost one of my heroes.”
At 6 years old, E.Z. Smith said he weighed over 100 pounds. And unlike other adults and children alike, Whittington never belittled him or made him feel incapable of being successful because of his size.
“It was never about race, color or creed with Donnie,” he said. “He treated everyone with respect.”
Smith went on to play football for Concord Middle and Concord High School. He graduated in 1972 with a football scholarship to play for the University of South Carolina. All along, Whittington came to every middle and high school game that Smith played in. He even attended some of his games at USC-Columbia.
Smith explained that Whittington did this for all of his old players. He said, “He was a big part of everyone’s life.”
When Smith was named the Head Coach for the Concord Spiders in 1980, Whittington was one of the first people to call and congratulate him. He credits Whittington for teaching him the intrinsic values of coaching: sportsmanship, leadership, and playing hard.
Smith said, “The impact was not just athletics though, it was lifelong values.”
Joe Habina, Director of Operations at the BGC-Cabarrus, said he worked with Whittington for ten years from 1999-2009. His fondest memories of Whittington are when they would take the youth on sports-affiliated field trips together, especially the Charlotte Knights game about four years ago when Habina caught his first foul ball.
Habina said, “Donnie was one of my baseball buddies.” He said they would often just sit and talk about sports and the good ole’ days, when kids played sports just because they enjoyed playing them.
Habina said, “I simply enjoyed his company.”
As did many, according to Melton.
“There was so much seriousness about him. He loved the Concord Spiders and the Tar Heels. He was a great storyteller, and he was a jokester,” she said.
Melton said that she will miss him the most on Pancake Day, their annual fundraiser coming up on March 15th. She said that when her anxieties ensued on Pancake Day—which brings in around 5,000 participants each year—that Whittington always helped her remain calm. He was also an integral part of this fundraiser, she said. “It just won’t be the same without him.”
Melton said they plan on having a memorial display set-up for Whittington on Pancake Day. He was also named as a Lifetime Honorary Board Member and the basketball courts were named after him, Donnie Whittington Court, on Monday, February 13—just two days before he passed away.
Plaques were given to Whittington’s wife, Lannie Tucker Whittington, and his daughter, Kimberly Whittington at his memorial service—which took place on Saturday, February 18, 2012 at the BGC-Cabarrus gym, provided by Wilkinson Funeral Home.
Whittington, who died of cancer in his home at age 70, after deciding not to receive treatments, had asked E.Z. Smith to officiate his eulogy on Saturday, February 11, 2012—five days before his death.
Smith said it was more of a day of celebration. “The emphasis was the impact that he had on thousands of young men and women, and the parents of those children in the community. The impact he had on all of us; but the impact did not stop and will continue to move forward. It is our responsibility to carry his legacy on through our lives.”
Melton said that Whittington’s legacy will also live on in his last request. She said, “He wanted to make sure that every kid can take part in their programs through scholarships. He told me, when he was gone that he didn’t want a bunch of flowers, he wanted scholarships for kids to play football.”
Melton said that his philosophies in life: to treat everybody with respect, treat everyone equally and give everyone a chance to participate is truly expressed in this last request.
As of Whittington’s impact on kids, she said, ““Before you even knew to call it being a mentor, he was one.”
But most importantly, both Smith and Melton agreed, that he will always be known as coach.
To make donations on behalf of Donnie Whittington to the Boys and Girls Club of Cabarrus County, please mail checks to: Boys and Girls Club of Cabarrus County, Donnie Whittington Football Scholarship Fund, P.O. Box 1405, Concord, NC 28026.