Men's basketball coach Dick Whitmore joined an elite club Saturday, Jan. 17.
With the coach's 600th career victory on the line and Colby's biggest rival in the house, Whitmore's Mules played gritty defense down the stretch for a convincing 65-55 win, making Whitmore just the seventh basketball coach in NCAA Div. III history to record 600 wins.
Adding to the pressure, Bowdoin is coach Whitmore's alma mater. And the Polar Bears won the teams' first meeting this year by seven points in the season opener.
Whitmore is now one among just 51 men's coaches in the history of all NCAA basketball divisions to reach the 600-wins milestone. With a current collegiate record of 600-318, he has won more than 65 percent of his games.
After the buzzer, as alumni players from over the years going all the way back to his first Colby season 38 years ago congratulated the smiling coach, Whitmore was eager to share the glory. "It's 600 wins by 600 players," he said. "It's the players who are responsible for the wins. I'm just glad to be here."
The timing of a home game against Bowdoin couldn't have been better.
Whitmore graduated from Bowdoin in 1965 with a degree in classics and after a three-year, 1000-plus-points basketball career. (Freshmen were ineligible to play varsity in the 1960s). He then followed in the footsteps of his father, the late Richard Whitmore Sr., who had coached high school teams to state championships in both Massachusetts and Maine.
Whitmore Jr.'s first jobs were teaching Latin and coaching basketball at Hallowell and Morse high schools in Maine. He was hired as Colby's varsity coach in 1970 by athletic director John Winkin.
Colby made the ECAC tourney in Whitmore's second year and beat the University of Maine team in what was then the State of Maine series on a shot at the buzzer. "I'll never forget that shot, because I tore up my knee," Whitmore said last week in the run-up to Saturday's big game. "I was jumping up in the air and came down wrong. I had to have the knee operated on."
The wins continued. The best years were from 1989 to 1995, when Whitmore's Mules had a 154-26 record and seven straight seasons with more than 20 wins each. Colby won three ECAC titles in four years and made the NCAA tourney in 1994 and 1995, the first two years that NESCAC teams were permitted to play in the national tourney.
For 38 years at Colby Whitmore has sat side by side with assistant coach and Waterville basketball legend John "Swisher" Mitchell, who was also assistant coach under Whitmore's predecessor, Ed Burke. Both Mitchell and Whitmore have been inducted into the New England Basketball Hall of Fame.
As he approached the milestone, Whitmore focused on the role of his family in his career, beginning with his father, who died in 2001. "He was the biggest influence in my life. Dad came to more than 500 games of mine that I coached," said Whitmore. That required some travel since Whitmore Sr. lived in Boston. His mother, now 92, "was almost always there right with him," he said.
He called his wife, Mary Kay, the "rock of the family and my inspiration." They have four children. Daughter Maribeth followed in his footsteps and graduated from Bowdoin, and Amanda got her degree from Curry. Both sons played basketball. Richard played at Brown. Kevin Whitmore '91 started at Dartmouth then transferred to Colby, where he scored 1,357 points playing for his father for three years and earning All-America honors in 1991.
"It is a little daunting," Whitmore said in the days before reaching the milestone. "Maintaining a quality program is the key. So many people have made this happen."
Dozens of those people, including former players, some graying and some balding, pressed onto the court to congratulate Whitmore following the 600th win. Still clutching the game ball, hugging his grandchildren, and grinning broadly, the coach again blurred the line between team and family, inviting all of them over to his house to celebrate.
Read the Colby-Bowdoin game report.
Read Morning Sentinel front-page story.