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Colby College announced today the naming of the Richard L. Whitmore Jr. Head Coach for Colby Men’s Basketball in honor of the legendary coach who led the team to 637 wins in his 40-year career. Former players raised $2.1 million to endow the position in his name.
Whitmore, who retired in 2011, ranks seventh all-time among Division III coaches with the most wins. During his tenure at Colby, men’s basketball won three Eastern College Athletic Conference championships and was ranked as high as second in the country (1984-85). Under the leadership of Tim O’Donnell, who graduated in 1987, 134 alumni (and more than a dozen other friends) contributed to ensure that Whitmore’s name is forever linked to the program.
“Dick Whitmore’s coaching and mentorship made a lifelong impact on generations of Colby alumni,” said President David A. Greene. “Coach Whitmore taught every player how to be his very best individually and as part of a team, and those lessons lasted long beyond graduation. His wife, Mary Kay, and his children welcomed the players and alumni into their home and created a family atmosphere that defined the program. His former players are endlessly grateful for the teaching and care provided by the Whitmore family, and this gift and others made by basketball alumni reflect that gratitude.”
Since his retirement, Whitmore’s incredible impact has inspired outsized generosity from Colby’s basketball community. The basketball arena in the new Colby athletics center, opening next fall, was funded by former player and current Trustee Jim Crook, who graduated in 1978. Crook was instrumental in leading the 2011 alumni effort to name the court itself in honor of Whitmore’s retirement and his longtime assistant, basketball coach John “Swisher” Mitchell. The same alumni group, in April 2016, endowed the assistant coach position in Mitchell’s name. Former All-American Matt Hancock ’90, P’19 and his wife, Tracy P’19, funded the basketball hospitality room. As part of this latest tribute, the head basketball coach’s office was named in honor of Whitmore’s wife, Mary Kay Whitmore, who has been close to hundreds of players over the past decades.
“The support that basketball alumni show for their program is transformational and has positioned the team for sustained success,” said Harold Alfond Director of Athletics Jake Olkkola. “We are incredibly grateful for their commitment to competitive excellence.”
More than a hundred basketball alumni from different eras gathered on campus in June to announce the tribute to their former coach. The honor, they said, was about more than wins, even as players praised their coach’s indomitable work ethic, fierce competitiveness, and support on and off the court.
“Whit left an indelible mark, not only in the record books, but also on the lives of his players,” said O’Donnell, who played on the nationally ranked teams of that era. “He’s given us relationships that will last a lifetime.”
O’Donnell said Whitmore’s gift to his players has been his continuing support and friendship and also his ability to create and maintain what players know as the Colby basketball family. He has friendships with players who graduated 20 years before him and 20 years after, O’Donnell said. “For most college athletes, their relationship with the program ends with graduation,” he said. “When we leave Colby, our relationship with the Colby basketball family is just beginning.”
The manifestation of that relationship is the enthusiastic participation in annual alumni games and much, much more, players said. “Coach Whitmore is everywhere,” said former player Chris Vickers ’87. “He’s at our weddings, our funerals, with our families. He’s emailing and calling and sending notes. It’s incredible the level of attention that he pays us, and it doesn’t matter if you were all-American or never got on the floor. That’s not what this relationship is all about.”
Current Coach Damien Strahorn, a 2002 Colby graduate, will become the inaugural Richard L. Whitmore Jr. Head Coach for Colby Men’s Basketball, the third head coaching position endowed at Colby, along with the Jack Kelley Head Coach for Men’s Ice Hockey and the Jack Sandler Memorial Coach for Men’s Lacrosse.