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Publish date: Feb 11, 2011

Honors Celebration award recipient honors college coach

Coaches recognized by honorees

Many award recipients at the 2011 NCAA Honors Celebration partially credited their successes to the college coaches who impacted their lives.

Gen. Ann E. Dunwoody, who received the NCAA’s highest individual recognition, the Theodore Roosevelt Award, said she would never forget her coaches at the State University of New York at Cortland. Before becoming the first woman to command a battalion in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division and earn the rank of four-star general, she competed in gymnastics and tennis.

“Miss Sylvia Stokes, my tennis coach, taught me never to confuse enthusiasm with capability,” Dunwoody said. “And trust me, that’s come in very handy in my Army career. And (Antoinette) “Toni” Turburzi, (is) a real Cortland legend. She was my gymnastics coach and she desperately tried to teach this tomboy a little grace and style on the gymnastics floor. A ballerina I was not.”

Silver Anniversary winner Bo Jackson said that in his four years at Auburn, he managed to grow from an immature kid to a responsible young man. The former NFL and MLB player and commercial icon credited his transformation to the people he surrounded himself with, including his coaches.

“They became my parents away from home,” he said.

By Kristen Leigh Porter
NCAA.org

While Joe Girardi's mother slept in a Peoria, Ill., hospital, her body fighting the cancer that eventually took her life, her son's college coach visited her bedside.

Northwestern coach Ron Wellman and his wife Linda had developed a deep connection with Angela Girardi, whose son was playing baseball in the Cape Cod League that summer.

Girardi, a longtime Major League Baseball player and current New York Yankees manager, paid tribute to his former coach after receiving an NCAA Silver Anniversary Award recognizing distinguished former student-athletes. The 1986 Northwestern graduate and other award recipients will be featured in a 2011 NCAA Honors Celebration broadcast Monday at 1 p.m. EST on ESPN2.

 “There are things that you go through in life that are extremely difficult,” Girardi said. “For me, I lost my mother when I was 19 years old.

“But Ron Wellman, my coach…It’s so important in life when you’re a coach, to be more than a coach. It’s not about you, it’s about them. It’s about them because they have real issues in life. They have struggles. And you have to be a friend, you have to be a mentor. And he was that.” 

When Angela Girardi passed away and the Wellmans returned to Central Illinois for her funeral, Joe broke down in Linda’s arms.

“He would come over to our house all the time and play Pac-Man with our kids and things like that,” Ron Wellman said. “There was a strong relationship there. Still is.”

Wellman, who coached the Wildcats from 1982-86, is now the athletics director at Wake Forest. In that position he probes for certain qualities in his hires. He wants a role model, someone who will develop positive relationships with student-athletes.

“They’re much more than just someone who teaches (student-athletes) the game of baseball or basketball or football -- they are teaching them the game of life,” Wellman said. “This is the first time that most of these young men or women have been away from their parents, so oftentimes the coach becomes the surrogate parent and fills that parental role with the student-athlete the first time they are away from home.”

Girardi said he speaks regularly with current Northwestern coach Paul Stevens, who was an assistant coach from 1985-87.

Said Stevens: "Joe Girardi is one of the most disciplined and dedicated individuals I've ever been around."

Girardi also remains close to his former teammates.

“The one thing I found about being a collegiate athlete is the life-long bonds you form,” said Girardi, who earned three World Series rings as a player and one as a manager.