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MCGILL: M Club Names Mike Hamrick Member of the Year

Mike Hamrick.
May 10, 2017

By Chuck McGill

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Huntington mayor Steve Williams, the man who makes no little plans, hatched one final initiative as the outgoing president of the Marshall University M Club.

The organization’s Member of the Year, to him, was an obvious selection. So much so that the question wasn’t if Mike Hamrick deserved to be the M Club Member of the Year, but why did it take so long for Marshall’s Director of Athletics to receive the recognition?

So Williams and the M Club board awarded Hamrick the distinction without the eighth-year athletic director knowing about it.

“Mike’s idea is to let the light shine on everyone else,” Williams said. “But, frankly, I felt as I was leaving as president of the M Club, if I was going to use my voice, let’s make sure Mike is receiving recognition that is due to him.

“Mike Hamrick is everything Marshall and he makes nothing about Mike Hamrick. Everything is for the green and white, nothing for Mike Hamrick. That’s his nature.”

The M Club is comprised of former student-athletes, coaches, cheerleaders, managers, mascots and trainers of all athletic teams.

Those members spoke highly of Hamrick, who returned to lead his alma mater’s athletic department in 2009, and has spearheaded fundraising campaigns to build more than $40 million in new athletics facilities and upgrades, oversaw prosperity in football, basketball and Olympic sports, and championed student-athlete success in the classroom and community involvement.

“No. 1, I think the world of Mike,” said Terry Childers, a board member who was a manager for the football team. “He has done so many positive things for our school since he arrived. From the indoor facility to everything else. There’s a lot of hard work and a lot of sleepless nights with the pressures of the position. He’s a great people person. He’s always there. He’s around. He’s at our tailgates, he’s at our board meetings and he’s a positive and upbeat guy. He truly is a son of Marshall. I think the world of him.”

Recently, Marshall has experienced widespread success on the fields, courts, tracks and pools. The baseball program set a school record for overall wins (34) and Conference USA wins (21) last season. The softball program is currently ranked in the Top 25 and captured the C-USA regular season championship. Since 2013, the track and field and cross country programs have set or tied 34 different school records. This season, the volleyball program finished third in C-USA, defeated WVU again and placed three on the all-freshman team. In 2016-17, the swimming program won its first West Virginia Games, beat WVU, finished third at the C-USA Championships, boasted the C-USA Freshman Swimmer of the Year and shattered a slew of school records. The men’s and women’s soccer programs are a year removed of reaching the finals of the C-USA tournament. The football program had a stretch of three consecutive 10-win seasons and cracked the Top 25 for the first time in 12 seasons. The men’s basketball program reached 20 wins in 2016-17 and advanced to the conference tournament final and one game from an automatic NCAA tournament berth. The women’s hoops program made back-to-back postseason tournaments.

It is a lengthy list of team and individual accomplishments helped by, in part, the improvement in facilities for all athletics programs.

“I think No. 1 is how we’ve done with facilities at Marshall since Mike has been aboard,” said Roger Jefferson, a board member who was a two-sport star (football/wrestling) at Marshall from 1960-63. “I think we’ve made some great improvement there. I think his connection to the state, the fact that he’s a Marshall graduate, his background and experience being in Conference USA at East Carolina. He’s been very positive. He’s done a tremendous job with the stadium, the indoor facility and now with the locker room. Academically, we are doing very well there.”

Indeed, academics are a strength of the athletic department.

Marshall has the most academic media winners of any Conference USA member the past two years combined, and is second in student-athletes on the Commissioner’s Honor Roll during the same span, trailing only Rice. The swimming and diving team, for example, has a team grade-point average of 3.65, which ranks No. 1 in Conference USA and in the top five nationally. There are shining individual examples like recently graduated men’s basketball player Austin Loop, who became the first from his program to be selected to the league’s all-academic team three consecutive years.

“I’m the last person who should receive recognition for the accomplishments of our athletic department, the staff, coaches or student-athletes,” Hamrick said. “This is humbling to me and I was shocked that Steve Williams, Bill Forbes and the M Club board made this selection without me knowing. The important thing, to me, is that we are all in this together and that we have a reason to celebrate what has been achieved on the field, in the classroom and in our community. Thank you to any person who has contributed to the success we have had here at Marshall.”

Hamrick, a former Marshall football player, values relationships. For example, he wanted to connect all eras of Marshall football through the Vinny Curry Project, a fundraising initiative that raised nearly $400,000 for locker room renovations and resulted in the renaming of the locker room after Curry.

Carl Lee, who like Curry made the leap from Marshall to the National Football League, is one of the former student-athletes who felt reconnected to Marshall because of Hamrick.

“Mike Hamrick is a different kind of guy,” Lee said. “He is a sports guy and a former player who appreciates what he and other athletes went through. You don’t see a lot of other schools bringing people back like he does. You don’t see an athletic director developing personal relationships with former players. It’s unheard of in my mind. It’s not like that everywhere.

“He knows we have to keep these kind of bonds and give out a certain type of recognition for the people who gave their all at Marshall.”

Hamrick’s contributions in 2016 go well beyond what transpired at Marshall. The Clendenin native spearheaded relief and rebuilding efforts after his hometown was devastated by a massive flood last June. Marshall held a two-day donation drive in Huntington and transported the supplies via a 53-foot equipment truck to flood-ravaged areas near Elkview. Hamrick worked with the NCAA to receive special approval to donate sports equipment, including football cleats, to area high school football teams. MU student-athletes helped distribute collected supplies, unloaded trucks, cleaned flooded churches and helped with the general clean up from the floods.

“Mike epitomizes everything you want in an athletic director,” Williams said. “He draws investment in, but he also lifts up the student-athletes.”

Hamrick has also been successful in regards to football scheduling. Nationally ranked Louisville, with Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson, visited Huntington in 2016 – providing an estimated $9 million economic impact for the region, according to the Cabell Huntington Convention and Visitors Bureau. Louisville, ranked No. 3 at the time, is the highest-ranked FBS team to ever visit Huntington. The crowd of 40,592 is No. 2 in the 26-year history of Joan C. Edwards Stadium.

Power conference schools North Carolina State and Pittsburgh are scheduled to visit in the future, as well as well-known opponents like Boise State, Navy and East Carolina. All of those are home-and-home agreements.

The Chris Cline Athletic Complex, which was dedicated in 2014, has hosted multiple track meets. The first indoor football game was held there on Oct. 8, 2016, between the middle schools from Elkview and DuPont. Elkview Middle School was one of the schools which had its playing field ruined by the floods. This spring, the Marshall football program moved its annual Green-White spring scrimmage inside the facility because of inclement weather. The Hoops Family Field at Veterans Memorial Soccer Complex, an $8 million facility that opened in 2013, hosted the C-USA men’s soccer tournament this year.

None of those events would have been possible for Huntington without Hamrick’s vision.

“I’m so proud that a former teammate is directing our university’s athletic future,” said Bill Forbes, who played football at Marshall from 1973-76 and will succeed Williams as the M Club president. “Mike has a passion for Marshall University that is unequaled. He’s done a fantastic job. I’m proud to call him my friend.

“As a businessman what has impressed me,” Forbes added, “is his attention to detail and how he treats the people around him.”

There are still, somehow, accomplishments to mention. In 2016, the Big Green Scholarship Foundation set a record for number of memberships. Fundraising, in general, has increased. Hamrick was named in July 2016 to the NCAA Division I Football Oversight Committee, which makes him one of 12 representatives who are shaping and influencing the future of college football.

“When people look at Huntington and they see we are America’s Best Community, they say, ‘Who would have dreamed it? Well, I did,” Williams said. “Who would have dreamed Marshall would have this level of success with these facilities? Who would have dreamed it? Mike Hamrick did. When you make no little plans, I’ve learned, you aspire and dream dreams that nobody ever imagined possible. That’s what Mike Hamrick does.”