FOR ALL of its flaws and warts, I still love college athletics. I still believe that a young man or woman can change his or her life by competing collegiately.We have seen many such stories in our state over the years. Here is another one.Charles Delmonico came to tiny Salem College from upstate New York in the mid-1960s and played basketball for Tigers coach Don Christie from 1965-69. He averaged 17.6 points as a senior and also led the Tigers in assists, but that is not the real story here."I grew up near West Point in New York. and when I came to Salem I knew nothing about West Virginia," recalled Delmonico. "I was on academic probation at Salem and Coach Christie would not put me on the basketball team until I proved myself in the classroom."I found that the more I applied myself in the classroom, the more I enjoyed it. I actually started getting excited about academics. The professors at Salem were very encouraging and always willing to help. Before long, I actually started getting better in the classroom and was able to play basketball in the second semester."I played in the WVIAC for four years and had the time of my life. The competition was incredible, the gyms were packed, the rivalries were intense and the end-of-the-year tournament was tremendous. We used to stay at the Daniel Boone Hotel [in Charleston] and we thought we were playing in the Final Four. "I also learned how special the people of West Virginia are and how passionate they are about college sports. I used to walk in downtown Clarksburg on Saturdays in the fall and every store you went in had the WVU football game on the radio. I learned quickly that the state loved college athletics. It really wasn't that way in New York.
"Salem College and Don Christie changed my life. I got my degree, came back to New York and became a teacher and coach at Washingtonville High School. I coached from 1969 to 2004. I coached boys basketball as well as boys and girls track and cross country. I am the second-winningest high school coach in the state in cross country and have won four state championships. "I have three grown children and seven grandchildren. As I look back on it, going to school at Salem in West Virginia was the best decision I ever made. Coach Christie taught me about being a man, not just a basketball player."There are many stories about high school athletes coming from other states to West Virginia and how it changed their life. I never tire of hearing them.I share Delmonico's admiration for Christie. In all of my 40 years of working around college athletics, I have never met a nicer person, or a more universally well-respected coach than Christie. Christie grew up in Harrison County, but he went to Madison's Scott High School for his senior year. He coached at Salem from 1960-77 and at Concord from 1977-98. At Salem, he coached the legendary Archie Talley. At Concord, he coached many outstanding players from the southern part of the state, including Will Johnson (DuPont), Scott Frye (Harts), Kelly Mann (Peterstown), Thaddeus Breckenridge (South Charleston), Randy Jennings (Montcalm) and Scott Ellis (Logan). Now 82, Christie and his wife Jean celebrated their 59th anniversary in May. Every coach in America could learn a lot about perspective and class from the life and coaching career of Don Christie. Reach Frank Giardina at firstname.lastname@example.org