It was Friday, Sept. 8, one day before Western Carolina University’s 2017 home football opener against Davidson. But it may as well have been Christmas as far as David Brinkley ’76 was concerned.
Following the team’s walk-through at E.J. Whitmire Stadium that afternoon, Brinkley, a Catamount football player from 1973 until 1976, and wife Marie Brinkley ’77 joined the team in the plush, new David and Marie Brinkley Senior Locker Room. The Brinkleys were the lead donors in not only supplying the senior players with a separate space, but also in remodeling the main locker room and the coaches’ offices.
To see the team enjoying that space was a moment Brinkley won’t soon forget. “It’s meaningful,” Brinkley said. “You could tell by looking at their faces – the pride. When you see that little child at Christmas, that’s what those boys’ faces looked like. Anybody who sat in that room and didn’t realize how important that is to those young men and the pride they take in this, they don’t understand young men.”
Marie Brinkley couldn’t tell who was more excited. “I think (David) enjoyed it more than they did,” she said. “If he could’ve put on a uniform, he would have been right there with them.”
David Brinkley has personal experience with how something new can make you want to perform at a higher level. He was a sophomore on the 1974 team that christened E.J. Whitmire Stadium and Jordan-Phillips Field House. WCU earned its first trip to the NCAA postseason that year, eventually falling to Division II top-ranked Louisiana Tech, 10-7. The Catamounts finished the season ranked No. 8.
With fresh new digs for the 2017 season, WCU was ranked in the Football Championship Subdivision’s top 25 poll during the second half of the season, finishing the year 7-5.
“Some teams share locker rooms with other teams at their schools,” said senior offensive lineman Tanner Poindexter of Pfafftown. “We’re fortunate enough to have our own facility here and have our own lockers. It’s just awesome. It makes you feel like people care about you and care about looking after you.”
The senior locker room was formerly the team’s freshman locker room. A far cry from what it is today, it was over-crowded, with some players sharing lockers. Now, it is fully carpeted with a Catamount head in the center flanked by black custom-made leather sofas featuring WCU logos. Wooden lockers line the walls, with metal pass-through lockers along a wall leading to the equipment room. The area also features big-screen televisions, video games and a stereo system.
“We had stuff in there before, but it was never really nice stuff,” Poindexter said. “It’s high class and it was nice of Mr. Brinkley to donate that to us. During camp, we’d bring air mattresses in there and we’d sleep and watch TV. It was great.”
Poindexter said it’s a plus that seniors get a separate space to call their own. The team’s 20 seniors use it to sit and chill, while the rest of the team is wild and into their video games, he said.
Renovations in the main locker room made possible by Dale Hollifield ’65 and wife Dianne included new lockers and walls covered in murals, with updates to the players’ lounge made possible by Lonnie Galloway ’94 and wife Winslow featuring couches, TV’s, video games and a blaring sound system.
“The first time we walked in there, it was amazing,” said junior running back Corey Holloway from Atlana. “It creates an atmosphere that allows us to bond and stay in there and mingle as a team and get to know each other. The atmosphere is much greater. I believe if you have good things around you, you produce good things.”
After the projects were completed, coach Mark Speir MAEd ’95 gathered the team and, beginning with the seniors, handed out name plates for their lockers, starting with players with the highest GPAs to reward those who excel on and off the field. One-by-one, they began picking out their lockers.
“You could just see they were excited about their home. They’ve got a saying, ‘If you look good, you feel good. If you feel good, you play good.’ This is a big part of it. We couldn’t have done it without David and Marie,” Speir said.
“These players work hard. They go to school. They’re up at 6 o’clock in the morning. They’re here late at night. They go to study hall. When you work somebody hard, you want to treat them first class,” he said. “This is a big-time, Division I locker room now. Our players have a lot of pride. They’re down here all the time because of this locker room. That’s what you want. You want them hanging out together, hanging out around the coaches, to help build a family atmosphere,” Speir said.
The players weren’t alone in benefiting from the more than $100,000 worth of renovations. When Brinkley met with Speir prior to the project, he asked where Speir met parents of recruits. Speir said in his office. Brinkley replied that it needed work, too.
“For us to come to work every day, and to be able to talk to a prospect and his parents in my office that’s beautiful and an office, as the players say, has that swag, that’s pretty awesome,” Speir said.