Maggie Smith, Staff Writer
At 24 years old, most people are still figuring out what they want to do in life. At 24 years old most people have big dreams that seem impossible. However, for some 24 year olds, like Gary Hamill, a career is put before them and they go with it.
25 years ago, Gary Hamill, from Belfast, Northern Ireland, came to the United States to attend the College of Charleston on a soccer scholarship. Hamill’s soccer career as a player was cut short after three years due to an injury. Thanks to some connections, Gary Hamill was offered a position at Wingate University as an assistant coach, where he would finish up his degree while coaching.
Throughout his 25 years here, Gary Hamill has held many positions. In his earlier years, he ran intramural’s, then later served a couple years as an Assistant Athletic Director. He also oversaw the compliance and all the Olympic sports. In the 90’s he spent three seasons as both the head men and women’s soccer coach.
Hamill said at one point he was even named the Head Tennis coach at Wingate, although he had never actually played a match in his life.“I actually read about it in the U.S.A. Today London Edition that I was named head coach.” said Hamill. He said he was only the coach for three weeks until they hired someone else. “I’m undefeated as a Tennis Coach.” Hamill jokingly said.
The 15 out of the 25 years that he’s been here, he has served as the Associate Athletic Director. Throughout his career he’s held multiple positions while coaching, but for the last 5 years he has only held the position as head coach of the men’s soccer team. “Like a lot of people, in the early days you do what you need to do to be an ultimate team player.” said Hamill about the many responsibilities he’s had.
When Hamill first arrived at Wingate he was the assistant coach of the men’s team for only three short weeks. After just three weeks he moved up from assistant coach, and was named the Head Coach of the Wingate University men’s soccer team, at the young age of 24. Not only was he beginning his coaching career, but was a full time student as well, as he was finishing up his degree. “It was extremely difficult.” said Hamill.
In 1994, Hamill lead the team to their first Conference Championship title and graduated in the same year…talk about a good year. Hamill said his transition from being a player to becoming a head coach at the young age of 24 was “quite difficult.” Hamill also said, “it helped me learn how to build relationships, and the importance of players.”
Hamill said the transition from player to coach was tough because he was only 24 years old and had players only three years younger than him on the team. Although some were younger than him, he said that they respected him. “People respect somebody if you have a knowledge of something. If I would’ve had no knowledge of the sport and was winging it, they wouldn’t of respected me.” Hamill said.
He had aspirations to become a coach before coming to the United States, and took coaching courses in Ireland. “I thought that that was a good career choice for me at 16 or 17” said Hamill. When offered the opportunity as head coach, Hamill said he “saw it as an opportunity to first and foremost build a successful program.”
On December 3, 2016 Gary Hamill’s 25 years of building a successful soccer program paid off. Hamill and the Wingate University men’s soccer team won the DII National Championship. Hamill described his feeling after winning the national championship as “a feeling of excitement that a lot of years and a lot of hard work was right in front of me.”
Hamill said the excitement and jubilation of being national champs hit him a month later, and he finally had the same reaction of excitement as his players did right after the win.“I obviously have so many years of dedicating myself and trying to get them to that point, that once it had all settled down, it took a month before the realization that we actually did pull that off” said Hamill.
Hamill said that for the last decade he has believed the national championship was a possibility. “In the course of a decade, we’ve lost six times to either the national champions or the runner up, but the ultimate goal was always to win the national championship.” said Hamill. He also said that in the last four to five years they have came very close.
Hamill credits the University as factoring role in helping the men’s soccer team make it to the national championship. “I think we have all the resources that we need, like the institutional support scholarship wise, the facilities, and the school itself.” said Hamill.
Hamill has witnessed the growth of Wingate University over the last 25 years.“The University as a whole has grown so much and that has helped us recruit students” said Hamill.
When it comes to recruiting players that fit the successful program Hamill has built, he said his recruiting philosophy is to recruit players based on personal characteristics. “I truly believe you can’t honestly coach a team unless you know their individual linkup,” said Hamill, “I like to think that I know every single player as a person and then I know how to put them together as a team.”Some important personal characteristics that Hamill looks for is work ethic, confidence, and good academics.
Although winning a national championship seems like one of the biggest accomplishments a coach could dream of, Hamill said one of the biggest aspects he’s obtained through coaching is “the stupid satisfaction of seeing people grow and develop from young teenagers into nice young men.”
Hamill said that he doesn’t know his winning percentage, nor does he care. “I think that having an impact on people’s lives is massively important…that’s what I want to be remembered by…the impact I’ve had in helping people” said Hamill.
Edited by: Brea Childs