There has probably never been a time when I didn’t enjoy sports on some level. As a young child it was with the innocence and wide-eyed excitement that goes hand-in-hand with competing and winning a prize. Later, the rewards were less material and somehow more spiritual in nature. When I married Willis Casey, however, my enjoyment and appreciation of sports, especially collegiate sports, took on a totally new and deeper meaning. I could no longer be satisfied to just sit on the sidelines and cheer. I quickly became aware that there were other factors involved in the so-called game of sports--factors that played a critical role in the over-all scheme of things as they existed within a university.
Willis was the director of athletics at
in Raleigh. It was through his eyes I learned that
collegiate sports was not “just a game,” and that a winning athletics program
was much more far-reaching than I had ever imagined. It influenced things like student enrollment,
scholarships, donations, accreditations, standing within the community, and
even the personal development of young men and women. As I became more involved, I began to
experience the ever-changing and often volatile emotions that existed with each
game played, or each event. If a team
won, the exhilaration was unreal; but if it lost, there was only the feeling of
despair. With time I adjusted. I allowed myself to be interested, but not so
emotionally involved that it spilled into all the other areas of my life. I thought I was in control. Nothing, however, prepared me for that season
when the men’s basketball team went to Albuquerque
and won the NCAA National Championship.
Under the direction of a highly emotional, super-charged Italian coach by the name of Jim Valvano, this team game after game seemed to lose, only to pull out a win in the last seconds of regular play or in overtime. It managed to survive the regular season, and as underdog, the Wolfpack team took not only its fans but the entire country by storm and marched into “The Pit” as it was called at the
to pull off one of the biggest upsets in the history of collegiate
basketball. It is still talked about
today as though it just happened. University of Nevada
Willis and I were sitting in the stands at center court that final game as we watched the winning dunk shot. The entire coliseum exploded. Willis pulled me through masses of cheering fans, past the security guards and onto the court. The Wolfpack players were laughing and crying and piling on top of each other in a heap. Coach V, as he was affectionately called, was running around wild-eyed, flailing his arms, searching for someone to hug. He found Willis. Then he found me. The overwhelming joy of the Wolfpack fans was so strong that time seemed to momentarily stop so that the enormity of what had just occurred could catch up with reality.
The Coach’s Wife is not reality. Nor is it a replay of an unbelievably thrilling event that took place during Willis’s tenure as athletics director. It is a story that is simply the product of my imagination brought to life on a printed page. Within that story, however, is a spirit that reflects something that is real—that one glorious moment when winning the NCAA Basketball National Championship became a reality for the Wolfpack.