First Posted: 1/15/2009
They're the faceless figures lurking in the shadows, the guys anybody outside of the inner circle rarely hear about and likely don't know.
No, I'm not talking about some character on The Sopranos, but rather some of the unsung heros of the sporting world: assistant coaches.
Two such coaches came out of the shadows for a few seconds last week, as Lumberton's Kevin Binkley and St. Pauls' Tommy Townsend were among the inaugural winners of the AFLAC National Assistant Coach of the Year Award.
Binkley and Townsend were among 500 assistant coaches nationwide from both high schools and colleges to receive the honor. There were 20 chosen in North Carolina, and both Binkley and Townsend were a bit surprised to be among the selected.
“I was stunned,” said Binkley. “I didn't expect it.”
Coaches could be nominated for the award by either an athletics director, school administrator, head coach, player, parent or fan, then a panel of 10 of the top sports writers in the country selected the winners based on the follow criteria: longevity of service, knowledge, long-term success, special contributions to the school and community, and overcoming obstacles.
Lumberton AD Ted Gaskins nominated Binkley, who's been a boys and girls assistant soccer coach under Kenny Simmons for the last seven years and an assistant for the girls basketball team under Danny Graham for the last four years.
“The guys that I work for are very talented and know what they want to do,” Binkley said. “I've had some really good teams. We've taken the soccer program and built a contending program.”
As for the girls hoops squad, Binkley has been on board as the Lady Pirates reached the Class 4-A state championship game each of the last two seasons, winning the title in 2001.
Binkley actually jumped on board the hoops family in 1998, taking over the junior varsity squad for the final three weeks of the season when Graham had to miss some time.
“(Coach Graham) liked what I did stepping in there the last minute, not even knowing the girls, and asked me to stay on,” said Binkley.
Longevity was certainly one of the top credentials for Townsend, who's been an assistant football coach at St. Pauls for the last 18 years. The Bulldogs' head baseball coach, Townsend was also a diamond assistant for 14 years.
“Personally I like to stay in the background,” said Townsend, who was nominated by St. Pauls head football coach Tasker Fleming. “I'd rather do what I do and hopefully somebody notices the kids that do what I ask them to do.”
The meaning of the award certainly wasn't lost on Townsend, though.
“It was definitely an honor,” he said, although in true fashion making sure to quickly defer the attention. “I give all the credit to guys I work with, I give them all credit.”
Now with their plaques on the mantel, both Binkley and Townsend will resume their familiar roles, helping to shape young athletes out of the spotlight.
“That's what I choose to do,” said Townsend, “stay in the background.”
The creed of the assistant coach.
-- Tim Rafalski can be reached at 739-4322, Ext. 119 or by e-mail at [email protected]