Dick Whitmore guided the Colby College men’s basketball team to 637 victories during his 40-year career on Mayflower Hill in Waterville, enough to rank seventh all-time among NCAA Division III coaches.
But when his players reflect on their experiences with Whitmore, the recollections have more to do with relationships than wins and losses — relationships that continue long after their competitive basketball careers have concluded.
“Coach Whitmore is everywhere,” said Chris Vickers, a Caribou native and 1987 Colby College graduate who played for Whitmore. “He’s at our weddings, our funerals, with our families. He’s emailing and calling and sending notes. It’s incredible the level of attention that he pays us, and it doesn’t matter if you were all-American or never got on the floor. That’s not what this relationship is all about.”
Whitmore’s former players recently expressed their gratitude for their coach’s efforts by raising $2.1 million to endow the Richard L. Whitmore Jr. Head Coach for Colby Men’s Basketball position within the college’s athletic department.
Led by another 1987 Colby graduate, Tim O’Donnell, 134 alumni and more than a dozen other friends contributed to ensure that Whitmore’s name is forever linked to the program.
The effort also included naming the head basketball coach’s office in honor of Whitmore’s wife, Mary Kay Whitmore, who has been close to hundreds of players throughout her husband’s coaching tenure.
“Dick Whitmore’s coaching and mentorship made a lifelong impact on generations of Colby alumni,” Colby president David A. Greene said. “Coach Whitmore taught every player how to be his very best individually and as part of a team, and those lessons lasted long beyond graduation.
“His wife, Mary Kay, and his children welcomed the players and alumni into their home and created a family atmosphere that defined the program. His former players are endlessly grateful for the teaching and care provided by the Whitmore family, and this gift and others made by basketball alumni reflect that gratitude.”
For Whitmore, the gesture made by his players was humbling.
“This is the supreme highlight of four decades with Colby basketball,” he said. “Blessed to work with generations of special players and people who constantly gave their all to the team. The players were everything and that the endowed coaching position was player-based is the greatest gift.
“It’s difficult to express the emotion I feel, but I love them all and the memories live with me each day.”
Whitmore coached Colby to three Eastern College Athletic Conference championships, and the Mules were ranked as high as second nationally during the 1984-85 season.
“Whit left an indelible mark, not only in the record books, but also on the lives of his players,” O’Donnell said.
O’Donnell said Whitmore’s gift to his players has been his continuing support and friendship, and also his ability to create and maintain what players know as the Colby basketball family.
“For most college athletes, their relationship with the program ends with graduation,” O’Donnell said. “When we leave Colby, our relationship with the Colby basketball family is just beginning.”
Since his retirement from Colby in 2011, Whitmore’s impact on the college has inspired considerable generosity from the college’s basketball community.
The basketball arena in the new Colby athletics center, set to open in 2020, was funded by former player and current college trustee Jim Crook, who graduated in 1978.
Crook also was instrumental in leading the 2011 alumni effort to name the court itself in honor of Whitmore’s retirement and his longtime assistant coach, the late John “Swisher” Mitchell.
The same alumni group in April 2016 endowed the assistant coaching position within the men’s basketball program in Mitchell’s name.
Former Colby All-American Matt Hancock and his wife, Tracy, funded the basketball hospitality room.
“The support that basketball alumni show for their program is transformational and has positioned the team for sustained success,” Harold Alfond Director of Athletics Jake Olkkola said. “We are incredibly grateful for their commitment to competitive excellence.”
Current coach Damien Strahorn, a 2002 Colby graduate, will become the inaugural Richard L. Whitmore Jr. Head Coach for Colby Men’s Basketball. It’s the third head coaching position endowed at Colby, along with the Jack Kelley Head Coach for Men’s Ice Hockey and the Jack Sandler Memorial Coach for Men’s Lacrosse.