Character wins championships.
It’s more than Pat Whitcomb’s mantra. As head wrestling coach at North Idaho College, character is something he works to instill in his team through their work on community programs.
The wrestling team’s longest-running program is the Shirley Parker Reading Program, which was founded in 2002 in partnership with Parker Toyota. The program was named in honor of Doug Parker’s late wife, Shirley, who was a supporter of both reading and wrestling.
“After my mom passed away, Pat thought it would be a nice gesture to call it the Shirley Parker Reading Program,” said Jim Parker, Dealer Principle of Parker Toyota. “I think it’s a great tribute to her. Education meant a lot to her.”
Through the program, NIC wrestlers visit every first-grade classroom in the Coeur d’Alene School District and give a book to every student. This year, the team will distribute its 12,000th book.
“The book is something solid, something material, that’s theirs,” Whitcomb said. “They didn’t borrow it from a classroom. Their parents didn’t have to buy it for them. It’s theirs. They come home with that and show ownership. You can just see them light up when they get that.”
Whitcomb said he has a soft spot in his heart for the program, both because it was the team’s first community project and because of his personal connection to the woman it honors.
“I worked for Parker Toyota when I went to school here,” Whitcomb said. “I saw her and her sense of community. She was instrumental in starting the Hayden Lake Library. Here’s something that we could do to honor a great woman and her passion: reading.”
Since the founding of that first program more than 10 years ago, the NIC wrestling team has tackled numerous other projects. Over the last four years, the team has raised $8,000 for the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure through the sale of “We Care” T-shirts. The wrestlers also volunteer at the Race for the Cure, guiding runners along the course, handing out water and helping with cleanup.
“That’s by far the best thing we do,” said Kyle Godinho, a third-year wrestler at NIC. “To see the survivors out there running and supporting them is pretty neat. It feels good.”
In January, the wrestling team will continue its annual youth wrestling program for K-6th graders through Coeur d’Alene Recreation Department. The program will run Mondays and Wednesdays in January.
The newest addition to the team’s program lineup is a school supply giveaway for local families. The first giveaway was at the end of August.
“The two times of year you see a stress on families is the beginning of the school year and Christmas,” Whitcomb said. “We looked at that and asked, ‘How can we help these kids?’”
On the day of the event, Whitcomb said he could clearly see the need for it in the community: Almost two hours before the giveaway began, families were already lined up. The team gave away about $2,500 in school supplies to more than 400 students. Next year, Whitcomb said the team plans to raise twice as much money and give away twice as many supplies.
“It was a great success,” he said.
Over time, NIC wrestling’s dedication to these projects has helped cultivate a sort of symbiotic relationship between the community and the team.
“I think it shows that we support the community so the community can also support our team,” said Jeremy Golding, a second-year wrestler. “We help each other out.”
It’s important to Whitcomb that these projects aren’t just a flash in the pan. Each project is a commitment. Whitcomb said he wants to found ongoing, sustainable programs that local families can look forward to and rely on -- like the school supply giveaway. It’s his way of giving back to the community that supports the NIC wrestling team.
“We’re a community college,” he said. “We’ve won 14 national titles, but that couldn’t happen without the support of the college and the community.”
Whitcomb said these projects serve more than the community: They also serve the wrestlers by giving them a taste of the world outside of classes and wrestling, showing them the impact they can make on other people. Whitcomb said he hopes his wrestlers will carry these experiences with them throughout their lives.
“We always say that character wins championships,” Whitcomb said. “That’s not how many pull-ups you can do. That’s how much you can give back to the community. It all adds up in someone’s heart.”
-Writer Kaye Thornbrugh is the former managing editor of the NIC student newspaper The Sentinel and an intern in the NIC Communications and Marketing Department
NIC Head Wrestling Coach Pat Whitcomb accepts the A+ Education Award from Marie Price, chair of the Coeur d’Alene Chamber of Commerce Education Committee, at the chamber’s Upbeat Breakfast. The wrestling team was honored this fall with the award, which recognizes excellence in support of education.