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Former WCU player’s gift supports athletics facilities improvements

Former WCU player’s gift supports athletics facilities improvements

A former two-time Western Carolina University Academic All-American football player wants to help ensure that future Catamount student-athletes have similar experiences. 

That’s why alumnus Mike Wade, longtime supporter of WCU, has made new gifts and pledges totaling $250,000, with $225,000 going toward the enhancement of the university’s athletics facilities and $25,000 to the Catamount Club.

“For me, there is nothing like college football,” said Wade, a 1977 business administration graduate. “It is such a gladiator sport, where participants learn the value of getting up after being knocked down. It is such a lesson in life. The more you pick yourself up, the more likely you are to succeed in your career and with your family.”

“Mike and his wife, Regina, have been community champions here in Cullowhee for a long time,” said Alex Gary, director of athletics. “We are humbled by their willingness to step up once again, this time to support the university’s ambitious athletics facility plans.”

Wade played football at McDowell High School and signed a WCU football scholarship in 1972 – with the caveat that if he received a scholarship to play baseball elsewhere, he would opt for baseball. Wingate College offered that baseball scholarship, which Wade accepted. He had dreams of following in the footsteps of his father, who played professionally for the Chicago Cubs and Dallas-Fort Worth Rangers.

“After my first year at Wingate, it became clear to me that I was unlikely to play pro baseball and that football was the vehicle to get a college education made possible by an athletics scholarship,” said Wade, who transferred as a sophomore in 1974 and played defensive end for the Catamounts.

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Wade moved to linebacker the next season, and the Catamounts opened the 1975 season against Division I opponent Toledo.

“We shocked them early and were leading 24-0 at half, but they had an All-American quarterback who led them back in the second half, and we lost 32-31. It set the tone for the season, and we never recovered,” he said.

Which sets up Wade’s favorite moment as a student-athlete, a memory he says continues to make hairs on the back of his neck stand at attention. Not surprisingly, it involves WCU’s former longtime rival, Appalachian State University.

“Going into the final game against Appalachian, our record was 2-7. The week before, we had lost to Furman, 35-0, which was the most-humiliating loss I have ever suffered playing sports,” Wade said. “App State that same weekend had beaten the University of South Carolina in Columbia and needed a win against us to earn a Tangerine Bowl bid.”

Because of a rash of injuries, two WCU offensive players who had not even practiced defense that season started the game defensively, he said. App State was in the top 10 nationally in total offense, scoring 42 points against South Carolina.

“The Asheville Citizen-Times said the betting line on the game was the temperature at gametime. We were given no shot to win,” Wade said. “App State took the opening kickoff and drove the ball to the 2-yard line, where it was first-and-goal. Four downs later, the ball was still at the 2-yard line. It was game on.”

The Catamounts went on to score two fourth-quarter touchdowns and claim a 20-11 victory, the fifth consecutive win in WCU’s storied rivalry with App State. WCU held the Mountaineers to their lowest scoring total for the season, doing so with a patched-together defense rallied by a passionate home crowd. Wade said the memory still gives him goosebumps.

“I love Cullowhee and WCU,” he said. “From the time I arrived in the fall of 1974, I knew this was my real home. I wasn’t born here, but this was home. My college years were filled with wonderful relationships and incredible experiences, and I am forever grateful. I have had a love affair with this place for almost 49 years, and it’s not over yet.”

It is out of that love that Wade has made the university a focus of his philanthropy. In 2019, he made a $1 million planned gift to support WCU’s athletics and arts scholarships and programs.

Among the campaign priorities are expansions for strength and conditioning, sports medicine and academic space for student-athletes. Updates to E.J. Whitmire Stadium will include a new press box, premium space for fans, a rebuilt east concourse, football offices and meeting space, and a new football locker room. WCU will look to vacate Camp Lab Gymnasium and open a new facility for the golf, track and field, and women’s soccer programs. Other improvements in the master plan will benefit all 16 Catamount athletics teams.

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