Beloved coach, educator honored at special ceremony

By Abby Cavenaugh

July 29, 2014

Although former high school coach and educator Arthur W. Newkirk Jr. passed away nearly 50 years ago, his legacy is still alive and well in Anson County.

On Monday morning, a large framed poster featuring photos and written memories of the legendary coach was dedicated in memory of Newkirk at the Hampton B. Allen Library in Wadesboro. The ceremony was the brainchild of Oscar Harward of Locust.

“Coach Newkirk was more than a student’s teacher,” Harward said. “He was a teacher’s teacher, whether he was teaching reading, writing, arithmetic, English, history, health, science, sociology, economics or any one of many other classes. His teaching methods left his students yearning for more knowledge.”

Newkirk not only taught from textbooks, Harward went on to say, but he also taught from his own experiences — and with a sense of humor. He was also proud of his students’ and players’ academic accomplishments, as well as their feats on the baseball diamond or basketball court. One former student remembered that when the honor rolls were posted, the coach would go and circle each name of the athletes he coached.

“Mr. Newkirk encouraged us to become strong, agile and quick to adjust both physically and mentally, both on and off the field,” Harward said. “He urged us to improve and expand our talents. Above all, Mr. Newkirk unfailingly emphasized the importance of a positive attitude in continuing to be the best we could be.”

Anson County Schools Superintendent Michael Freeman attended the ceremony, though he said he never had Newkirk as a teacher. “I’m thankful to Anson County Schools for bringing teachers like Mr. Newkirk to Anson County,” Freeman said. “Any time an educator is honored, that’s time well spent.”

Former student Betty Little said, “He taught us how to win, but he taught us how to lose, too.” She added that he was concerned about her weight and how many biscuits she’d eat in a weekend, and would actually keep a scale in his office to keep her in line.

“I loved him,” she said. “He passed away my senior year and I still miss him. He holds a place in my heart.”

Elaine Kiker Hedrick shared several of her memories of the coach. “He nurtured my talent,” she said. “He always believed in me, sometimes when I didn’t believe in myself. His confidence in me made me believe in myself.”

After hearing so many fond memories of his dad, Arthur W. Newkirk III made a few comments as well. “This all just makes my heart swell with pride,” he said. “My dad passed away when I was seven months old so I never knew him. But I feel like I’ve really come to know him now.”

Although he has no memory of his father, Newkirk said he was everything a kid hopes for in a dad. “He was a Marine, a Golden Gloves boxer, a college athlete, an educator and a coach. He was passionate about sports, passionate about his family, and passionate about life.”

Newkirk relayed the story that for their anniversary, his mother, Elsie Newkirk Gillis, made the coach his favorite meal of country ham and all the fixings. When he came home and saw the meal, he said, “I can’t stay. I’ve got to go scout out a team we’re playing. We’ll celebrate on the weekend.” Two days later, Arthur W. Newkirk Jr. passed away at Anson Memorial Hospital after suffering a heart attack.

“I hate that I don’t have any memories of him personally,” Newkirk said. “But I haven’t taken a step in my life that I haven’t felt my father was right behind me. Here it is, half a century later and my father is still living on through all of you.”