By Tom Bone
For The Register-Herald
Donald P. Christie, a coach and teacher who was also revered as “a great gentleman,” died on Saturday.
Christie, 83, led the men’s basketball team at Concord College (now University) to West Virginia Conference championships in 1979 and 1989 and won 387 games in his long college coaching career.
He relinquished his coaching duties in 1989 and became Concord’s athletics director, retiring in 1998. He also taught mathematics at Concord and at Salem College (now Salem International University), where he coached basketball for 17 years prior to moving to Concord.
The 1979 title was Concord’s first West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament championship in men’s basketball.
“He was just a great gentleman,” said Steve Cox, his former assistant at Concord and his successor as Mountain Lions coach.
“In athletics, everybody called him coach, but he was a lot more than that,” Cox said. “He was a mentor. He was a teacher first and foremost. He always taught math.”
Cox recalled that he took a mathematics class from Christie when he was a student at Salem.
Cox said, “He has impacted and influenced countless numbers of young people, and not just those who played for him,” Cox said. “He taught them and encouraged them in some form or fashion.
“He was just a special person.”
Concord President Emeritus Jerry Beasley said on Sunday, “Don’s beliefs about the purposes of small college athletics were a perfect fit for Concord College. He expected his players to be good men first.
“He taught mathematics in our classrooms, right living on our basketball practice court. He competed with other coaches as friends who knew how to live cheerfully with one another when the games were over.
“He earned the respect of his players who often became friends for life. He assisted his successor and friend Steve Cox as a father would a son.”
Referring to current CU men’s basketball coach Kent McBride, a former Concord player, Beasley said, “A true thread runs from Christie to Cox to McBride, and young men and women will benefit for years to come.”
Cox said about Christie’s priorities as a coach, “The big thing he always emphasized was team play — people liking each other, getting along and playing together. The way he built his program, it was like playing as a familly. You were part of that family.”
“I think that explains the closeness, even after all these years, from his former players ... because you just have that family feeling that never goes away.”
He said, “Like all of the old coaches ... he was a teacher first, and an educator, and a coach after that. You just had the feeling that if you trusted your son with him, he’d come out of the experience better off.”
“He valued people and he respected them and treated them well. He treated them like you’d want to be treated.”
Barry Blizzard, commissioner of the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, said on Sunday night, “He’s one of the founding fathers” of conference basketball.
“Don and I were very good friends,” Blizzard said. “I had a lot of repsect for what he did with his teams. Always a gentleman. He was very cordial in his relationships, both as a coach and athletic director.
“He was always a gentleman, and in this profession, that’s not always the case.”
“I have nothing but good things to say about Don.”
Tentative plans are being made for a memorial service, probably around the first of June, Cox said. Funeral arrangements are incomplete at the Memorial Funeral Directory and Cremation Center in Princeton.
— E-mail: tbone@