Cline always made sure to give back

Sholten Singer/The Herald-DispatchChris Cline speaks as Marshall University dedicates the new indoor practice facility as the Chris Cline Athletic Complex in 2014. Cline died Thursday, July 4, 2019, in a helicopter crash off the Bahamas.

The stories of Chris Cline's humble beginnings have been well documented.

Filling bags with dirt at a penny each for his dad. Growing up in a double-wide in Wyoming County and thawing frozen pipes with a blow dryer.

Life as a successful coal mining tycoon didn't come easy. It led him away from his native West Virginia, but he was always sure to remember his roots.

Cline’s death in a helicopter crash that killed six other people off the coast of the Bahamas on Thursday leaves a void that will be felt beyond the mining industry. Cline impacted the lives of students in the classroom and on the field.

The Cline Family Foundation has awarded kids with scholarships since its inception in 2009. The YMCA Paul Cline Memorial Youth Sports Complex, which bears his father’s name, has become a major player in soccer at the state level, thanks in large part to the Cline Family Foundation’s support.

“It was a sad day when he passed,” said Beckley native Bob Pruett, who served as Marshall University’s head football coach from 1996 until 2004. “He has done so much for the whole state, really, but for my hometown of Beckley, the soccer fields at the Y and those facilities. He would do anything for the kids.”

The sports complex has hosted the West Virginia state high school soccer tournament since 2004. The complex has eight fields in all, but two — Carter Field and Cline Field — are used for the tournament.

Cline Field was resurfaced with artificial turf in 2015, and Carter Field followed suit last summer. The Cline Family Foundation was instrumental in the completion of both projects, which approached $1 million each.

The complex is also host to the WVU Tech men’s and women’s soccer teams, as well as several youth tournaments.

Publicly, Cline's most well-known contributions have been made to Marshall University, where he studied psychology before dropping out at age 22 to begin his career in the coal mining industry.

In 2011, Marshall received a gift of $5 million through the Cline Family Foundation to establish an endowment to support new faculty and scientists in the Marshall University Sports Medicine Institute. That donation was later matched by the West Virginia Research Trust Fund's "Bucks for Brains" program.

Three years later, Cline donated $3.5 million to the Vision Campaign, an initiative spearheaded by Marshall athletic director Mike Hamrick to secure funds for on-campus facilities. Through the campaign, Marshall realized a goal that had long been thought unattainable with the addition of an indoor practice facility.

Named the Chris Cline Athletic Complex, the venue was officially opened in the fall of 2014 and has a 120-yard football practice field, a 300-yard track and field oval, the Buck Harless Student-Athlete Center and the Chad Pennington Marshall Athletics Hall of Fame, named for the former Marshall quarterback and 1999 Heisman Trophy finalist.

When news of Cline's death broke Thursday, Hamrick texted, "I'm devastated."

“Chris Cline was a true Son of Marshall," he wrote in a release from the university. "He was not only a personal friend of mine, he was a friend of Marshall and Marshall Athletics. With the naming of our Chris Cline Athletic Complex to honor his generosity, his dedication to our university and our student-athletics will live on. He was so proud of the complex and was so excited the day we dedicated it. I sure know Marshall University Athletics will miss Chris, as will I. He was a vital part of our athletics family.”

Cline touted the facility during a dedication ceremony in September 2014.

“I’ve been around the country and seen a lot of these facilities,” Cline was quoted in a story on Marshall's official athletics website, HerdZone.com. “This took half the money for twice the facility.”

“It’s your home state, it’s your family, it’s what you grew up with,” Cline later added. “You learn that these people are your family, no matter where you move to in life afterwards. So, everybody in this state contributed to me getting started and making it in life and I’ll probably never be able to pay them back.”

Before his contribution to Marshall, Cline gave West Virginia University $2 million for its orthopedic department and another $3 million for the completion of a basketball practice facility.

“The saddest thing is, the greatest thing about him was that he was a good guy,” Pruett said. “He was just a guy, like you and I. There was no pretense about him. He wanted to give back to West Virginia because West Virginia gave back to him.

“I still can’t get over it. (Friday) would have been his birthday. It’s just so sad. He was an icon. He helped a lot of people. This is tough for a lot of people. It hits me in every place. It hits me in Beckley, it hits me here in Huntington and it hits me at Marshall University and the whole state of West Virginia.”

Email: gfauber@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @GaryFauber

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