Immediately upon entering the track and field office at Western Carolina University’s Cordelia Camp Gymnasium, you are greeted on the floor by three Southern Conference championship trophies. A quick glance up finds more SoCon trophies lining the shelves, as well as on desks. They spill over into the office of Coach Danny Williamson ’84 MAEd ’86.
And seemingly with no end in sight to the Catamounts’ run of success in both men’s and women’s track and field, a large trophy case might be in order. After sweeping the SoCon men’s and women’s indoor championships in February, the women also claimed the outdoor title in May, while the men came in second. In 30 seasons under Williamson, the Catamounts have won seven men’s indoor and five men’s outdoor SoCon championships, and nine women’s indoor and eight outdoor titles, for a total of 29.
Williamson’s success has come with a budget that only recently has become competitive with other conference schools. And WCU Director of Athletics Randy Eaton said a lot of that has to do with the conference’s restructuring of schools. Regardless of the hand he’s dealt, Williamson learned early on how to overcome whatever hurdles there may be.
“That was a message that was relayed to me by our former baseball coach, Jack Leggett,” Williamson said. “When I first got in the business, I was in his office and he was making peanut butter sandwiches for his team. He said it was because we don’t have the money to do anything else. It was a valuable lesson right there. I took it as if we have a penny, let’s see if we can turn it into a dollar.”
Williamson’s student-athletes say the No. 1 reason for the Catamounts’ continued success is the family-like culture he has created within his program. “He tries to be our daddy in our personal lives, making sure we’re not messing up,” sophomore Kayla Williams of High Point said.
“He stays on top of us in everything – school work, track, relationships, study hall. He’s on it,” added junior Michaela Williams of Charlotte. “He knows everything about you. He’s one of those coaches that knows every one of his athletes personally.”
He’s also a tough coach who demands the best out of his athletes on a daily basis. And when the trophies keep piling up, they understand the motivation behind those grueling practices and workouts.
“Whenever we get ready to go to a conference championship, or get ready for a hard workout, it’s the same speech,” said Michaela Birek ’15 of Raleigh. “`What are you out here for? Why are you doing this? Are you doing it to be a champ?’ We get that speech from the beginning.”
The family atmosphere allows the athletes to take ownership of the program. During recruiting visits, it is the team that does the majority of the selling of the program, answering any questions recruits may have. Outside of that, the Catamounts’ success speaks for itself. In addition to the conference titles, Williamson has won 36 SoCon Coach of the Year awards between men’s and women’s indoor and outdoor track.
And once his athletes get a taste of that success, it becomes unquenchable. “Even though sometimes we’re considered a smaller program, we’re able to do a lot of things with little,” junior Jared Johnson of Fayetteville, Georgia, said. “It really shows with the championships each and every year. Every year I’ve been here, we’ve been able to win a championship.”
“Before I came, I had no idea about the program and winning,” said junior Corina Archie-McMillan of Charlotte. “I didn’t come from a winning program in high school. My freshman year at WCU, we won indoors and then we came back and won outdoors. When we lost my sophomore year, it was a horrible feeling, it hurt so bad. You don’t know what it’s like to lose until you lose.”
It’s a feeling the Catamounts don’t experience often.