The Wolfpacker

May 2017 Issue

The Wolfpacker: An Independent Magazine Covering NC State Sports

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56 ■ THE WOLFPACKER BY TIM PEELER M ark Stevenson, the only coach in the history of NC State women's gymnastics, retired following the 2017 season af- ter 38 decorated years with the Wolfpack. Stevenson came to NC State in 1979, when he was hired as a graduate assistant coach for the NC State men's gymnastics team. The next year, then-athletics direc- tor Willis Casey asked Stevenson to take over the men's team and start a women's program. He coached the men until the program was dropped in 1986. "I was given a tremendous opportunity as a 23-year-old kid to create this pro- gram," Stevenson said. "Since then, this has been my life and my family. I've had the opportunity to work with remarkable athletes and administrators and gotten to know the tremendous people who are part of the Wolfpack family. "I wouldn't trade my time at NC State for anything in the world." Through the years, Stevenson's team won the only ACC gymnastics championship ever conducted (1984) and five East Atlantic Gymnastic League (EAGL) titles. His teams also posted four runner-up finishes and ap- peared in the postseason 27 times. Stevenson won five EAGL Coach of the Year awards, leading a program that was often underfunded in scholarships to over- achieving performances. In 1998, Stevenson took a team with just six scholarships to the only team NCAA appearance in school history, becoming the first ACC or EAGL team to ever compete in the national meet. The Pack finished 11th at the competition. "That team was such a high point in my time here," Stevenson said. "It was a group of underdogs that completely over- achieved." Stevenson's first team, with three schol- arship performers and a handful of walk- ons, finished third against established pro- grams in the North Carolina Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women cham- pionship, a statewide competition under the national governing body for women's athletics at the time. The Wolfpack was among the four teams that competed for the 1984 ACC title, win- ning the championship over Duke, North Carolina and Maryland. Following that sea- son, Duke dropped its program, the ACC discontinued the championship and NC State reduced its scholarship total from eight to two. For most of his first three decades, Stevenson's program had fewer scholarships than the NCAA allowed. In 1995, NC State became a charter member of the EAGL, along with North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Maryland, George Washington, New Hampshire, Rutgers, Towson and West Virginia. The Wolfpack, with a total of eight scholarships, won its first EAGL title in 1999 and followed with championships in 2000, 2007, 2009 and 2012. Three of those titles came after then- athletics director Lee Fowler upped the scholarship to the NCAA limit of 12 in 2005. There was a positive to being an under- dog, Stevenson noted. "The exciting part about it was that for all those years, we really emphasized teaching and making kids better," Steven- son said. "We always tried to find kids who we could teach and who could grow in the program. It helped us learn how to teach and develop better athletes when they came in." Throughout his career, Stevenson pro- duced accomplished gymnasts and alumni. He coached 76 first-team All-EAGL se- lections, four EAGL Rookies of the Year, three EAGL Scholar Athletes of the Year and two EAGL Gymnasts of the Year. He produced two All-America perform- ers, Brittni Watkins (2014, 2015) and Tay- lor Seaman (2010). Christi Newton (1996) and Watkins (2015) were named EAGL Gymnasts of the Year, and Leigha Hancock (2006, 2008), Seaman (2009) and Rachel Fincham (2012) all won NCAA Southeast Region champi- onships in their events. "Mark not only gave me an opportunity, but he gave me some of the best memories of my life," Taylor (Seaman) Brooks said. "He was more than a gymnastics coach for us. He treated us like his own family. He inspired us in so many ways and held us accountable for our performance in and out of the gym. "He prepared each of us for the future by shaping our character so that we had the wisdom and fortitude to take on all that life has to offer. I could have never accom- plished all that I did without Mark." Stevenson was also responsible for some of the best academic performances in NC State athletics history, producing 10 Aca- demic All-America winners and two ACC postgraduate scholarship recipients. More than 100 of his gymnasts were named to the ACC's Academic Honor Roll for a total of 197 times. During one re- markable stretch (2007-09), three of Ste- THE DEAN OF PACK GYMNASTICS Mark Stevenson, NC State's Only Women's Gymnastics Coach, Has Retired Before retiring, Stevenson won six conference championships for the Wolfpack, one in the ACC and five in the East Atlantic Gymnastic League. PHOTO BY LARRY BLANKENSHIP Stevenson is the only women's gymnastics coach NC State has ever known. PHOTO COURTESY NC STATE MEDIA RELATIONS

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