Coach spotlight: James Wood boys' basketball coach Tim Wygant

Tim Wygant has served as James Wood High School’s boys’ basketball coach for the past seven seasons.

Last winter, he led the Colonels to a remarkable turnaround from the previous season. Coming off a 1-21 campaign, James Wood finished 13-10 and tied for second place in the regular season in the Northwestern District with an 8-6 mark.

Wygant is a 2000 graduate of James Wood. He played basketball (four seasons) and soccer (three seasons, missing one with an injury).

Upon graduation, Wygant attended the College of William & Mary, finishing with a degree in biology. While there, he helped start a club basketball program and played all four years while he was in school.

Returning to the area after college, Wygant became a volunteer assistant (2004) for the Colonels. He became the head junior varsity coach the next season and held that position until 2007 when he joined Al Smith’s varsity staff. He took over for Smith following the 2013 season, becoming the first James Wood graduate to lead the program since 1992.

He is a field service engineer working in analytical chemistry products for Thermo Fisher Scientific.

Q: What are your favorite memories as an athlete?

Wygant: Wow, that is actually a tough question to be honest. I would say my favorite one when I was in high school playing basketball for James Wood and we had a four-overtime game at Culpeper. We ended up losing 104-100, I think. It was a marathon of a game and we were exhausted, but it really brought the team and the coaching staff together. We got closer on that trip. We were gone eight hours or something crazy like that. I think Coach [Scott] Mankins ended up having to call Pizza Hut around midnight and say basically, ‘These kids haven’t eaten for nine hours. Is there anything you can do?’ We were able to get some pizzas at the last minute while we were leaving Culpeper. It was one of my favorite experiences because it not only emphasized athletics, but it emphasized your team as a family — your coaching staff are members of your family and your teammates are family.

Q: When did you know you wanted to be a coach?

Wygant: Oh my goodness, I’ve been doing this for so long. I would say it was probably the first time I coached summer league, which would be the summer of 2000 for Coach Mankins’ team. During that summer, I was able to coach my peers and players that I played with. The bug, I ended up getting bitten and it’s never stopped biting. My grandfather [Mahlon Hamilton] coached literally every sport under the sun up in New York state. He actually started the P.E. departments at two community colleges up there in addition to coaching and officiating everything. It’s been in my family for a long time.

Q: Who are your biggest coaching influences and why?

Wygant: My grandfather would be up there, but I never actually saw him coach. My primary coaching influence, 100 percent, is Coach Mankins, [coordinator of student activities] now at Millbrook. I have always had a tremendous amount of respect for him. I grew up with him and I’ve know him since I was seven- or eight-years-old. I would say to emulate is my coaching philosophy and style with what I experienced with just the ability of him to relate with his players — to not only coach the game but also to make his players feel special. He really emphasized that a player is not just a chess piece. A player is not just a gambit for us to move around and manipulate. A player is a member of a family, a person, a kid. Our job obviously is to coach, but our job is really to develop them as good human beings and good people.

He always coached with such passion and vigor and that’s just the way I do it. I’m not evaluating anyone else’s coaching style, but I told my wife [Lori] from the get-go if I am not up walking around and coaching from opening tip to the ending buzzer then it is time to hang it up. I would definitely say it was Coach Mankins. He just always made me, and I can’t speak for everybody, feel like I was more to him than just a player. … We had a rough season a couple of years back and he was quick to email telling me that we’re doing it the right way and that it’s not always about wins and losses. When you hear that from your mentor and someone I respect like him, it reinforces that you’re doing it the right way.

I’m blessed to have a very understanding wife and kids that love going up to school. My wife embraces this part of my life to the nth degree. … Everyone focuses and says how great coaches are and how much time they give to the kids, but the coaches’ wives and husbands are incredible. They are just the most amazing things in the world. We are selfless, but they are unbelievably selfless to put up with all of this. I absolutely would have not done this for as long or had any of the success that we have had without her.

Q: What’s the best piece of coaching advice that you have received?

Wygant: In that same vein, Coach Mankins reaches out even now once or twice a year basically saying, ‘If you look at yourself in the mirror and you know that you are doing the right thing then you are doing the right thing — for the kids, for the program and the school. If you can look at your children and your wife and know because you are representing your family, your community, your school in the right way, then you are doing the right thing. You are doing what you are supposed to be doing.’ It’s doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do. Once again also, coaching is not as much about the sport as everyone thinks. It’s about connecting with young people and making them feel loved and a part of something bigger than themselves. I really do feel like that’s the best part of coaching and it was imparted to me by Coach Mankins.

Q: What have been your most difficult coaching moments?

Wygant: Some people could go ahead and reference back to that 1-21 season, but it actually wasn’t. It was one of the best coaching experiences in my life. I wouldn’t even say that. The most difficult is always when you have to make roster decisions and some kids that you really do feel strongly about as good kids and good people that you eventually have to say, ‘You’re not going to be a part of the program this upcoming year.’ Or ultimately a couple of times you have to cut seniors who have been with the program for three years. To the testament to them, 100 percent of the time they take it with maturity and they take it better than I do, to be honest. There were kids in the past that we had to make a decision not to keep on the final roster that broke the coaching staff’s hearts more than them.

And honestly, the end of the season is the roughest part because I don’t get to see them every day because I’m not in the school building. As soon as the season is over, I don’t necessarily get to see them as much as I want. I genuinely miss them and I miss seeing them every day. Those are definitely the two toughest parts about coaching.

Q: What have been your favorite coaching moments?

Wygant: My favorite coaching moment every year is Senior Night, regardless of the record, regardless of who we are playing. … Obviously winning is awesome. Beating our local rivals is terrific, absolutely wonderful. But, seeing the seniors walk out and hoping we had a positive impact on them and what we did was good for them, to shape them into good young men or good young ladies in terms of managers, that’s the most rewarding part. That’s the best part of coaching.

It’s also to come back to see them in a couple of years after they’ve graduated to see how they’re doing. We hang our hats on that. Our kids at James Wood, they go out and they are successful. I’d like to think that we are a part of that. I saw three, four or five of them just [last week] playing slow-pitch softball. It’s great to see that they are dong well and that they are good people, good members of society and members of our community. That is the best part about coaching.

— Compiled by Walt Moody


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