WHEELING - Almost 26 years ago, West Liberty University Athletic Director Jim Watson was settling in to his new position.
He recalls sitting in his office and seeing a young man in the lobby, waiting for someone. That young man was Jim Crutchfield, and he happened to be waiting for Watson.
"He was very patient," Watson said of his first meeting with Crutchfield. "He was interested in transitioning from the high school setting to the college setting."
LIGHT OF THE VALLEY — West Liberty University men’s basketball head coach Jim Crutchfield speaks Wednesday during the Light of the Valley luncheon at Wheeling Park’s White Palace while featured speaker and former NBA player Chris Duhon listens. -- J.W. Johnson?Jr.
Eventually, Watson hired Crutchfield as the school's tennis coach and racquet sports instructor. More than two decades later, that hire has paid off for Watson and the university, as Crutchfield brought numerous tennis titles to the school before transitioning to his award-winning career as the head basketball coach.
"Eight (tennis) conference championships later, I began to realize I've got something special here," Watson said of Crutchfield. "This is a guy who's good at anything he does."
For his contributions to the university and the Northern Panhandle, Crutchfield was honored Wednesday as the eighth recipient of the annual YMCA Light of the Valley during a luncheon at Wheeling Park's White Palace. The designation is given to the Dr. Lee Jones "Patron of Youth" award winner, with the award given to someone whose life reflects his or her contributions and dedication to the quality of life for the youth and families of the local community. Previous honorees include Robert Contraguerro Sr., G. Randolph "Randy" Worls, the late Bishop Bernard Schmitt, Bob Robinson, Robert Nutting, Gary West, and the Ohio County commissioners and County Administrator Greg Stewart.
r Began his career as coach and teacher at Cameron High School, where he spent 10 years. He remains the winningest basketball coach in Cameron history.
r Won 11 West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championships and eight WVIAC Tennis Coach of the Year awards as coach of the West Liberty men's and women's tennis teams.
r Crutchfield began his basketball coaching career at WLU in 2004 as a men's basketball assistant and head coach of the tennis team. He took over the basketball program, and set a single-season for victories this past season with a 34-2 record.
r He leads all active NCAA men's basketball coaches in winning percentage with a 272-49 career record.
r Under Crutchfield, West Liberty has been ranked in the Top 10 for 44 consecutive weeks, and in the Top 25 for 66 consecutive weeks. Both are the longest such streaks in the nation.
r A Clarksburg native, Crutchfield and his wife, Diana, have two daughters, Caroline and Allison.
Watson said Crutchfield was more than deserving of the award. While his coaching career has brought unprecedented statistics and accomplishments, Watson said Crutchfield's ability to work with the student athletes is his best trait.
"Without that ability today, you don't get very far in this business," Watson said. "It's a tough racket given today's society and circumstances that we have to deal with."
Crutchfield said he was both honored and surprised he received the distinction, as he feels there is still much to do to give back to his friends, family and the community.
"In all honesty, as I look back on my life, if you made a ledger of what you've received and what you've given, I think I've received more than I've given," he said. "I've always just been very fortunate."
He cited his parents as examples of individuals whom he can never repay. However, there is always another option when payback won't work, he said.
"The only option you have is to pay it forward," he said. "I know I have a lot of paying it forward to do, and I'm going to try to do that."
The hundreds of attendees at Wednesday's luncheon personified Crutchfield's message, as a check for $55,000 was presented to YMCA Executive Director Mike Panas. The funds will be used to support YMCA activities and programs in the coming year. In addition to honoring Crutchfield, the event featured former Duke University and NBA player Chris Duhon, who spoke personally about how the YMCA impacted his life as a child in New Orleans.
"Growing up in Louisiana, the YMCA ... helped me to get to where I am today," Duhon said. "Having a place to go and people that care about you, that treat you as family, to give you a place to not be in trouble out in the streets or give you a gym to shoot in, ... to be in a safe place is definitely beneficial and gives these kids the hope, the dream, that they can do whatever they put their minds to and to have that success."