A tribute to Jack Groce I: Watauga icon earns award
by Steve Behr Sports Editor
It belongs to the man whose name is also on the stadium. It belongs to Jack Groce.
"It's always nice to be able to pull up to the gate and go in," Groce said.
The longtime coach and athletic director at Appalachian High School and Watauga High School was recently honored by the North Carolina Athletic Association for being one of the Top 100 Administrators to Remember in North Carolina.
The administrators, the Top 100 male athletes, the Top 100 female athletes and Top 100 coaches were all honored at a ceremony in Cary on Jan. 11. All were introduced to those in attendance, and all received a commemorative medallion and watch from the NCHSAA.
"It was quite a large affair," Groce said. "I don't know home many people were there, but it was large and it was pretty packed. The NCHSAA did just an excellent job with it in recognizing the athletes and the coaches and the administrators. They had a lot of people to recognize and they did an outstanding job doing it in the time frame they had."
The event paid tribute to Groce, who was the athletic director at Watauga High School from 1977-90. He was also the Watauga County athletic director from 1991-93.
Groce also served a four-year term has the president of the North Carolina Athletic Directors Association and served a four-year term on the NCHSAA board of directors.
Groce was inducted into the North Carolina Athletic Director Hall of Fame in 1996 and into the NCHSAA Hall of Fame in 2001.
"I got to see a lot of friends and it was a chance to meet a lot of people I didn't know," Groce said. "I certainly enjoyed it."
Being an athletic director is only a part of the contributions made by Groce during the course of a career in Watauga County that started when he was a standout football player at Appalachian State Teachers College, as head football coach at Appalachian High School, an assistant coach at Appalachian State and then his return to prep athletics at Watauga High School.
It's a road that Groce could have decided to leave if he wanted. His Appalachian High School teams won back-to-back state 2-A Region championships in 1961-62. The 1962 team went undefeated.
Appalachian High also won the 1964 Region 4 2-A state championship.
Groce said he liked being a coach and the Pioneers' athletic director. He said working with the coaches and the athletes made both jobs rewarding.
"Being an athletic director is not that much different than coaching," Groce said. "You're working with the players and working with the coaches. You're doing somewhat the same thing with both groups."
Groce said being an athletic director means having to wear many hats in the athletic department.
"They do the scheduling," Groce said. "They take care of eligibility. They help hire coaches. They organize the home events. There is a lot to be done and the athletic director also has to help raise money to support the program and represent the program by the publicity the program gets. They have a lot on their plate."
Groce also said the athletic director has to work with the media. The athletic director is often the person at the school who informs the press about changes in the schedule of teams because of weather or any other reasons.
It was Watauga athletic director Tom Wright who informed the press about the two cancellations of Watauga's recent basketball games and wrestling match against Fred T. Foard.
"We make sure that the coaches and the players get the recognition they deserve," Groce said.
Former Watauga head football coach Bill Mauldin, who took over the team when Groce became athletic director, said Groce made sure that all the teams had more than just travel expenses or up-to-date equipment. That had Groce's support.
That included the girls' sports. Groce returned to Watauga just as Title IX was being implemented into athletic departments everywhere in 1972. Title IX stipulates that any educational program receiving federal funding must provide equal funding for male and female sports.
"He never had the largest budget in the conference, but he made sure every team got what they needed," Mauldin said. "That was when Title IX was starting to take effect. He saw that and made sure that all of the coaches had enough for uniforms and for travel. He was never too high or never too low to see the big picture. He placed the value of the kid first and foremost."
Groce, who built an impressive resume as head football coach at Appalachian High from 1955-65 and at Watauga High from 1972-76, always goes back to working with the players and coaches when talking about being the athletic director.
"I enjoyed it all," he said. "I guess it's the association with the coaches and the players and also getting to know the coaches from opposing schools. It's definitely a people person job."