10/08/10 — Odom challenges community, scores

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Odom challenges community, scores

By Dennis Hill
Published in News on October 8, 2010 1:46 PM

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Coach David Odom speaks Thursday night at a dinner honoring the legendary Goldsboro native and college basketball coach. The dinner drew several hundred people to celebrate the renovation of the Boys & Girls Club of Wayne County gym.

Dave Odom looked over the Boys & Girls Club gym filled with friends and admirers and turned to see his own name in huge letters on the wall behind him.

"I see my name and am absolutely choked up," he told the gathering of more than 300 people Thursday night who had come to dedicate the renovated facility in his honor. "But it's not about me, it's about the kids in this community that need someone to grab them by the hand and pull them where they can't go on their own."

A two-month campaign to raise the money to pay for badly needed repairs at the Royall Avenue club culminated Thursday in a banquet in Odom's honor. Friends, colleagues and community leaders joined in celebrating the coach's career, which started at the club when it was still located downtown and he was just a child. Along the way, Odom coached at Goldsboro High, then the University of Virginia, Wake Forest University, East Carolina University and the University of South Carolinal.

But Odom, who was accompanied by his wife, Lynn, said the night was not just about him, or even about all the years the club has served the youths of Goldsboro and Wayne County. It is about the future, he said, and what the club will mean for decades to come. Two months ago, he said, he challenged the community to step up and raise the money necessary to make the renovations possible. In just that short amount of time, more than $130,000 poured in. On Thursday night, the gym was resplendent, with new paint, new lights and air conditioning.

"I can start off, without any fear of equivocation, by saying that I am so proud of our hometown tonight," Odom said to huge applause. Then he called up to the podium several young girls who are members of the club.

"We're honoring you tonight," the veteran coach said. Then he turned to the audience, nodded toward the young ladies and said, "This is what it's all about."

Later, he referred to his late father and the lessons he learned from him as a boy. On one occasion, he said, his father drove him out to an empty field in the edge of Sampson County and started pointing at spots where only weeds were showing.

"This is where I was born," the elder Odom told his son, noting where the family home had stood, where the barns had been, where the animals had been kept.

"I said to him, 'Dad, there's nothing here,'" Odom recalled. "But what he taught me was the greatest lesson he ever taught me. Everything that matters was still there, in his mind and in his heart. That's what all this is about, the memories of times gone by and the hope of what lies ahead."

Odom spoke movingly of the men and women who have shouldered the responsibility of keeping the club going over the years, despite the almost annual problem of finding the money to do so. He credited the late Al Paley with starting the club and men such as Troy Pate, Carl Lancaster and George Whitfield for overseeing its early days. Today, he added, leaders such as Executive Director Mary Anne Dudley and Development Director Jo Heidenreich, who are overseeing the club's programming and growth.

Paley, whom everybody called "Sarge," grew up in Chicago and had come through the Boy's Club there and wanted to bring it to Goldsboro. Back in the late 1940s and early 1950s, he was the catalyst that created the club at the old Community Building.

"What he did for this community can never be understated," Odom said.

That kind of energy and effort is still evident in the work of staff members Mrs. Dudley and Mrs. Heidenreich, he said.

"These two ladies, what they have done over the years is amazing," Odom said. "They are always encouraging the kids and always doing it with a smile."

Odom also lauded Rick Sumner, vice president of the club's board of directors and its resource development chairman, who spearheaded the fundraising campaign.

Odom said that preparing the next generation for leadership is the most important thing that the club does.

"There is nothing in a child's life like an adult who will put their arm around them and say, 'I care,'" he said.

Pate, who was a coach at the original club and later a member of its board of directors, said Odom showed early on what type of man he would become. Odom was usually the smallest player in the game, Pate recalled, but was always a leader who "played a foot taller than he was."

"Dave Odom personifies the values that this club tries to teach," Pate said.

Turning to the guest of honor, Pate said, "This night is evidence of how much this community thinks of you."

Mrs. Dudley thanked the audience and the donors who made the renovations possible.

"You're touching the lives of children you will never meet," she said, inviting them to "drop by and see your dollars at work."

Guest speaker Terry Holland, the athletic director at East Carolina University and Odom's former boss at the University of Virginia, said he has always considered Goldsboro a special place and that the way the community came together to support the renovation drive is just more evidence of that.

"No doubt, there is a war going on for these young people," Holland, a Clinton native, said. "We need ammunition in this fight and something like this (club) is ammunition. This is a place where kids can come and get away from all the negative things they run into out there. What you have done here will continue to pay dividends forever."

Wayne County Commissioner Bud Gray declared Oct. 7 as "Dave Odom Day" in Wayne County and Goldsboro Mayor Al King presented Odom with the key to the city.

"Not everybody gets this," King said. "This is very, very special. And Dave Odom is a very special person."

The event coincided with the 50th reunion of Odom's graduating class at Goldsboro High School. A reunion dinner will be held Saturday night at the Goldsboro Country Club. The day also just happens to be Odom's 60th birthday.