Mickey Mansfield watched Charlie Watkins go from a student and pupil to colleague and dear friend.
The former Watkins Memorial assistant coach has seen a lot of great athletes and people pass through the halls during his various stints of coaching and teaching in 35 years. Few left an impact on the community like Watkins did.
Watkins’ memory lives on in large part because of the tight-knit school. Watkins — who was a three-sport star at the school before returning to coach — died in May 2013. He was honored Saturday before the season-opening Watkins Icebreaker.
“Charlie was always a very positive person, and he tried to bring out the best in you. I think that is why his athletes loved him,” said Mansfield, who called Watkins a “gentle giant.” “The thing about Charlie is he cared. What you find is those who are good teachers are good coaches, and he followed that example.”
Watkins set the school record for the shot put in 1995. He coached kids in the hopes they would break that mark all the way to the end.
Watkins died a day after the district meet. A plaque now sits in the ground mere inches away from the shot put ring. Watkins’ parents — Chuck and Becky — were in attendance to accept the gift.
“As a teacher, he was caring, fair and also funny,” Warriors coach Marty Dahlman said during the ceremony. “As a coach, he brought those same attributes to the field, building a throws program here that set school records and was a powerhouse at every meet. As a man, Charlie taught us to respect everyone but most importantly to love family.”
Mansfield returned to the program during Watkins’ junior year. The two meets that stand out most are his first and final opportunities to coach him.
Mansfield recalled the way Watkins stepped into the ring and opened eyes during an indoor meet a day after the basketball season ended.
Mansfield then recalled Watkins’ final meet, when he fell just short of qualifying for the state meet. Watkins had tears in his eyes because he said he let his coach down. Mansfield said he told him in no shape or form was he disappointed in the effort.
“He was one of the most coachable athletes I have ever coached,” Mansfield said. “I could tell him how to do something, and he could immediately put it to use. He would take the information I gave him and apply it to his technique.”
In recent years, Mansfield and Watkins had shared lunches and swapped stories during the school day. Watkins was teaching psychology and Mansfield anatomy, their lectures on the body and mind often overlapping.
Watkins’ final pupil made him proud. Nic Eader capped his senior season by qualifying for the state meet less than a week after Watkins’ passing.
“If you can bring back your alumni to teach or coach, that is the greatest honor for the school,” Mansfield said. “That shows they have a lot of love for the school, and Charlie was like that. When you bring in somebody like that, that will rub off on the students, and with Charlie, that was definitely true.”