Hall of Fame
WILSON – She’s always been known for having the ‘spirit’ of a champion, and the ‘heart’ of one as well.
And now, Jackie Copeland can add Hall of Fame to her resume.
Friday, Oct. 18 in Hardy Alumni Hall on the Wilson campus, Copeland joined six other honorees as the latest members of the Barton College Athletic Hall of Fame.
Five former athletes – Copeland, Shea Seagle Awad, Oscar Blacutt, Elfatih Eltom and Carey Pittman — and former baseball coaches Jack “Doc” Sanford and Todd Wilkinson – all were part of championship teams at Barton or Atlantic Christian College, as it was known from 1905 to 1990.
“I was a little nervous talking in front of adults – believe it or not,” she said in an interview in between watching her state championship-bound tennis players Lindsey Dickens and Alyssa Byrum practice their ground strokes. “But once they sat us down I felt a lot of great emotion and memories coming back.”
Copeland was a member of the Lady Bulldogs first basketball conference title group under current head coach and a fellow Barton Hall-of-Famer Wendee Saintsing, who’s been at the helm of the women’s program for 31 years.
During her career (1987-91) Copeland tallied over 1,000 points and averaged 12 points and four rebounds per game as a spark plug shooting guard in the days when Atlantic Christian was an NAIA program.
She was one of the keys to Saintsing’s first Carolinas Conference championship team as a high-scoring outside shooter after the Windsor product had excelled at the high school level while playing at Merry Hill’s Lawrence Academy.
In college, she helped power the Atlantic Christian (AC) basketball team to a 22-5 record her final season in 1990-91 when the school advanced all the way to the District 26 Championship game before losing in the final seconds to host Belmont Abbey.
Earlier, in the district semifinals, AC had ended Wingate’s 77-game home winning streak in one of the greatest women’s wins in school history.
“And we got beaten at home by 40 points earlier in the season by this same team,” she noted with a grin. “Who’d have believed that win all those months later.
“The last minutes of the game I hit three, three-pointers to get us back in the game,” she recalled. “Then, with 20 seconds left, and everyone expecting me to shoot, I dished off to (another player) who made the game-winner. I later told Coach I felt my career was going down, but I was going to shoot the ball.”
Copeland was one of six seniors on that ’91 squad. At the end of the season all six received the “Most Valuable Player” award.
Around Barton athletics, the “Six-Pack” spells success. It refers to a group of six young ladies who went through all four years together at AC as basketball players. They got so close, on and off the court, that they were hard to beat.
“I said at that awards night that we were known as the ‘Six-Pack’, and because my dad was watching, I corrected it and added that we were the ‘Six Pack of Diet Coke’, so as not to get in trouble,” she recounted.
Now, half that ‘six-pack’ are in the Barton Hall as Copeland joins Katherine Edmonds Watson and Michelle McClure – along with their coach – as inductees.
Copeland says she learned of her pending induction only days after being one of the guest speakers at the college’s Girls and Women in Sports Day in February.
A natural athlete during her time at Lawrence, Copeland attended basketball camps from the Triangle, to Campbell, to ECU.
“East Carolina was a team camp, and our Lawrence team beat a 4A team, which was so great,” she said.
Copeland labored to improve her game as a college freshman, and eventually won a starting spot near the end of the season; she never gave it up for the rest of her college career.
Copeland has taught and coached for over two decades at Bertie High, coaching girl’s basketball, softball and girls tennis.
Being part of an institution that helps student-athletes and students achieve more than they thought was possible is what has keeps Copeland forever a Bulldog.
“I told my kids that when I realized I was headed into the Hall, I wanted to show and share with them that this is what can happen for you if you work hard for it,” she related.
Copeland also gives credit to her family, parents Jack and Edith Williford, and sister, Angela Williford Mizelle.
“They (parents) only missed one of my Lawrence games and one college game; while my sister made most of my games,” she observed. “I didn’t have a great game either time, but I adjusted.”
Copeland followed her sister into education and over 20 years as a teacher and coach.
“And, my niece (Martin County administrator Ashton Mizelle) and nephew (Bertie High football coach Grantley Mizelle) are also in education,” she notes proudly. “It’s education, education, education for this family.”
Achieving the Hall of Fame has closed one chapter in Copeland’s life, but she feels there is more ahead.
“I was going to be a physical therapist after school, and I’d like to one day still pursue that full-time,” she said. “I want to motivate somebody – young or old – to keep them going, and keep them moving. That’s almost the same thing as coaching.”
One things for sure, she certainly has the energy for it.