When one thinks of Christopher Newport University sports, the name C.J. Woollum is the first to pop up. Basketball coach for 26 years, athletic director for 25 and golf coach for 13, Woollum was as involved as a single person could be with the CNU athletic program. He most recently served as Director of Athletics Emeritus, with a focus on students and alumni. After being diagnosed with brain cancer last July, Woollum passed away last Wednesday at the age of 64.
While most current students would recognize Woollum for his achievements off the court, as basketball coach he built an impressive resume, winning 502 games and making the DIII NCAA Tournament 17 times. In addition, the Captains won their conference 13 times under Woollum. As Director of Athletics Woollum oversaw the construction of new athletics buildings on campus, such as the Freeman Center and POMOCO Stadium. The Presidents Cup is awarded to the USA South school each year that has the best athletics teams. Under Woollum, the Captains won 15 straight Presidents Cups.
Woollum was inducted into the CNU Hall of Fame in 2007 and in 2012 was added to both the USA South Hall of Fame and the Hampton Roads Sports Hall of Fame.
Woollum was not only a friend to CNU students and faculty, but people in the outside community and all over Virginia as well.
“I had actually heard who C.J. was before I even knew where CNU was,” said Brian Jaeger, a senior on the golf team. “C.J. was best friends with the Head Golf Professional at my golf club up in Northern Virginia since they were in eigth grade.”
Current Interim Director of Athletics John Waters both played and coached under Woollum. In a phone interview, he explained just how successful Woollum was as basketball coach at CNU. “We were very successful and he was very passionate with his players. We played a very fast paced, exciting style of basketball. In one of our best stretches we won about 80% of our games over conference teams and four straight conference championships.”
Jaeger reflected on his time with C.J. in his golf career, saying, “If I were to desribe a man like C.J., I would not describe him as a very imposing or doninating man, but a man of patience and great listener. He was always there to listen to a student if they needed him and would always try to help out everybody equally.”
A memorial service was held last Sunday, as the Freeman Center was filled with respect and admiration for Woollum. CNU President Paul Trible spoke first and set the tone for a night that focused more on accomplishments Woollum made off the court as a great person and leader as opposed to coach.
He said that “He’ll be most remembered for his kind spirit and the profound difference he made in the lives of our student athletes, coaches and colleagues.”
In the earlier phone interview, Waters seconded this sentiment, as he said “He was a very engaging person. He loved people. It was not uncommon for him to interact with 100 different people a day, seven days a week. He just fed off of people in a very positive way.”
As the memorial service continued, former players, assistant coaches and family members all recalled how Woollum had touched their lives throughout the years. Some were funny, others were reminiscent but every speaker that night had one thing in common. C.J. Woollum was a great basketball coach, but an even better man.
Christopher Newport University has set up the “C.J. Woollum Victory Fund” in honor of the longtime Captain. “The Woollum Fund will forever support the mission of providing a championship experience for our student-athletes and will ensure that CNU’s athletic programs always compete among the nation’s very best.” More information about the fund as well as Woollum can be found on cnusports.com.