Story By Hilary Brady
Photography By Suzy King
Walter Shaw was not your stereotypical youth. He knew what he wanted from life at an early age, pursuing his career at a time that most young men consider “thinking ahead” to be a decision about what they will eat as an after-school snack.
Shaw was born and raised in Riegelwood. A sports star at East Columbus High School, he lettered in football, basketball, tennis and track.
“I was one of those sports junkies,” says Shaw. “I always tried to pick the brains of coaches that I had and, really, any coach that I would come across. Even if it was the coach of the team we just played. I’ve always known that I wanted to do what they were doing.”
Shaw comes from a family of educators. His mother taught in the Columbus County public school system for 40 years, and numerous principals, teachers and coaches pepper the rest of his family tree.
“I always saw myself as the next person in my family to go into teaching, but working also as a coach for the school,” says Shaw.
It was one basketball clinic in particular that pointed his future towards college athletics. Jeff Maher, an assistant coach at UNC-Wilmington (UNCW), made an impression on Shaw that would play a pivotal role in his career.
“Coach Maher inspired me to go into collegiate coaching,” says Shaw.
It was an inspiration that not only motivated Shaw to coach but also to be a part of Maher’s own program.
“He gave me advice as to how I could get into the career,” says Shaw. “And then he helped me make it happen.”
Upon graduation from East Columbus High School in 1995, Shaw enrolled in UNCW and worked as the Seahawk’s men’s basketball team manager. As a college freshman, Shaw began what would be his long-term career.
“While working as a team manager that year, I became certain that my career would be in coaching,” recalls Shaw. “My way of educating would be through sports. Because that’s what I felt comfortable teaching.”
Among many other duties, the team manager was responsible for unlocking the gym so that other teams could use the facility for practice and then lock-up after they left. One of the groups that used the UNCW facility was the Brunswick Community College (BCC) men’s basketball team. It was BCC’s first year with a basketball program and, because they did not yet have their own facility, the team used UNCW’s space.
At the end of the season, Shaw approached Coach Doane, BCC’s head basketball coach.
“He offered me the job as assistant coach and, well, I got thrown into the fire,” says Shaw.
As an assistant coach at the age of 18, Shaw attended regional meetings and recruited players, many of whom were his age or older.
“I had a lot of freedom,” says Shaw. “It was really a neat deal.”
Shaw graduated from UNCW with a degree in physical education in 1999 and the goal to continue working for BCC as assistant coach. But at the end of the 1999–2000 basketball season, Coach Doane left the program. Shaw was offered the position as head coach and at the young age of 23 he accepted.
BCC’s men’s basketball team, only four years old at the time, had never had a winning season.
“But, now, we’ve only had one losing season in ten years,” Shaw says with a smile. “The last five have been particularly great. We’ve won three conference championships, two tournament championships and finished as a tournament runner up one time, not to mention our trip to nationals just this past year.”
Men’s basketball was BCC’s flagship team, the first sports program at the college.
“We were the experiment,” says Shaw. “But I knew that when I started. We didn’t have the facilities to practice in, so we had to borrow from the public school system. Until this past year, we bounced between every single gym in the county.”
Now, with the new Dinah E. Gore Fitness and Aquatics Center open on the BCC campus, the team has a home.
“The 2010 season was our first complete season playing in our own facility,” says Shaw. “And, coincidentally, we won our conference and played very well in the national tournament. We’ve come full circle, from having to borrow from everybody to having a place to call our own. And it shows in our performance.”
Now in his 15th year with the BCC men’s basketball team, Shaw enjoys watching the athletic program grow.
“We’re leading the way in eastern Carolina college athletics,” says Shaw. “It’s great for the school and the county.”
Working with a team since its inception brings many opportunities for success as well as moments of struggle. Shaw points out the previous lack of a facility and the lack of scholarship funds as his biggest hurdles. Perks that often drew quality players to a college were missing from the BCC program. But Shaw identified ways to overcome those obstacles by creating even bigger benefits.
Shaw was dedicated to finding a way to set his program apart from other community colleges. And it was education, the foundation of his family roots, that he identified as the magic ingredient.
“Many other colleges were not preparing their student athletes for the four-year college experience,” says Shaw. “If the athletes wanted to move on, they were prepared on the court but not in the classroom.”
In order to give BCC’s basketball program an advantage among other schools that offered money and elaborate facilities, Shaw decided to make a strong effort to help his men move onto four-year schools.
“Most people say ‘build a facility and the team will come,’” says Shaw. “We said ‘build a program and the facility will come.’”
Because of the number of players that have advanced to four-year colleges, many say that the BCC program is now one of the most successful on the East Coast. In Shaw’s BCC career, more than 70 young men have moved on to universities. From UNCW to University of Nebraska, Rutgers University to Georgia State, BCC athletes are taking Shaw’s training and going on to do big things for big colleges.
“That’s been our claim to fame,” says Shaw, “our ability to help young men get scholarships at the four-year level.”
Looking back over his career with BCC, Shaw points out his first championship as one of his most memorable moments.
“When we won our first championship in 2005, it was a big deal,” recalls Shaw. “We fully defied all odds. We didn’t have a fancy facility, and we couldn’t pay our players through scholarships. So, to have an amazing group of players take a championship title without those circumstances was a huge deal.”
It was until just last year that BCC had to overcome the hardship of attracting quality players without the funds that other schools were offering. But, fortunately, with the growth of the athletic program as a whole, that is no longer the case.
“We’re going from being the little engine that could — the school without all the bells and whistles — to having a top-notch facility and a scholarship fund for our players,” says Shaw. “We’ve always defied the odds by having a great team without these advantages. Now, we’ll be even better.”
Only a strong dedication to the success of others can result in such triumph. Shaw’s motivation has clearly always been to prepare his players — for the four-year college experience and for life after school, too.
“The most important thing to me is that I teach my players,” says Shaw, “to prepare them for when their opportunity comes, on and off the court. Whether it’s getting the most education possible to increase your chances of getting a better job, surrounding yourself with a network of people that can help you progress in life the way you’d like to, or just coming to practice so you can play well when called upon in a game. I care about these guys as my players, but I really care about their life outside of basketball.”
At the age of 33, Shaw can already call himself a veteran coach. Only seven other coaches in the state of North Carolina have been with their institutions as long as Shaw.
“It’s not a profession with longevity,” says Shaw. “I’m really proud and fortunate to have that at BCC.”
With more than 200 career wins and 20 winning seasons as coach at BCC, the college is fortunate to have him as well.
As far as his future, Shaw is currently pursuing his master’s degree in physical education with an emphasis in sports administration at UNC-Pembroke. He’s taking his own lesson and preparing himself for what might come next in life. His goal? To follow in his family’s footsteps and add teaching to his responsibilities.At BCC, of course, and only as an addition to his role as coach.
“I want to continue what I’ve been doing, helping young men develop in the classroom and on the court, preparing them for playing at four-year colleges and winning championships,” says Shaw. “There will always be obstacles. But as we continue to grow, we’ll find more avenues to help people follow their dream.”
Shaw urges the community to attend any BCC game, basketball or otherwise.
“I don’t think many people have ever watched a game that were not satisfied, if not shocked, with the level at which our athletes play,” says Shaw. “Everyone quickly becomes a fan of BCC sports. We just want the community to become involved and feel proud. I know I am.”