KFP: Gulledge given key to city

by Wesley Brown

UNC’s “Reggie Bullock…credits Gulledge for lifting him through the ranks at KHS”

Kinston boys basketball coach and athletics director Wells Gulledge addresses the crowd after receiving the key to the city from Kinston Mayor B.J. Murphy, right, during a ceremony at Pearson Park on Saturday.
Zach Frailey / The Free Press

Kinston native Reggie Bullock speaks to the crowd about his high school coach, Wells Gulledge, right, during a ceremony in which Gulledge was presented the key to the city by Kinston Mayor B.J. Murphy on Saturday at Pearson Park. Zach Frailey / The Free Press

Kinston Mayor B.J. Murphy warned Wells Gulledge at the microphone he and other city leaders always have something up their sleeves when it comes to planning a surprise.

But Kinston High School’s head basketball coach underestimated Murphy, attempting to exit stage left Saturday afternoon at the 31st annual BBQ Festival on the Neuse seconds after the mayor proclaimed May 5, 2012 as “Coach Wells Gulledge Day” within the city’s limits.

“Wait, I got one more trick,” Murphy whispered to Gulledge, reaching down under the podium.

“The Key to the City,” Murphy exclaimed, unwrapping a plaque inscribed with a golden key.

Gulledge, 39, wiped a tear from under his right eye, stepped to the podium and graciously accepted the honor with the same zeal he has given his student athletes, their parents and the fans in and around Kinston over the past decade.

He thanked his wife, Dawnn. His thanked the coaches, both those on his staff and those that volunteer for the local recreation department.

But most of all, he thanked his players, upon promising to forever cherish the medallion widely known among cities nationwide as a symbol of freedom for the honored to enter and leave as a trusted friend of all residents.

“Words cannot describe how grateful I am to be a part of this community, where the people have warmly welcomed me and helped me achieve such a high level of success,” said Gulledge, who also serves as Kinston High School’s athletic director.

More than anything, though, Gulledge said it’s not about him; he said it’s a group effort, although the people whose lives he has touched respectfully disagree.

Gulledge came to Kinston in 2001 weeks before the season began. He led the Vikings to the 3A Eastern Regional in an inaugural season now widely considered to many as an omen of great things to come. Over past six years, Kinston has won three state titles, while playing in four NCHSAA championship games.

But it’s not Gulledge’s 83.2 winning percentage at Kinston that has earned him the reputation as the “preeminent high school basketball coach in North Carolina,” Murphy said.

It’s the fact he cares for his players — offering his home, his washer, his hard-earned money, and, among other things, a pep talk here and there to lift his athletes up during their darkest hours.

“He’s like a father figure to all his players on and off the court,” said Dory Hines, who, now the starting point guard at Mount Olive College, was in the same role for Gulledge when Kinston won titles in 2008 and 2010.

Reggie Bullock, whose lineage to Gulledge traces back to his days at Rochelle Middle School, credits Gulledge for lifting him through the ranks at KHS, where he played alongside Hines during the championship runs, to UNC, where he now starts for the Tar Heels.

But beyond the coach’s kind gestures and words, Bullock pointed out one characteristic to Gulledge’s style that has defined him as a landmark coach.

“As a coach, he does not tell you what you want to hear,” Bullock said. “He tells you what you need to hear.”

 

Wesley Brown can be reached at 252-559-1075 or wbrown@freedomenc.com.