Cassandra McWhorter looks back on career as Lincoln girls basketball coach

Published 12:32 pm Thursday, March 19, 2020

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By Mike Marsee

Contributing Writer

For the better part of 30 years, Cassandra McWhorter has been associated with Lincoln County girls basketball.

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From the time she began practicing with the freshman team as a third-grader right up to the time she resigned as the Lady Patriots’ coach, McWhorter has been part of one of the most consistently successful sports programs at Lincoln County for more than half of its history.

That era came to an end March 9, when McWhorter submitted her resignation to the school, ending a 10-year tenure as head coach and an affiliation with the program that encompasses some 24 seasons.

“I was very grateful when I came home from college to be able to go back and teach and coach where I was from, and I was very grateful to get my first head coaching job at the school where I played,” McWhorter said. “All I’ve ever known is Lincoln County girls basketball, except for my time at Austin Peay.”

McWhorter made it clear, however, that while her name is at the bottom of the resignation letter, this separation was not her idea.

She said she was given “an ultimatum” in a March 9 meeting with school officials: “I could resign or other measures could be taken.” She said she told athletic director Tim Estes and principal Michael Godbey, who asked her to meet with them, and Lincoln County schools superintendent Michael Rowe, who also was in attendance, that she would resign.

“I told them if there were no other options, I could take the high road and try to set a Christ-like example. I could still be an example to the girls and I could make it easier on the administration if that was possible,” McWhorter said. “In the letter I wrote to them that night, I let it be known that it was not my volition, not my will that I was stepping away. It wasn’t about spending more time with my family.”

The school announced her resignation the following day in a three-paragraph news release that did not cite a reason for the decision. According to the release, the search for her replacement was to begin immediately.

McWhorter, a 2001 Lincoln graduate, was 222-93 in 10 seasons as Lincoln’s coach. Her teams won 12th Region championships in 2012 and 2013, and the 2012 Lady Patriots advanced farther than any team in school history, reaching the semifinals of the Girls Sweet 16.

Lincoln won eight 45th District championships and reached at least the regional semifinals in seven times under McWhorter.

Eight of her 10 teams won 20 or more games, and Lincoln’s only losing season during her tenure was the one just completed, in which the Lady Patriots finished 12-18.

She was named the 12th Region Coach of the Year by the Kentucky Association of Basketball Coaches in 2016 and 2019, and she was an assistant coach with the 2018 Kentucky Junior All-Stars.

Yet McWhorter said those are not the accomplishments she is most proud of.

“When you coach, it’s always about the kids and the lives you’ve been able to impact and the Christian example I’ve always been set,” she said. “State tournaments, those aren’t the things that make me happy, it’s just the everyday relationships with the players.”

McWhorter’s Christian faith has guided her work throughout her career, and she said that has been the case through this period as well.

“I’m definitely a firm believer in the truth that the Lord is in control of all things,” she said.

She met with the Lincoln players at about the same time that her resignation was announced March 10, and she said she read them her letter of resignation and talked honestly with them.

“I was honest just the way I’ve always been with them … and I told them I would always be there for them,” McWhorter said. “I took the time to speak with them about how life is not always how we want it to go. God’s way is not always our way, and I’ve got peace in my spirit knowing his will is done and he’s in control of all things.”

The next day, McWhorter expressed a similar sentiment in a Facebook post in which she thanked the many people who had reached out to her since the news broke.

“It is with a very heavy heart that I will no longer be the Head Coach at LCHS!” she wrote in the post. “But as I told the ladies yesterday in our final meeting His ways are not our ways, and He always knows best! My flesh might hurt for a moment in time, but my Spirit will always have peace knowing He is in control of all things!

“I wish nothing but the best for all current players and to all who will wear the Lady Pats uniform! It is my hope and prayer that whoever is determined as the next head coach, for them to only have as much passion and love for those young ladies and the LC community as I have for my entire life!

“Thank You Lincoln County!”

The post included almost 60 photos from McWhorter’s playing and coaching career, the first of which showed little Cassandra Peek, a third-grade student at Kings Mountain Elementary School who was invited by then-Lincoln coach John Kolasa and freshman coach Lanny Hubbard — who also was the principal at Kings Mountain — to practice with the Lincoln freshman team, even though she was still a year away from being eligible to play on organized teams at the elementary level. It was her first time in a Lincoln uniform — one that was made by her mother because there wasn’t one that would fit her.

She was a senior point guard on the 2001 Lincoln team that was the school’s first to reach the Girls Sweet 16 team — meaning she has been a part of all three of Lincoln’s regional championship teams as either a player or coach — and she closed her high-school career having scored more than 1,500 points. She went on to play for Austin Peay State University, where she played in three NCAA tournaments.

She returned to Lincoln after her collegiate career ended, and she served as an assistant coach under Don Story before being named head coach in 2010.

She is one of one of only five coaches and the only woman to lead Lincoln’s girls basketball program since its inception in 1974, and she had the second-longest tenure of any coach in the program’s history behind only Kolasa, who coached for 17 seasons from 1988-2005.

McWhorter noted that about 10 players she has coached have gone on to play or have committed to play college basketball.

“That means a lot to me,” she said.

She said it also was important to her to maintain and model for her players a healthy balance between family and career. Her two children were regularly seen at practices and other team functions.

“I strived to set an example for the ladies that you can be married, you can have a family, you can be a mother and still be passionate for what you do each and every day,” McWhorter said. “Especially as a woman, you can still chase your dreams and do what you want to do.”

McWhorter said many of her coaching colleagues across Kentucky have reached out to her since learning of her resignation.

“Overwhelmingly, they’ve said they’re in shock,” she said.

She said she might return to coaching in the future.

“Right now I don’t have any idea (what’s next),” McWhorter said. “I’m just taking it a day at a time,” McWhorter said. “I think people know how to get a hold of me. I’m definitely not throwing coaching to the wayside.”