WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – The Deacon Club hosted its fifth annual Stewardship Brunch on Saturday, January 28 in celebration of Athletic scholarship donors and all of the support they provide to Wake Forest student-athletes.
Over 300 donors, coaches and student-athletes gathered in the Snead Room at Bridger Field House to partake in this wonderful event. Student-athletes and coaches were able to express their gratitude to the donors in attendance, all of whom help fund scholarships for over 350 Wake Forest student-athletes via athletic endowments and contributions to the Deacon Club Annual Fund.
The event began with Barry Faircloth, Senior Associate Athletic Director of Development, thanking all of the donors and describing the impact their support has on our Athletic programs, as well as the lives of Wake Forest student-athletes.
While walking guests through the program, special recognition was given to members of the John Hicks Society, which includes anyone who has established an endowed scholarship, as well as the Moricle Society and Locker Room Club. The contributions of Moricle Society members are equivalent to one full scholarship per year for a student-athlete, while those of Locker Room Club members provide a half scholarship.
Also of special note were four newly established scholarships (David A. Harris Jr. Athletic Endowment, Clifford Irving Neal Track and Field Throws Scholarship, Fred and Frances Paschal Athletic Scholarship, Jack W. Pitts Athletic Scholarship) and two newly committed scholarships (Maner Family Athletic Scholarship, Porter and Betty Thompson Athletic Scholarship).
For the first time at this event, our annual Deacon Club Member of the Year Award was presented. The 2016 recipient was longtime Deacon Club member and 1983 graduate of Wake Forest, J.J. Smith. J.J. and his wife, Kaye (’84), have been instrumental to the success of the Wake Will Campaign. In addition to serving as the CEO and President of Valley Proteins Inc., J.J. is also a member of the Football Executive Committee and Business School Board of Visitors.
Nate Gilliam, a redshirt sophomore member of the Wake Forest football team and current recipient of the Baker Family Athletic Scholarship, then gave the invocation prior to the donors and student-athletes spending time getting to know one another over brunch.
After brunch concluded, Faircloth introduced former Wake Forest student-athlete, James Riley (’05). During his time as a Deac, Riley majored in communications and was a member of the men’s soccer team, where he served as a defender and midfielder. After graduating from Wake Forest, Riley went on to play 11 seasons in the MLS with multiple teams. During this time, he was a part of nine championship games where his team came out victorious on six of those occasions, leading to one MLS Cup and five US Open Cups. Riley announced his retirement as an active player in June of 2016 and now serves as the Director of Player Relations for MLS.
Recounting his love for Wake Forest, Riley stated, “It’s a very distinct honor to be here. Wake Forest is a very, very special place for me.” He went on to introduce a video that included the narration of a letter that depicted his time at Wake Forest, which he wrote to the soccer team during his senior year. Watching the video and hearing the words he wrote brought out raw emotion in Riley as he reminisced about the fond memories of his time at Wake Forest.
Riley went on to discuss how this university affected him and how thankful he is for the opportunity he was given.
“When I came to Wake Forest I was informed, inspired and deeply impacted by this institution,” he said. “My time here would not have come to fruition without the fantastic contributions from our Deacon Club members. I would like to applaud you all for your efforts, your dedication, your transformational hearts, your life giving nature and making sure all of these student-athletes have the opportunity to attend one of the best universities this country has ever seen.”
After completing his own remarks, Riley went on to moderate a panel discussion about the student-athlete experience at Wake Forest. Panelists included women’s golfer, Sierra Sims (’17); former football and basketball player, Bill Robinson (’87, P ’17); football player, Wendell Dunn (’17); and scholarship donor and Deacon Club Board of Directors member, Rhona Sherrill.
Senior and current captain of the women’s golf team, Sierra Sims, who is the recipient of the Joseph M. Bryan, Sr. Scholarship and the Rex H. Carter Women’s Golf Scholarship Fund, conveyed her gratitude to all of the donors in attendance.
“Having an athletic scholarship has meant the world to me and I’ve had such a great experience here,” she said. “To the Deacon Club members, I want to say thank you on behalf of all student-athletes. We are so thankful for our opportunities and we thank you so much for your commitment to us.”
Bill Robinson reflected on his motivation for giving back to the Deacon Club stating, “Although I never made it to be a scholarship athlete, I still benefitted from the support of Deacon Club members and I really appreciated that.”
Robinson continued, “I felt I never made my mark at Wake Forest on the football field or basketball court, and the Deacon Club gave me the opportunity to make my mark on Athletics in a very different way. My ability to help others achieve their dreams and get a great degree gives me a lot of pride.”
Wendell Dunn, redshirt junior member of the football team and current recipient of the Dr. R.H. Patterson Athletic Endowment Fund expressed his genuine appreciation for all Deacon Club members.
“It’s an honor to be here with all of you and I just want to say thank you for supporting our grind,” said Dunn. “We wouldn’t be able to do what we do without you. If I could, I would shake every one of your hands.”
He continued stating, “We go out there and compete because of you. Some people look at it as money, but it’s way deeper than that. As Deacon Club members, you are supporting so much.”
Rhona Sherrill, along with her husband Mike (’77), started the Sherrill Family Athletic Scholarship in 2010. Sherrill delivered a strong message directed at those considering creating their own endowment. “I would tell you to do it now while you can enjoy it and build the relationships with these young people,” she said. “It is truly a gift that keeps on giving.”
Sherrill concluded the panel discussion by sharing an inside look into what the relationship with her current scholarship athlete, Phil Haynes (’18), is like. “I’m thankful to be a part of his Wake Forest journey,” said Sherrill. “It’s been so great to watch him change and grow, both athletically and academically. Most importantly, however, it’s been such a pleasure to watch him become such an outstanding young man.”
Faircloth then returned to the podium to introduce Wake Forest alumnus and trustee Mit Shah (’91). During his time at Wake Forest, Shah majored in economics, competed as a walk-on for the men’s tennis team and also worked part-time at Graylyn, where he was able learn various aspects of the hotel industry.
After graduating from Wake Forest, Shah founded Noble Investment Group, where he continues to serve as the CEO. In addition, he is the Chairman of the Board of La Quinta Holdings Inc. and is also a part-owner of the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks.
It was announced on January 26 that Shah had donated an additional $5 million in support of Wake Forest basketball and the basketball player development facility, which will be named the Shah Basketball Complex.
Shah took to the microphone to thank the fellow donors in the room, as well as the student-athletes, coaches and educators. He also shared his love for Wake Forest and why he chooses to give back.
“What happens here at Wake Forest is truly unique and special. You arrive on this campus, you go through this journey and it changes your life,” he said. “My passion for Wake Forest remains very deep and has led me to get involved and engaged. I’m happy to help in any small way to impact others’ lives the way mine was.”
Ron Wellman, Director of Athletics, also expressed thanks to all of the donors in his closing remarks. “This is an incredible group of people. You are giving these student-athletes the opportunity to chase their dreams, earn a degree from the very best institution in America and they are going to be strong contributors to our society. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts for everything you do for our program.”