By Marc Pruitt
The enthusiasm and zeal for coaching still envelops Coach Dan Spainhour of West Stokes, even after 34 years on the sidelines and more than 500 wins.
Finding motivation, energy, and purpose from a young team that features only two seniors on the roster this season, Spainhour has the Wildcats back on top in the Western Piedmont 2-A Conference standings with a week to go in the regular season with a 15-6 overall record and 9-1 in conference play.
West Stokes’ 55-45 win against Atkins last week secured the team at least a share of the regular season conference championship and the No. 1 seed from the conference in the NCHSAA 2-A state playoffs.
“These guys have been playing above themselves and that has been really rejuvenating for me,” Spainhour said. “We struggled to start the season. We’re young. We’ve got six sophomores who are in the rotation. Kids were doing things individually earlier in the season and it was difficult for them to trust our system and let it do the work. We’ve come a long way since we lost to Carver in December.”
The Wildcats have reeled off eight straight conference wins since the loss to Carver on December 15, a loss that Spainhour said helped the team start to come together.
“We started to understand how to handle things when they didn’t go our way,” Spainhour said. “Sometimes the hardest thing to teach is resiliency. I think that loss opened our eyes a lot. We’ve come a long way since then.”
West Stokes advanced to the championship game of the Pepsi Bracket of the Frank Spencer Holiday Classic and held a 20-point lead on Reynolds in the first half before the Demons stormed back to pull out a 72-69 win.
It was another teachable moment for Spainhour and his team, who faced relentless full-court pressure from the Demons during the comeback.
“That tournament—and that game—really helped us a lot in terms of getting ready for the rest of our season,” Spainhour said. “It prepared us for some tough conference games against Atkins and Walkertown because they both like to play a similar style where they are all over you. I think that game really toughened us up. We found ourselves and rediscovered our identity during the Spencer.”
The Wildcats’ results show this. They have won eight of the last night games, with the only loss coming to North Forsyth on January 15.
Spainhour’s coaching career includes a stint at Bishop McGuinness from 1982-1995, being a graduate assistant at the University of Miami with Leonard Hamilton from 1995-99, and then back to West Stokes from 1999-2003 when the school opened to serve as Athletics Director and head boys basketball coach. He went to Florida State to serve as Director of Basketball Operations for a few years, again under Hamilton, only to return to West Stokes again for the 2007-08 season.
“I missed the coaching part,” Spainhour said. “I’m forever grateful to Coach Hamilton for giving me the opportunity to experience ACC Basketball like I did. But part of the reason I came back here was because I missed the day-to-day coaching and because this is home for me and my family. It all worked out like it should.”
Being around family is key for Spainhour. Two of his nephews—senior guard Noah and sophomore guard Isaac—are key contributors for the Wildcats. Their father, David—Dan’s brother—is an assistant coach. Another nephew, Josh–Isaac and Noah’s older brother–played for Spainhour on 2011 Frank Spencer championship team. And, Dan’s younger brother Kevin—who played for Dan at Bishop McGuinness and had a successful stint as the boy’s coach at Mount Airy for several seasons– is the principal at West Stokes.
“You can’t go very far without running into a Spainhour around here,” Dan said with a laugh. “And Forrest Munden, who has been with me forever, is one of my assistants. He’s practically family. I couldn’t ask for a better place to be.”