Thursday, October 24, 2013

Former Hampton, Norfolk State coach now a Hall-of-Famer

James Sweat called Tuesday night one of the highlights of his life.

The coach who guided Hampton University to a Division II national championship and led Norfolk State to the  Division I NCAA Tournament for the first time was inducted into the Hampton Roads Sports Hall of Fame. What really tickled him: His wife, LaVerne, a longtime track and field coach at both schools and also an assistant coach on the 2000 Olympic team, was inducted alongside him.

"This is the first time, I think, a husband and wife have gone into a Hall of Fame at the same time," Sweat told the audience at Scope in Norfolk.

Sweat, a former baseball player in the Negro Leagues, initially served as a volunteer assistant at Hampton on a team that won nine games. The next year he was hired as a full-time coach at the school, and the team won 21. In 1988, Sweat's Lady Pirates accomplished the ultimate: the national championship, upsetting a heavily favored North Dakota State team in the semifinals before topping West Texas to finish with a 33-1 record.

"North Dakota State was the favorite, and when we beat them, their fans started rooting for us," Sweat recalled.

Sweat won 529 games in his 26-year career that ended after the 2006-07 season when he retired. He won five conference titles at Hampton and led Norfolk State to the NCAA Final Four in 1991. Sweat's NSU teams won five CIAA Tournament titles and made five NCAA Division II South Atlantic Regional appearances. After the move to Division I, Sweat led NSU to its first MEAC title and an NCAA Tournament appearance against Duke.

"We won all those championships, and we did it with local players," said Sweat, who still wears his national championship ring. "I was able to get Division I players to play Division II."

The best player he's ever coached? Without hesitation, Sweat says the name Jackie Dolberry, an HU Hall-of-Famer and integral to that 1988 team. She holds several school records at Hampton, including career points (2,727).

What makes Sweat particularly proud is his graduation rate. Sweat said only two players in his 26 years did not graduate.

Sweat also coached current Norfolk State coach Debra Clark, Hampton's all-time leader in assists. Clark was in attendance on Tuesday along with many from the Sweat family that includes three children and four grandchildren.

Sweat was quick to credit his wife on Wednesday, noting, "Behind every man is a good woman." He and LaVerne, married for more than 50 years, first met in kindergarten but didn't talk until junior high. "She walked one way home and I walked the other," he said, noting she was taller than him then and still is today.

LaVerne Sweat also coached at Hampton and Norfolk State, retiring as NSU's senior woman administrator after the 2005-06 season. Her Spartan track and cross country teams won a combined 18 CIAA championships in an eight-year span. The Spartans earned four runner-up finishes at the Division II Track & Field Championships in her tenure. She was also the first female president of the CIAA.

While Sweat doesn't coach anymore, he's a regular at Echols Hall, supporting the Spartans and remaining passionate about the women's game.

"I think soon we'll see a woman in the NBA," he said.

LaVerne spoke first at the Hall of Fame induction, opening her speech quoting Urkel: "Did I do all that?"

Ditto for her husband, and the answer is yes, he did all that plus.

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