(Editor’s Note: The following is the third of a series of articles where Western Carolinian writers report on why the athletic facilities at WCU are named after who they are.)
In 1974, a brand new football stadium was opened on the campus of Western Carolina University, and it still stands today, known to students and Catamount fans as E.J. Whitmire Stadium/Bob Waters Field.
The Catamounts just wrapped up their 34th season in the facility and in the fall of 2009 will begin their 35th season in the stadium. The stadium was named after two very influential people in Western Carolina’s history: E.J. Whitmire, a longtime teacher and faculty member, and Bob Waters Coached the Catamounts for 20 seasons.
Whitmire spent more than 25 years, most of his adult life, working at Western and during his tenure, held many positions on staff from the leadership position as a member of the Board of Trustees to helping educate the students of Western as a professor. Whitmire was on the Board of trustees at Western from 1949-1972. During the time that Whitmire was at Western, the university saw a boom and enjoyed growth that was unparalleled in the school’s history.
Whitmire was the main cornerstone in the effort pushing for the construction of the new stadium and as recognition of his efforts in support of Western, the stadium was dedicated in his honor. On Oct. 5, 1974, the stadium officially became E.J. Whitmire Stadium as the Catamounts hosted Moorehead State and won 31-12.
Outside his life at Western, Whitmire was a very successful agriculturalist and was a well known public servant. Whitmire purchased a large tract of land in Cherokee County and focused on transforming it from rough mountainous land with little to no agricultural benefit to pasture land that would benefit the surrounding areas, as well as his cattle herd. Whitmire grew his land holdings from 200 to 1000 acres and in 1994, Whitmire was recognized by the National Cattlemen’s Association for his outstanding use of the land because he was able to make it productive for its human inhabitants and at the same time keeping it sustainable for the wildlife. Mr. Whitmire’s farm is still operational today and occupies almost 300 beef cows.
The second half of the stadium’s namesake is Bob Waters Field which was named after Bob Waters, a longtime WCU football coach and athletic director. Waters roamed the sidelines as the Catamounts head football coach for 20 years from 1969-1998. Waters was hired by Western after three seasons as a collegiate assistant and a five year career as quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers. In his first season as the Catamounts coach, Waters piloted the Catamounts to a 9-1 record and in 1983, the Waters coached Catamounts reached the Division 1-AA national championship game. In his 20 seasons as head coach, Waters garnered 116 victories.
As Western’s athletic director, Waters played a key role in enhancing athletics at Western. Waters was the person in leading the push to get Western into the Southern Conference. Waters also helped Whitmire in rallying support for a new football stadium and he lead the charge in an effort to improve the basketball facilities. Waters push to improve the facilities led to the construction of the Ramsey Center which was completed in 1986. In 1989 Waters stepped down as athletic director due to his diagnosis of Lou Gehrig ‘s disease.
E.J. Whitmire and Bob Waters have each dedicated many years and countless of hours of devoted and loyal service to Western Carolina. Both men have worked to further advance and improve Western Carolina Athletics and the memories they created for Western as well as their legendary legacies will endure forever and reach many generations of students that attend E.J. Whitmire Stadium/Bob Waters Field.
(Cory Spaugh used historical records obtained by current Western Carolina University athletic director Chip Smith to compile this story.)