After a legendary career as a coach, educator and mentor, Jerry Hemmings has officially tendered his resignation from Brandon University.
Hemmings' employment at BU will officially come to an end August 31, but his life-long relationship with the community will continue after working for 40 years in what he refers to as "not a job, because I love what I do."
His accomplishments are well documented - four national championships, 19 conference titles, 734 career wins - but what you might not know is how a kid from Mt. Airy, North Carolina ended up in a small-city in rural Manitoba.
The youngest of nine kids growing up in Mt. Airy, Hemmings was a high school basketball stand-out where he captured a 2A state championship in 1966 with North Surry High School. From there he went on to Surry Community College where he played two seasons before transferring to Lakehead University.
He was recruited to Lakehead by George Birger, where he played two more outstanding seasons, earning an induction into the Lakehead Athletics Wall of Fame in 1999.
Hemmings then transferred to Brandon to play out his final year of eligibility in 1971-72, which he did in spectacular style, averaging 24.5 points per game and earning Brandon University male athlete of the year honours and team MVP.
He made the decision to come to Brandon with Joe Parks. Both were looking to play one more year while working toward education degrees. The two became good friends at Lakehead, and have remained close friends to this day.
The friendships made are one thing Hemmings is particularly fond of.
"Besides marriage, there's no closer bond than between teammates. That's one of the greatest things about sports," says Hemmings.
After completing his playing days at BU, he thought he would never be back in the Wheat City.
"The year I played at Brandon was such a cold, harsh winter that when Joe and I left, we were about 10 minutes down the road when I said 'I'll never be back here again'. It's funny because two years later I took a job and still haven't left 40 years later."
Hemmings took over the BU's men's basketball program in 1974. The team was struggling to get off the ground just six years into membership in the Western Canadian Intercollegiate Athletics Association. Finding motivation to turn the program around wasn't a problem.
"When I started coaching the program had only been around for six years. I was used to success as a player, and I wanted to continue that. It became personal."
It didn't take Hemmings long to turn things around. He recruited high-level players from both sides of the border, including Lloyd Small, Jerry Abernathy and Fred Lee, players that helped lay the groundwork for what would be one of the most successful basketball programs in Canadian university history.
The team advanced to the national championship tournament for the first time in 1980, before capturing the school's first national title in 1987 behind legendary players like John Carson, Whitney Dabney and Patrick Jebbison.
The team would capture three consecutive national titles from 1987 to 1989 before winning the school's last national title in 1996.
For Hemmings, coaching, teaching, and shaping the lives of young individuals was a labour of love for four decades.
"How many people can say they wake up every day and look forward to going to work? I was able to do that for 40 years. I guess that helped with the harsh winters, which I've always said are 10 months of cold weather and two months of bad skating," Hemmings joked.
Hemmings' legacy will last beyond the court and the classroom as well. In 2013, he and wife Marnie created the Jerry and Marnie Hemmings Scholarship fund, a financial aid program for student-athletes in BU's Faculty of Education or Department of Physical Education Studies.
"When I started I had nothing. Once we were comfortable we asked ourselves 'how can we pay it forward?' We want to give financial aid to male and female players who academically deserve it. Our plan is to continue growing that fund because there are people in need that can benefit," says Hemmings.
"Forty is a good number. The past 40 years have been great. We all have to move on. There's good people waiting for an opportunity, and I'm looking forward to retirement."
In retirement Hemmings plans to play golf, fish, travel and spend time with family and friends.
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