Shocking news arrived late last week.
Union County High School varsity girls basketball coach Mike West was found dead after going on a hiking trek in the North Georgia mountains. It was something West did numerous times as hiking was a hobby of his. However, when he did not return home family members obviously became concerned and West’s body was later found. He was only 42.
No foul play is suspected although results of an autopsy are pending. It appears the coach may have died as the result of a massive heart attack. As I said, shocking. West leaves behind a family who are dealing with pain I can only begin to fathom.
I got to know West way back during the 1996-97 basketball season. West was hired as the girls coach at Newton High School and I was handling sports coverage for a local paper at the time. To say our working relationship was the best would not be true. Looking back at it more than a decade later, I chalk it up to youth on both of our parts.
The previous coach had resigned after not getting the proper support from the school administration. I was upset over what had taken place with the former coach and therefore had it in for the new coach. It just happened to be West.
Likewise, West was a young, first-time varsity head coach looking to make an impact in his profession. I had heard stories of how he had clashed with other sports writers — even as an assistant coach — and made it known I would not tolerate it. West, in turn, made it clear he didn’t care what I liked or what I would tolerate.
As the season wore on, our icy beginning began to thaw somewhat. We learned we both went to the same college and it was obvious we both shared a common bond in our love of high school athletics. By the end of the season, West and I had developed what I termed a solid coach-sports writer relationship.
As it turned out, that would be the only season I got to work with him as I left the following summer for another job. West, however, stayed at Newton for eight seasons and made the Lady Rams program into a state playoff one. I followed the progress West’s teams made after I left and was always glad to see them do well on the court.
After eight successful seasons in Covington, West suprised many by moving to Union County, a smaller school.
However, it really didn’t suprise me. West always moved to his own beat and certainly never cared what anyone else thought.
With Union County competing in the same region as Banks County, I had the chance to catch up with West a couple of years ago after his team competed.
“Coach West,” I said as I extended my hand.
“Chris Bridges,” he responded in turn.
It was obvious time had seen both of us mature and grow in our respectful professions. More than a decade ago when I first met the coach I wouldn’t have thought much about the chances of us still talking 12 years later.
I’m glad we did though. Grudges are for weak people. We should all live for the present and for the future, not the in the past.
My thoughts are with West’s family today. I hope some hand of comfort will be placed upon them. I will remember a fierce competitor who hated to lose and one who didn’t let what others thought keep him from his goals.
I admire those traits in anyone who had the courage to display them.
Chris Bridges is sports editor of The Banks County News. E-mail comments to email@example.com.