New Gadsden State Community College scholarship honors former coach, AD Riley Whitaker

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Dr. Kathy Murphy, president of GSCC, alongside the Whitaker family.
Dr. Kathy Murphy, president of GSCC, alongside the Whitaker family.

A new scholarship is set to begin at Gadsden State Community College. The Riley and Marie Whitaker Scholarship has been set up thanks to two donations made to the school: one in 2013 upon Riley Whitaker's passing and another recent donation from Marie Whitaker herself.

“Gadsden State meant a lot to him, and it means a lot to me,” said Marie Whitaker, his widow. “My husband loved sports. He started it all and he coached it all. He and I spent almost all of our career at the college.”

This scholarship is set to be awarded annually to a graduating senior at Glencoe High School. Consideration is given on academic record, demonstrated financial need and faculty/leader recommendations. The scholarship is $750 for the fall semester and $750 for the spring semester.

Riley Whitaker was responsible for starting GSCC's Athletics Department in 1966, when he served as the men's basketball, baseball and golf coach.

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“We thought the best way to honor him is with a scholarship,” Marie Whitaker said. “He would be so proud.”

During his long tenure, Whitaker also added women’s basketball, women’s cross country, volleyball, softball and tennis to the Gadsden State program.

Under his leadership, Gadsden State won 11 state championships and was awarded the All Sports Trophy six times. The 1970 men’s basketball team made it to the National Junior College Tournament as well. In 2002, Whitaker was inducted into the Alabama Junior College Athletic Hall of Fame.

“Riley was a fixture in Athletics,” Marie said. “He had a good repertoire with the local coaches and the players. His strong suit was public relations. He was very good at it. He was not that great at completing forms and doing paperwork.”

Marie was well-known for supporting her husband and handling the administrative affairs of his work. She also worked as an instructor in the Business Division at Gadsden State from 1966 to 2000, then volunteered as his assistant until his retirement in 2007.

“I never really left campus until Riley retired,” she said. “We had a wonderful time at Gadsden State.”

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GSCC President Dr. Kathy Murphy thanked the Whitakers for such a "generous gift," calling it "a blessing to students" within the area.

“As someone who depended on scholarships, I can tell you from experience that it helps very much,” she said.

Murphy says that she holds a "real interest" in using sports as a tool for "recruiting and retaining students," as it is something that provides them with "a good collegiate experience."

Recently, she announced that cross country sports would return to GSCC next fall, with baseball and softball making a comeback in fall 2023.

“I see real value in athletics for our students and for our College,” Murphy said.

“It means something to me and my family to be able to do this for our College,” Marie Whita said. “We are so excited about what Gadsden State is doing with the athletics program. I am so proud.”

This article originally appeared on The Gadsden Times: Gadsden State Community College scholarship honors Riley Whitaker