@ken_kitts @north_alabama #Leadership February 23

I started the Coach4aday blog in 2014 and have done daily posts on one topic for each year. In 2014 my daily posts were on the “Beer of the Day”, 2015 it was “A Friend of a Friend”, 2016 I wrote about “North Carolina”, and in 2017 it was “Colleges and Universities”.

The one consistent piece of feedback I have received with this blog is the 2015 series on “A Friend of a Friend”. Readers and blog followers said please bring it back. The stats also back that up with the number of views each of those posts received.

So in 2018 two things will happen with the Coach4aday blog; One I plan to collaborate with a friend named John Rancke and revisit some of those 2015 “A Friend of a Friend” posts and do some new ones with a slightly different twist. I write the posts on odd numbered days each month and John handles the even numbered days.

In addition John and I will write about things we both are interested which will include basketball, food, people, music, our granddaughters, and great stories.

If you want to follow the blog via email go to the bottom right of the post and click the follow button.

My twitter handle is @coach4aday2 if you want to follow the blog that way.

John’s twitter handle is @JohnRancke if you want to reach out to him.

Dr. Ken Kitts shares a leadership lesson

Originally published February 24, 2015 but has been updated and edited

Three years ago today one of my former colleagues and friends Dr. Ken Kitts spent his last week at UNC Pembroke as our Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs.  He left UNC Pembroke to become the President at the University of North Alabama in Florence, Alabama. He has been there 3 years and has done a fabulous job of leading.

Ken and I during a 2016 NCAA Division II Football game between University of North Alabama and UNC Pembroke.

Ken Kitts

My wife Mira is a former student at UNA and she is really proud of the job both Ken and his wife Dena are doing in Florence AL. Mira consistently gets updates from her former sorority sisters who continue to brag on the leadership and community involvement that Ken and Dena bring to their alma mater.

Dena and Ken Kitts

Ken and Dena

Ken came to UNC Pembroke in April 2011 after the university went thru a search that took a lot of different twists and turns. A Waynesville, N.C., native, Ken earned Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degrees at Appalachian State University. He earned a Ph.D. in political science from the University of South Carolina. He also received certificates from Harvard University’s Institute for Educational Management and South Carolina’s Executive Institute.

When UNCP did the search for provost in 2010 I had shared information I had received from two great friends that worked at Francis Marion what a great leader Ken was. Those two friends were Murray Hartzler FMU’s Director of Athletics and Dr. Barry O’Brien then the dean of the school of business at FMU. Today Barry is back at UNC Pembroke as the Dean of the School of Business. Barry is a UNCP grad and former men’s basketball player. His brother Jim O’Brien coached in the NBA for the 76er’s and Pacers.

UNCP Dean of School of Business Dr. Barry O’Brien

barry o'brien

Murray and Barry both said the same thing that Ken was ready to be a provost. He was a focused and direct leader who achieved a lot on behalf of Francis Marion.  The Chancellor knew after his first meeting that Ken was an outstanding leader and he was approved in February 2011 by the UNCP BOT and began work 6 weeks later.

Shortly after Ken arrived we got talking about his hometown being Waynesville located in the western part of North Carolina in the mountains in Haywood County. I lived in Cullowhee, NC from 1980-1985. Cullowhee is also in the mountains in adjacent Jackson County.

One day early in Ken’s tenure as provost we talked about road racing and I shared with him my knowledge about a long-standing 8K race called the Maggie Valley Moonlight Run that was run just outside of Waynesville, NC. It was then that Ken told me a leadership story that was not only funny but involved road racing. Ken knew a student from his high school named Tony Antonio who ran in that race.

Leadership Lesson –Tony Antonio and the Maggie Valley Moonlight Race

maggie valley

In the late 1970’s a race began in the tiny town of Maggie Valley, NC called the Maggie Valley Moonlight Race. It was always held in late August and the distance was 8K(4.8 mile for those that are metrically challenged). In 1980 I became the cross-country coach at Western Carolina which was located about 20 miles from Maggie Valley. When we started practice in August a couple of my runners wanted to participate in the run so we gave them permission to go and compete as individuals.

This race has had some interruptions over the last decade but it will be run again for the 34th time in 2015 on Saturday August 22, 2015. It was a race in the early 1980’s that my friend Ken Kitts shared with me. Ken has a friend named Greg Cook who keeps up with all things involving the local high school in Waynesville, NC. That high school is Tuscola HS and they had a track and field runner enrolled named Tony Antonio.

This race has had some interruptions over the last decade but it was run again on August 22, 2015.  It was a race that took place in the early 1980’s that my friend Ken Kitts learned a leadership lesson he shares with people including me. Ken has a friend named Greg Cook who keeps up with all things involving the local high school in Waynesville, NC. That high school is Tuscola HS and they had a track and field runner enrolled named Tony Antonio.

In 1979 ESPN came on the air billing itself as the 24 hour sports station. Well they needed programming to fill in all those hours. The ESPN of the 1980’s was different from today. ESPN did not have MLB-NFL-NBA games to air they had to show grass root sports like bowling-college basketball-and running. In 1982 they decided to cover the popular Maggie Valley Moonlight Road Race. It was a big event in Haywood County NC to have a sporting event aired on National TV. Tony Antonio was not going to pass up this chance to grab the spotlight.


The race drew over 2300 runners from around the country especially Kenya runners who were there for Maggie Valley’s cash prizes. The ESPN announcers had their cheat sheets on the top runners and profiled them before the start of the 8K. One of those non-profiled runners was Tony Antonio sporting his Tuscola HS singlet and when the gun went off he took off in a dead sprint. The ESPN crew had the camera poised for the leaders and it was one Tony Antonio in the lead.

The announcers scrambled for details on him but they didn’t have to go too long because after about 1000 yards Tony Antonio was spent and the runners from Kenya took over. The race is run on what called an out and back course. You leave the starting line and run 2.4 miles and turn around and head back to the finish line. Well on the way back to the finish line some 1000 yards from the end of the race the camera pans in on a pack of 5 Kenya runners all getting ready to make their move. In that one moment on the screen if you look real close you will see Tony Antonio on the shoulder of the road doubled over still throwing up. Tony Antonio was that bright supernova that had its one shining moment and now had crashed and burned.

runner throwing up

I like to think of my friend Ken Kitts as the complete opposite of Tony Antonio he is slow, steady, determined, and focused. He has no interest in being in the limelight of ESPN.

I have always found it funny that leaders like Ken Kitts often get to the finish line ahead of those that are only looking for the notoriety.

Proud to call you a friend Ken Kitts and thanks for this and many other leadership lessons.

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