When Derek Galvin took over as head coach of the North Carolina gymnastics program in 1981, Ronald Reagan was president of the United States, MTV had just gone on the air and Michael Jordan was still a first-year at UNC. And after 39 years as a head coach, Galvin announced earlier this month that he would be retiring effective July 1.
“It’s something that I’ve been thinking about throughout the course of this past year," Galvin said.
Even before this shortened season, Galvin says he's known for a few years that the time was near for him to retire. After all, his body could only keep up with what his mind knew he needed to do in order to properly spot his gymnasts at every meet.
“I didn’t want to end up sticking around to the point where somebody got hurt because I wasn’t able to spot them safely," Galvin said.
It's clear that Galvin, after almost four decades at the helm, will have a lasting impact in the Tar Heels' record books from his time as head coach. He earned five East Atlantic Gymnastics League Coach of the Year awards, three NCAA Southeast Region Coach of the Year or Co-Coach of the Year awards and amassed 441 victories over his career.
But for Galvin, the wins were never the most important part of the job description.
“It was certainly a lot of fun," Galvin said. "We enjoyed winning championships and having gymnasts do well competitively. But the thing that I’m most proud of is how the team performed academically throughout the entire time and a lot of the things we do throughout the community.”
Several of his former gymnasts acknowledged and appreciated how Galvin views each of them as their own person.
Whenever Mekyllah Williams, a senior on the team during the 2019-20 season, would come to Galvin for advice on balancing her class schedule with practice times, his answer was always the same.
"'If you need the class, you’re taking it no matter when it is,'" Williams said. "'We’ll work around it.'"
For Jamie Antinori, another senior from last year's squad, she said it was easy to recognize how Galvin's kind-hearted nature helped him stand out from the crowd of other coaches.
“He definitely is very selfless and wants what’s best for us over what’s best for his own needs," Antinori said. "That’s just very nice to have in a coach because there are a lot of coaches who are just very selfish and want the money for themselves or the glory for themselves.”
But once the homework was finished, there were always meets to prepare for or tournaments to try to win — and Galvin's selfless mindset never changed.
“Coming into UNC, I was not one of the strongest gymnasts on the team," Antinori said. "But he just really helped me realize that if I worked as hard as I could, then I could become one of the contributing members of the team. Same with school, he just helped me work hard to reach the goals that I had academic-wise.”
“On bars, he would literally be running around the bars nonstop for my entire routine to help make sure he was there in case I needed a spot or something or to stand there for whatever skill I was doing," Williams added. "And he does that for everybody.”
Sure, Courtney Bumpers' two NCAA individual championships for the Tar Heels in 2004 and 2005 or Brooke Wilson's performance in the all-around and balance beam in 1999 that made her UNC's first EAGL champion are fond memories that Galvin will reflect on. But their — and every other gymnast he's enjoyed coaching — success after school is what he says will always mean the most to him.
“The things that Courtney did after college like going on to law school and becoming a federal prosecutor or Brooke Wilson going on and getting a master's in counseling and becoming an academic counselor at another university," Galvin said. "Seeing them grow over the four years and having the opportunity to see what they do after Carolina is an incredibly rewarding gift.”
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