Mercer Receives $1 Million Commitment for Basketball Program
MACON – A $1 million gift from Macon cardiologist Dr. Chuck Hawkins and his wife, Kathy, to benefit the Mercer basketball program is being recognized with the naming of the arena housed within a portion of the University Center.
Mercer President William D. Underwood announced at last Saturday’s Big Bear Event — an annual athletic department fundraiser and student-athlete recognition ceremony – that the generous gift from the Hawkins family is being recognized with the naming of the UC arena as Hawkins Arena, in honor of Dr. Hawkins’ late father, effective immediately. The gift will be used to enhance Mercer athletic facilities.
Dr. Hawkins’ father, J.B. Hawkins, was the longtime boys and girls basketball coach at Crawford County High School and was the fourth-winningest high school basketball coach in Georgia history.
“The generous investment in our basketball facilities by Chuck and Kathy Hawkins is a tremendous boost for our players, coaches and fans and will ensure that Mercer basketball continues its path toward competing at the highest levels,” Underwood said. “These funds will enable us to make one of the finest venues in the country for watching college basketball even better.”
Dr. Hawkins said he had the good fortune to meet President Underwood about three years ago and immediately realized they had in common a passion for quality basketball and academic excellence. “When my dad coached the girls,” Hawkins jokingly said, “he had the three ‘Bs’ to abide by – books first, basketball second and boys third.”
On a serious note, Dr. Hawkins said he and his wife Kathy could not think of a better way to honor his dad’s legacy than to have the family name on a basketball arena at an institution where academics are so strongly emphasized. “I have been to almost every home game the last couple of years, and I have come to love the University, the coaching staff and the players,” he said.
“On behalf of our student-athletes and the athletic administration, I want to thank Dr. and Mrs. Hawkins for their generous gift,” Mercer Athletic Director Jim Cole said. “Their generosity will help Mercer Athletics take the next step in becoming a consistent winner in all our endeavors. Personally, it has been a pleasure getting to know them and to have the Hawkins name associated with our athletic program is a true honor indeed.”
In 32 years of coaching, J.B. Hawkins found time to lead both the boys’ and girls’ programs at Crawford County High School in Roberta, where he won an amazing 1,074 games. He was named to the “Thousandaire Club” by the Atlanta Tipoff Club for winning more than 1,000 games. Coaching the girls for 28 years, the Lady Eagles’ record was 425-287 and the boys’ teams were an eye-popping 649-293. His son, Chuck, was among the starters on the 1969 Crawford County boys’ state championship team. Over the course of his career, Coach Hawkins took 19 Crawford County teams to the Georgia High School tournament. The Eagles also came in second place twice, in 1960 and 1963. His two most famous players were Kenny “Sky” Walker in 1982, who went on to star at the University of Kentucky and professionally with the New York Knicks, and John Matthews in 1960, who played at the University of Georgia.
In addition to his passion for coaching basketball, Coach Hawkins, who died last year, taught mathematics and also coached baseball and track. He was named Crawford County athletic director in 1980.
In 1999, Crawford County High School named its athletic complex the J.B. Hawkins Sports Complex. Additionally, Crawford County’s annual Christmas basketball classic was named the J B. Hawkins Christmas Tournament.
Dr. Hawkins said his mother, who is a retired sixth grade teacher, is also an avid basketball fan. “She used to have to get up and turn the other way during a close game,” he said.
Mercer’s University Center opened its doors in 2004. The initial event in the University Center Arena was the men’s basketball game against Georgia State University on Jan. 27, 2004. Since then, in addition to all of the men’s and women’s basketball and volleyball home games, the UC Arena has hosted the Atlantic Sun Conference Basketball Championships the past three years and, in previous years, the Atlantic Sun Conference Volleyball Championships twice. This year the first-ever post-conference tournament games were played in the arena when the Bears hosted first- and second-round games in the post-season Collegeinsider.com Tournament against Tennessee State and Georgia State. The arena is also the venue for the Macon undergraduate, law and medicine commencements and other such premier events as the Executive Forum, Tip-Off Banquet and First Pitch Classic. It is also used during the academic year for other significant events.
A formal presentation for the renaming of the arena will be announced at a later date.
About Mercer University
Founded in 1833, Mercer University is a dynamic and comprehensive center of undergraduate, graduate and professional education. The University enrolls more than 8,300 students in 11 schools and colleges – liberal arts, law, pharmacy, medicine, business, engineering, education, theology, music, nursing and continuing and professional studies – on major campuses in Macon, Atlanta and Savannah and at four regional academic centers across the state. Mercer is affiliated with two teaching hospitals — Memorial University Medical Center in Savannah and the Medical Center of Central Georgia in Macon, and has educational partnerships with Warner Robins Air Logistics Center in Warner Robins and Piedmont Healthcare in Atlanta. The University operates an academic press and a performing arts center in Macon and an engineering research center in Warner Robins. Mercer is the only private university in Georgia to field an NCAA Division I athletic program. For more information, visit www.mercer.edu.