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Building from the ground up, Jimmy Stephens has helped make the USC Upstate track and field and cross country programs become a contender in the Atlantic Sun Conference in just three years of competition.
Hired in 2007 to revive a dormant cross country program and to launch the school's first varsity track and field program, Stephens, now in his fourth year at Upstate, has shown the ability to get the most out of his athletes, already having coached seven conference champions in two years in the A-Sun.
The 2008 cross country team produced a host of Upstate firsts, including the school's first Eye Opener medalist in Emily Tangwar and the first men's A-Sun award winner, as James Jackson was named to the All-Freshman team. Jemali Sang earned women's All-Freshman honors and both teams improved at the A-Sun Cross Country Championships. The men's team jumped two slots to eighth and the women moved four spots to seventh.
In the winter, the Spartan men's track and field team posted a remarkable jump from sixth to fourth at the conference championships and were led by pole vaulter Justin Crawford, who posted the first conference title in the men's programs history. On the women's side, Emily Tangwar won the 5,000 meters for her fourth A-Sun Indoor title.
All of that built into a spring in which the Spartans posted some remarkable feats. At the A-Sun Outdoor Championships, the men's team won three individual titles, with Perrish Goggins winning both the high jump and long jump and Crawford taking the pole vault, helping the team to another fourth-place finish. The women's team, competing at the meet for the first time, finished sixth among eight times, a one-team improvement from the indoor championships, garnering six top-five finishes at the meet.
During Stephens' first full-year as head coach, he not only had to start a new program, but do it at the Division I level. However, the coach helped his team start out the new era with a bang as he coached Tangwar to a second-place finish at the Atlantic Sun Cross Country Championships, helping her earn Freshman of the Year honors.
The remarkable success of the fledgling program continued in the winter of 2008, as the Upstate men's team took sixth and the women eighth at the Indoor Track & Field Championships last season. In the process, Stephens tutored both Atlantic Sun Most Outstanding Freshman honorees in Goggins (men) and Tangwar (women). Tangwar also took home the Most Outstanding Runner at the meet after winning three events, the mile run, the 3,000-meter run and the 5,000-meter run.
Stephens came to USC Upstate after holding the position as the recreation coordinator for the town of Mt. Pleasant (S.C.) for five years. He oversaw the youth programs for track and field, cross country and football. After starting the Mt. Pleasant Track Club, the club has grown to be the biggest track club in the state. The club has won four overall state team championship titles, helped multiple individual state champions and sent several individuals to regional and national Junior Olympic meets.
Prior to his position in Mt. Pleasant, Stephens was the director of track and field operations for the men's and women's programs at the University of Alabama from 1999-2000. He began his head coaching experience at nearby Wofford College where he started the track and field programs and also served as the head coach of the cross country teams from 1996-1999. He led the Terriers' program from Division II into the Southern Conference and Division I. He developed a highly-competitive and well-rounded program at Wofford and led the women's cross country program to its highest Southern Conference finish in the history of the program.
Stephens began his coaching career at the end of his collegiate career as a pole vaulter at the University of South Carolina. A member of the Gamecocks track and field team, he suffered a career-ending shoulder injury during his sophomore year. The Gamecocks coaching staff asked him to stay on as a student assistant coach for three years until he graduated from the University in 1991 with a bachelor's degree in sport administration. After leaving USC, he worked with the Metro Sports Council in Columbia from 1991-93. He then became the assistant track and field and cross country coach at Furman University from 1993-1996.
During his time in South Carolina, Stephens has been involved with the Metro Sports Council and Charleston Metro Sports Council as well as working with the Special Olympics, Palmetto State Games and South Carolina USA Track and Field Association. In SCUSATF he has served as Vice President, Youth Chairman, Officials Chairman, Southeast Regional Pole Vault Chairman and currently he is in his second term as President.
Stephens is a native of Spartanburg and graduated from Dorman High School in 1986. He had a standout career in pole vault for the Cavaliers. He broke the Spartanburg County pole vault record, a record that stood for nine years until a student that Stephens coached broke the mark. He was a four-year letterman and served as captain during his senior year as well as being named MVP in the field events.
Stephens and his wife, Pat, were married on July 21, 2007. The couple's first son, James Asher, was born on May 26, 2009.
The Stephens File