The Tennessean

Ex-player gets degree under tree

Lewis Mack’s best Christmas present came 18 years late.

But it finally came last week in the form of his diploma from Middle Tennessee State University.

Mack, a star basketball player for the Blue Raiders, left school in 1977. Like many college athletes, Lewis completed his eligibility but not the work on his degree.

It was hard making up that much lost time, but it was worth it.

“My mom, my sister and son all came down from New York to see me graduate,” Mack says. “Playing basketball was exciting, but it was nothing compared to the feeling when I walked across that stage.”

Mack credits his former coach, with an assist.

“I had gone home and tried several jobs, from assisting with a junior college team to working at a bottling plant,” Mack says.

“Some were boring. Others, such as coaching, I liked but they require a degree.

“More and more, I began to remember how Coach Earle used to stress the importance of getting our degree. He’d tell us, “Think about where you’ll be 10 or 20 years down the road.’

“I suddenly realized I had reached the point in my life that Coach Earle warned us about. I was stuck with a dead-end job, no degree and no prospects.”

Mack called Earle, who left coaching years ago and currently serves with the state’s Department of Community Development.

“Coach Earle encouraged me to return to school, and promised to help me,” Mack says.

“He didn’t have to do it. He didn’t have anything to gain personally by helping me. He did it simply out of the goodness of his heart.”

“Your players are always your players, no matter how many years have passed,” Earle says.

“I’d always liked Lewis. But he had gone through some rough times and frankly, when he called and said he wanted to come back to school, I doubted him.

“Then he called again, and I realized he was serious. I contacted Winston Wren with MTSU’s financial aid department; we got Lewis enrolled.

“He worked hard and he made it. I went to see him graduate last week, and nobody was more proud of him than I was.”

Mack says he decided to return to MTSU, rather than a school closer to home, “because I felt more comfortable there. I was familiar with the school and I still knew a lot of the people, like Mr. Wren, who I knew I could count on.”

Mack re-enrolled at MTSU in the fall of 1994. It took him over a year to complete the requirements for his degree.

“It was hard but it was worth it,” Mack says. “The only downside was leaving my son, Evan, who is eight. He stayed back home in New York with his mother.

“But he is one of the main reasons I did this. When I was growing up, I didn’t have a role model. Now I want to be my son’s role model, and I’ve tried to teach him the importance of getting an education.

“I figured the best way to teach him would be by example. That’s why getting my degree was extra important.

“To see that look on my little boy’s face made it all worthwhile.

“This diploma is for both of us.”

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We gratefully acknowledge these individuals and organizations for their generous support.