2017 Special Olympics NC Coach of the Year
Debby Michael’s background as a teacher of physical education
and special education prepared her to become a standout coach
for Special Olympics Davidson County.
Michael was recently recognized for her nearly 40 years of
volunteer service by being named the 2017 Special Olympics
North Carolina Coach of the Year.
Mary Ann Brown, program director for the Davidson County
Parks and Recreation Department and coordinator of Special
Olympics Davidson County, said Michael is quiet and works
behind the scenes but makes a big impact with her dedication
to Special Olympics.
“She’s absolutely wonderful,” Brown said. “She truly cares
about our athletes and their families. And she is always out
looking and recruiting new athletes in all sports for our program.”
A self-described “country girl,” Michael said she grew up
playing in the woods and fishing and water-skiing at High
Rock Lake. To this day, the Reeds resident enjoys recreational
kayaking and bicycle riding.
“I’m happiest when I’m out in the woods walking, fishing,
kayaking or cycling,” she said. “But I’m not a racer or a road
cyclist, I just like to see wildlife and flowers while I’m riding. I
have to do something. I’m not a sit-at-a-desk person.”
A 1972 graduate of Lexington Senior High School, Michael
graduated from Appalachian State University in 1975 with a
Bachelor of Science degree in education with a certification
to teach K-12 health and physical education. She received her
Master’s of Science degree in physical education from N.C.
A&T University in 1997 and became a National Board Certified
teacher in 2001.
Michael began her teaching career in 1976 as a physical
education teacher at Thomasville Middle School and discovered,
after six weeks on the job, she was also responsible for coaching
the girls track team, which she did until 1994.
“I just got thrown into it,” she said of her coaching career.
While coaching track, Michael spent most of her career
teaching physical education to K-2 students at Thomasville
Primary School, in addition to teaching special education at
Thomasville Middle for seven years. She retired after 32 years of
teaching in June 2008.
Michael said she always enjoyed teaching the younger students.
“You can find something to laugh about every day,” she said.
“You can learn some of the best lessons from them because
their interpretation of the world is so different. All the world’s
an adventure to them.
“Coaching Special Olympics is a lot like teaching,” she said. “It’s
fun, it’s laughter, it’s camaraderie.”
While she was still teaching, Michael began volunteering to
coach track and field
for the county Special
Olympics program in
1980. She served as the
coach of the athletics
team from 1994 to 2000
and became the cycling
coach in 1995, which she
continues to do.
She also helped set
up a Young Athletes and
Motor Skills Program
in 1995 for children under
8 years of age and
those not physically
able to participate as
athletes, such as people
confined to wheelchairs.
The program includes
adaptive activities of
regular Special Olympics
With North Carolina Special Olympics, from 1999 to 2016, she
served on the Games Management Team that put together track
and field events and also served on the Sports Development
Team that trained coaches around the state.
Michael officiated at field and track events at the World
Special Olympics Games in Raleigh in 1999, attended the
National Games as athletics coach in Omaha, Neb., in 2010 and
was named Special Olympics Volunteer of the Year in 2001.
Just as she taught her students about learning athletic skills,
Michael said she brings that same philosophy to coaching Special
“My philosophy was ‘I’m an educator, not a recreator,’” she
said. “We didn’t just play games. We broke down skills to their
simplest form and learned to improve them. That’s what helps
athletes get better and it works well with Special Olympics, too.”
In more recent years, Michael has given up her state level
volunteer work to return to local coaching with the cycling
team. She said she has known some of the cycling team
participants, many of whom are now in their 20s, since they were
eight years old.
“I’ve watched a lot of them grow up,” she noted.
While she appreciated being presented with the state award,
Michael said her volunteer work is its own reward.
“I do it because it’s fun and exciting, not for awards,” she said.
“What I take away every day after practice is fantastic.”
Vikki Broughton Hodges may be contacted at
Courtesy of Vikki Hodges and The Dispatch