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Most Caring Coach Award Elvin James FOOTBALL COACH, GOLDSBORO (N.C.) HIGH SCHOOL M ore than 1,000 pounds of football player — four guys — are crammed into Elvin James' battered blue Nissan Sentra. The car has 144,000 miles on it, and James has just added 360 more with a weekend trip to Virginia's Hampton University. But the coach is smiling: He has landed college scholarships for four kids who might have been high school dropouts without James. In his 10 years as coach at Goldsboro (N.C.) High, James, 40, has helped at least 50 students get into He's helped dozens of kids get into college — and even- drives some He was like the only father I ever knew. He followed ... what I did after school, who I was hanging out with, whether I did my homework." "My biggest joy," James says, "is watching these kids graduate and get jobs." One former player is studying for a doctoral degree in biomechan- ics; another works for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. "He never talks about fame or money," says James' wife, Mary Kay, who nominated him. "He says, 'Do this and you can go to college. You college, and helped countless others there, himself can work and take care of your fam- stay in high school. Many grew up just " ; - "*'*• " ily. You don't have to be a statistic; as James did, poor and in a single-parent home. Plenty of high school coaches call colleges to talk about their players. But not many take personal vacation time to drive players to one more college in search of scholarships. Or let teens with family troubles move in for a while, until things get sorted out at home. Or help players with SAT preparations, or walk them through college application forms, or drive them to their first day of college. "These kids are at-risk youth, looking for direction and not really finding it until they step onto the field and find Elvin to guide them," says David Williams, a Goldsboro News-Argus sports reporter. "Talent doesn't matter to him; hard work does." Tito Woolen, 24, played for James for four years. He's now a free safety with the New York Giants. "Coach James was determined I was going to succeed, whether I wanted to or not. you can be a husband, father, teacher.' " James—a father of two, Ashelyn, 8, and Jarrod, 3 — grew up one of seven children in Beaufort, N.C. His parents were alcoholics. He was adopted by grandmother Jennie James, who worked as a maid. "We had nothing," she says. "But we never went stealing or knocking people on the head." Her incessant message: Get an education, work hard, be respectful. Though not a strong student, James wanted to become a teacher. He received an athletic scholarship to Elizabeth City State University but left after a year, short of money to cover personal expenses. He joined the Army to help finance his education and served four years before returning to earn his degree. "I had people encourage me. Now I want to give that back. I identify with kids who have nothing. I tell them, 'I made it. You can, too.'" C3 By Gina Pera Honorable Mentions Meet the honorable mentions in our first-ever Most Caring Coach awards. Their stories — at right and on Page 12 — are inspiring, and we plan to honor the nation's Most Caring Coach again next year. Watch for nomination forms this spring. STORIES BY GINA PERA 10 USA WEEKEND * Jan. 26-2H. 1W6 CAROLYN MALONE, boys' basketball, New York City: Malone, 37 (with players at left), is the Bronx Police Athletic League's only female basketball coach. Many of the 30 boys, ages 14-18, she coaches at PAL's Edward Lynch Center live in homeless shelters or have parents who abuse drugs. Nominator Debbie Lake says she's seen Malone "take kids who are on their way to [juvenile] hall and give them something to build a life around." One of her two teams has won the PAL Bronx championship two years in a row. As the lone female coach, "I used to get a lot of flak from other coaches," Malone says. "It's better to show your stuff rather than argue."