(This is the first in a series on the 2006 inductees into the Lawrence County Historical Society Sports Hall of Fame.)

BY JOHN D'ABRUZZO JD'ABRUZZO@NCNEWSONLINE.COM Whether it's been as an athlete or coach, J.R. McFarland has remained dedicated to learning and teaching. In his 29th season as the Wilmington High girls track and field coach, the 52-year-old McFarland will be one of 13 notable inductees into Lawrence County Historical Society Sports Hall of Fame April 30 at the New Englander. "I never anticipated that I would be selected," said McFarland, a New Wilmington resident. "Growing up I've always looked up to some of those people who are in the Hall of Fame, and I've never really considered myself in that class. "I'm really honored." An All-County football player and member of the track and field team as a student at Wilmington, McFarland returned to his alma mater to coach the girls track and field teams to three WPIAL championships and two District 10 titles and the girls volleyball team to 13 league crowns. He competed in the mile run, two-mile and 800-meter at Wilmington. After earning recognition on the football field in high school, McFarland went on to become an NAIA All-American linebacker during his senior year at Division II Taylor (Ind.) University. "I would have never gained that level in football if it hadn't been for track and field," McFarland explained. "Track and field made me so much stronger, whether it was being in tip-top shape or overall body strength. As a result, I never really got hurt playing football because I was always in great shape. Track and field set the standard for conditioning, and that carried over into football." Everything he accomplished as either an athlete or coach McFarland credits to his former mentor and current colleague, Ray Cebula. "He is still a great role model for me," McFarland said. "Who your coach is means volumes. They kind of turn you on to the sport or turn you away from the sport, and Ray was one of those individuals who really encouraged you and helped you along the way." As his former football and track and field coach, Cebula hasn't noticed a difference in McFarland during all their years together. "Nobody works harder than J.R.," said Cebula, who continues to coach Wilmington's boys track and field. "He has heart and soul, and no ones gives more than him. He's been a model for himself and for his athletes. "He is the same person he was in high school. He sets his goals, writes them down and goes after them. That's the athlete he was and the coach he is now. "You won't find a better person or will I find a better friend." Although he never competed in any field trials, McFarland not only became familiar with every event, but he also mastered each in order to provide a wealth of knowledge and education for his athletes. "You read books, look at videotapes and go to a lot of clinics and ask a lot of questions," McFarland said. "You just have to build on what you know every year." Through McFarland's knowledge, love, and especially his dedication to coaching, future Wilmington athletes will continue to learn from this Hall of Famer. "I'm very thankful to the Wilmington School District for giving me the opportunity to coach because Wilmington has been known for having solid athletics and solid kids, as far as their character and work ethic," said McFarland, who credits his wife, Joani, for her support during his tenure. "Receiving an award like this is truly a tribute to the Wilmington School District because I was raised there, played there, coached there and taught there." Tomorrow: Angelo Pezzuolo

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