MOREHEAD CITY — Marshall Windsor has probably forgotten more about track and field than most people will ever know.
After 18 years on the Crystal Coast following 32 years in Northern Virginia, there’s no wondering why. Windsor celebrated his 50th year in coaching this year at West Carteret, and he isn’t done yet.
“It’s a year at a time from here on out,” he said. “Sometimes it doesn’t feel like 50 years. Sometimes it does. On those Sunday mornings after an all-day Saturday away meet, it feels that way.”
He thought of hanging up his whistle “three or four years ago” but changed his mind after a talk with this son.
“He asked why I wanted to do that,” Windsor said. “He said, ‘You enjoy it, it keeps you young, you like working with kids, you like helping them.’ I started to add up the years then, and I said I’d shoot for 50. Now, it looks like it’s going to be 50-plus.”
Windsor, who will turn 76 in August, has reached legendary status as an assistant coach at West with his trademark hat and sunglasses, booming voice, calling kids “young’un” and the stinginess with his beloved Pepsis.
His distinct personality and the success he’s helped lead the Patriots to would be enough to make him a legend – he’s been a part of West’s two track and field state championships to go along with numerous individual state titles. But it’s the résumé he brought with him that cements that status.
As part of an impressive coaching staff at Lake Braddock High School in Burke, Va. from 1984-2000, he helped lead the Bruins to 17 state championships and 11 state runner-up finishes in cross country and indoor and outdoor track and field during a 16-year stretch. At one point, the girls teams in those three sports won 13 straight state titles.
He was named the USA Track and Field National Track Coach of the Year and ended his career as one of the winningest coaches in state history.
A 1961 graduate of Annandale High School in Annandale, Va., he ran collegiately for Virginia Tech and Campbell and also served in the Vietnam War.
He taught math and coached at his alma mater and then went to Fort Hunt High School in Alexandria, Va. before moving on to Lake Braddock where he coached athletes like Allen Johnson who won a gold medal in the 110-meter hurdles at the 1996 Summer Olympics.
Shelton Mayo didn’t realize the man leaning on the fence watching a track and field meet at West during the 2001-2002 school year had such a background.
“He was watching a high jumper, and I went over there, and he told me if she took a step or two back on her approach that she would improve,” said Mayo who coached track and field for seven years and has coached the Patriots cross country program for nearly 20. “He said she was jumping too close to the bar. And I was like, ‘Who is this guy?’ ”
A lunch together, a trip to Windsor’s house where he saw photos from his past and a quick Internet search showed Mayo who he was.
Archived stories from the mid-1980s can be found on The Washington Post’s website detailing Windsor’s success at Lake Braddock.
A Feb. 14, 1985 story titled “New Coaches Help Braddock” reported on Andy Tisinger and Windsor taking over the program. At the end of the 1984 spring track season, former Lake Braddock coach Chris McDonald retired from coaching. Partially because declining enrollment was threatening the existence of their school at that time, Tisinger and Windsor transferred from Fort Hunt and grabbed the opportunity to coach an already well-established program like the Bruins.
Success was nothing new for the veteran coaches whose achievements at Fort Hunt were fantastic. Tisinger was head coach of the program for 13 years. As the girls coach, he never lost a district title in cross country, indoor or outdoor track and field. Windsor spent four of his 16 years there as the Federals assistant coach. As head coach of the boys, he won 11 of a possible 12 district titles.
The two set out to promote the sport by sending letters to 3,500 Lake Braddock students. Along with their two assistants, Pete Bendorf and Scott Thomasson, their recruiting paid off as there were approximately 90 athletes on the girls team and 120 on the boys team.
“That coaching staff, we were a family,” Windsor said. “And we had a lot of good athletes.”
Track and Field magazine named Lake Braddock the No. 1 girls cross country dual meet team in the country. Harrier Magazine ranked the squad, along with a Texas team, one of the top overall teams in the nation.
A program of that size and strength had Windsor making adjustments when he started assisting at West.
Whereas the Patriots went to invitationals at N.C. State, East Carolina and UNC-Wilmington, Lake Braddock sent student-athletes to the Penn Relays in Philadelphia, Pa. and the Foot Locker National Championships in San Diego, Calif.
“I had recruited hard and got about 100 kids to come out for track, which was great for us,” Mayo said. “And we hadn’t had practices on Friday, but I put those in place. It was tough for kids who worked on Fridays. Windsor said we needed practice on Saturdays, because he was used to having practice six days a week, and I told him it was already hard to get the kids to come out on Fridays. He had to learn to dial it back.”
Windsor came from a program where there were practices six days a week, 6 a.m. practices two days a week, and so many kids tried out for events like the pole vault, the coaches had to make cuts. And so he said it was a bit frustrating making the transition at West – he admits he’s “a little bit of a dictator” – but he eventually adjusted to his new way of life.
“I’ve always gotten along with all of the coaches,” he said. “They’ve allowed me to do my thing, and I don’t interfere with them.”
He didn’t plan on continuing his teaching or coaching career after retiring and moving to the county to help take care of his ailing mother and be closer to his son who was attending N.C. State.
A letter in the mail informing him he would have to pay another year of out-of-state tuition for his son soon had him looking to offset some of the cost, first working as a substitute at Croatan and then signing on at West for a two-year stint to teach math.
“I had no intention to keep coaching when I got down here,” he said. “I thought I was done. But I started to miss it. And there is only so much golf and fishing you can do. I volunteered to help at Croatan, but they weren’t interested. I started talking to Shelton, and next thing I knew, I was helping out.”
Mayo said Windsor and he are on the same page “about 90 percent of the time” and view coaching the same.
“I will say, for someone that has coached as long as he has, when I’ve said something needs to go one way, he will give his input, but he’s never stepped on my toes,” Mayo said. “Once after a state meet, he told me he would have done the practices that week differently, but that what I had done worked. He said that I made the right call. That is one of the biggest compliments I’ve ever gotten. He’s never criticized a decision I’ve made.”
The West girls cross country team has won 16 consecutive conference championships and earned 12 straight top-10 finishes at the state meet. Mayo said the cross country program is made up of a good mix. Girls coach Joanna Miller is the most laid-back, Mayo is in the middle and Windsor is the most intense.
“We work well with each other,” Mayo said.
Things haven’t changed much. In The Washington Post story from 1985, Lake Braddock’s captain and top long and triple jumper, Chris Cecka, listed the personalities of his four coaches and described Windsor by saying he “almost is always serious.”
Despite being decidedly old school, he connects with the new school.
Blake Dodge, Emme Fisher and Mackenzie Whitaker are three of the best female student-athletes in West history. Each gives Windsor much of the credit for their success, both on the track and off it.
“It’s hard to think of a single person who’s had a bigger impact on my life,” Dodge said. “He taught me how to be tough, but he also made sure I never got too big for my britches, as it were. He liked athletes who knew they were good and fought for victories but didn’t make a big fuss about it.”
Dodge became the first runner in county history to win a cross country state title as a sophomore in 2012 when she captured the 3A championship by beating a field of 117 runners in 19 minutes, 52 seconds. She went on to become the state’s most decorated 3A female runner of all time with 15 state titles. She was also a three-time All-American and captured three consecutive track and field state meet MVPs. Dodge finished with her 15 individual and relay titles (five outdoor, nine indoor, one cross country) and also led the Patriots to their first-ever track and field team state championship during the 2013 winter indoor season.
She finished fourth at the New Balance Nationals in the 800 meters in her junior year and recorded the 10th fastest time in the nation in the 800 meters as a senior.
“My most emotional memory of Windsor is after nationals my senior year,” she said. “After the race, I walked up to him crying. He thought it was because I didn’t like the results. But the real reason was that I wasn’t his athlete anymore. I couldn’t imagine running without him. He’s not a super cuddly guy, but he let me hug him for a long time as people cleared the stands at Aggie Stadium. And let me tell you, running really was never the same without him. I lost a little bit of my spark in college without his presence on the inside of the track and in my life.”
Dodge’s final track and field meet capped a wild two-month ride that saw her earn the N.C. High School Athletic Association Female Athlete of the Year award and the Morehead-Cain Scholarship.
She is the county’s first winner of the NCHSAA award that is now in its 37th year.
Dodge turned down a large number of athletic scholarship offers, including one from Stanford, to wait for the prestigious Morehead-Cain Academic Scholarship. She became an All-ACC runner for the North Carolina Tar Heels, finishing sixth in the 800 meters in 2:07.2 at the ACC Indoor Track and Field Championships in her senior year.
Fisher followed in Dodge’s footsteps and did so ably. She left West as the most accomplished cross country runner in county history after becoming the first to earn all-state honors in each of her four seasons.
The last piece of the puzzle came in her senior season in 2016 when she captured a 3A state championship by finishing the 3.1-mile race in 18:26 seconds to run away from 138 other runners.
“Something I have and always will remember about Windsor is him telling me, ‘You have to believe in yourself or it won’t happen,’ ” she said. “I think about this often and will keep it with me forever, whether it be in running or any other part of life. He told me to believe in myself every day. Eventually, I did and it won me state championships.”
She captured a state championship sweep in her senior year, taking the cross country title in the fall, a 3,200-meter indoor title in 11:29.14 in the winter and a 800-meter outdoor crown in 2:15.69 in the spring to help the Patriots win their first outdoor team championship.
“You could hear him at any track meet from whatever distance away,” she said. “His yelling was loud. We all could recognize it in a heartbeat. He was tough, but it made us better. I feel so appreciative of him for never taking it easy on me. He believed in me and knew I was capable of things I didn’t think I could do.”
Fisher said every West athlete coached by Windsor became familiar with his notecards. After every single meet, he made a notecard for everyone on the team, with an overall rate of either “super,” which was extremely rare, “great,” “good,” “fair,” “poor” or “ugh.” Followed by his rate, was the event and time/split.
“On the back, he wrote comments about what he thinks you should start working on or what he thinks you are doing well,” she said. “I don’t think we appreciated this as much as we should have.”
In her junior year, Fisher became the first county runner to earn all-state honors for three straight years with a sixth-place finish at the 3A cross country meet. She took third as a sophomore and seventh as a freshman.
She ended her career winning three straight east regionals, three consecutive conference crowns and was also honored as the Coastal Conference Runner of the Year for three seasons in a row.
The cross country team won four straight conference and regional crowns in her four years, as well as earning four straight top-six state finishes. The Patriots took fourth in her senior season after claiming sixth, fifth and third in her first three campaigns.
Fisher went on to earn the Most Valuable Runner for the UNC-Wilmington women’s cross country team and also garnered the Seahawk Award, which is a leadership honor coaches distribute to an athlete who contributes to the betterment of the team through spirit, competition and teamwork. She has since transferred to North Carolina to run for the Tar Heels.
Whitaker has shined in two years at East Carolina.
She finished second in the long jump with a 19-foot, 3.25-inch leap at the American Athletic Conference Indoor Championships and took fifth with a 19.47 jump at the AAC Outdoor Championships in her sophomore campaign.
She had a breakout campaign as a freshman, earning the runner-up spot at the AAC Outdoor Championships with a 19-11 leap. She qualified for the USA Junior Nationals where she took sixth.
“I don’t think I would be where I am today without Windsor,” she said. “His love and passion for this sport is contagious, and it spread so easily to me. Because of him, I have had this amazing opportunity to compete in DI track and field.
“His yelling during races was always a key component to reach a PR, and I especially miss having that in college. Windsor is perhaps the most influential coach I have ever had, and I’m so very grateful to have been one of his athletes for four years.”
Whitaker put together one of the best track and field careers at West. She won two 3A state meet MVPs and led the Patriots to their first outdoor state championship as a senior.
She captured her second MVP in that meet by winning the long jump with a dominating 18-7.5-leap, which was nearly a foot longer than the second-place finisher, was the runner up in the 100-meter hurdles in 15.27 seconds and third in the triple jump with a 37-01.5 tale of the tape.
Her final meet in a Patriots uniform brought her medal count to a dozen. She won five golds, five silvers and two bronzes in her four years.
She nabbed her first state MVP at the winter indoor meet during her junior season when she won the long jump and 500 meters and took second in the triple jump.
The Patriots also knew much team success during Whitaker’s career, taking fifth, seventh, third and first at the state meet during the outdoor seasons and third, fifth, third and second during the winter indoor seasons.
“One thing that has stuck with me, and it’s what I think of every time I jump in college, is when he would just tell me, ‘Hey, put a smile on that face and have fun,’ ” she said. “Something so simple, yet so comforting, and it always eased the nerves. I can’t forget the times I would PR. Sometimes he’d give me the typical ‘Congrats young’un,’ but most of the time it was ‘It’s about damn time.’ It would always make me laugh, but it always was a reminder that I had the potential he knew I had.”
You don’t have to talk to Windsor long before realizing how invested he is in the lives and careers of his student-athletes. He can quickly tell you the name and accomplishments of his first state titlist. Andy Hutchinson won a Virginia High School League 3A shot put title as a junior and senior for Annandale, throwing 55 feet in 1971 and 60-1.5 feet in 1972 before going on to the U.S. Naval Academy.
“I still have a guy from our first state cross country title, he’s a colonel, a West Point grad, and he’s invited me to come see him take command a couple of different times,” Windsor said. “I get a phone call every year from a guy that was on my first cross county team. He went to Northwestern and is a cardiologist in Mobile, Ala. I just like watching them go from kids that like to run, but have no clue what they’re doing, and see them grow as an athlete, getting better, getting more mature, getting more competitive. And four years after they graduate, maybe you get something in the mail that invites you to their college graduation. It’s been rewarding.”
Mayo said he’s seen the impact of Windsor on the West student-athletes.
“He can be tough, ask the kids,” Mayo said. “He doesn’t sugarcoat anything, and not every kid knows how to take that. But they know he knows his stuff. And most of them think the world of him, even if he won’t let them have one of his Pepsis in the coolers with the Gatorades and waters.”