Basketball coach finishes postgraduate degree

North Alabama men’s basketball coach Bobby Champagne barks out orders to his team against West Florida Feb. 16 in Flowers Hall. Inspired by administrative assistant Peggy Wingo finishing her degree, Champagne began his quest for a master’s degree in 2013, graduating in December 2016.

by Managing Editor Mike Ezekiel

After watching a co-worker down the hall finish her degree, North Alabama head basketball coach Bobby Champagne decided it was time to finish his.

The 14-year head coach graduated from South Alabama in 1990 with his undergraduate degree in sociology, then later pursued his master’s in professional studies at UNA while coaching.

Champagne said watching Peggy Wingo, North Alabama’s Flowers Hall administrative assistant, attend school later in life to pursue her degree motivated him.

“Way back when, when I took a job and stopped going to grad school, I always told myself I would go back,” he said. “Watching Peggy take classes and work it in with her schedule made me want to give it a try.”

After over 20 years of putting it off, Champagne said he started his Master’s in 2013, the same year the professional studies master’s program started.

Champagne graduated from UNA with his master’s degree in professional studies in fall 2016.

Wingo said she did not know she was the inspiration behind Champagne going back to school, but she was proud of him.

“I know he’s a busy guy, and we all have busy lives,” she said. “I see him every day working, and he has four kids that he has who are active. So, for him to do it and coach is a really big deal.”

Champagne said like a lot of students, he had time-management conflicts with school and basketball.

“(Basketball and class) collided a little bit, but I just had to figure it out,” he said. “Luckily, I had some good professors and good classmates. We all go through it.”

Champagne said like Wingo, he may not ever use his degree, but he wanted to gain the extra college experience.

“Right before exams, we played a home game here, and that night I stayed in the office until about two or three in the morning finishing up writing a research paper,” he said. “I got a feel for what our student-athletes kind of go through. It also connected me to campus a little bit better interacting with professors and graduate students.”

Champagne’s decision to return to school also made an impact with his players.

“It’s really cool that he was still coaching and was still able to put time into his studies to get his master’s degree,” said junior small forward Myrek Lee-Fowlkes. “It also shows people that you can get your degree at anytime.”

Lee-Fowlkes said he might even consider attaining a master’s degree later on after watching his coach do so.

“That makes me strive to be more than what I want to be, knowing that you can get your degree in other things besides what you might be going to school for now,” he said. “I feel like I could come back to school to be a computer tech or an engineer in another day or time.”

Senior guard DeAndre McKinnie said as he approaches graduation, seeing what his coach did motivates him to hit his goal quickly.

“He told us out of the blue that he was graduating, and everybody looked at him like, ‘What?’” McKinnie said. “Knowing all the ups and downs we’ve had throughout the season, for him to stay focused and get his degree is amazing.”

For now, Champagne said he plans to continue coaching, but he will keep his master’s in case he’s needed as an adjunct professor.

“It’s always good to accomplish something you set out to do,” Champagne said. “We talk to our student athletes all the time about getting their degree. It’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.”