Senior Sport Management major Michael “MJ” Upchurch takes full advantage of the resources available at Lees-McRae

Senior Sport Management major Michael “MJ” Upchurch has grown a lot over his last two years as a Bobcat, but he said he credits much of that growth to a single sunny afternoon when his then roommate invited Upchurch and a couple of other classmates to hang out in the park.

When he first transferred to Lees-McRae from Young Harris College in Georgia as a junior, Upchurch often opted to stay in his room on evenings and weekends, preferring to remain in his routine and inside his own box. He said that all changed, however, when his roommate was finally able to encourage him to get out of his comfort zone and go to the park.

“We just went out and walked around and talked and it was very peaceful, and I enjoyed it,” Upchurch said. “I was like, ‘If this is different, and not how I thought it was going to be, other things can be this way as well.’”

In that moment Upchurch had the realization that would guide him through the rest of his time at Lees-McRae and beyond: exhaust every resource. Following that day at the park, Upchurch decided to get as involved as possible in student and campus life: he is the goalkeeper on the men’s soccer team, an RA, the leader of his own Bible study group, and an employee at the Arthur Student Recreation Complex. While Upchurch enjoys all his different roles, he has a special passion for athletics.

Growing up, Upchurch was a multi-sport athlete, and between soccer, football, baseball, and basketball he spent the majority of the year on various fields and courts. While now he said soccer is the sport that has stuck, Upchurch has also been very involved in other Bobcat athletics through commentating, running half-time entertainment, and fulfilling athletics internships.

“I also work at all the men’s basketball games and I’m on the mic at halftime and run our halftime shows,” Upchurch said. “We’ll do some kind of game like free throw shooting contests, or half-court shots, many different things, and I’m always the person on the mic introducing that, encouraging fan engagement, and stuff like that. That’s very, very fun.”

While he said studying Sports Management and completing these internships has opened his eyes to the variety of careers he could pursue with his degree, Upchurch’s post-grad goals have been clear to him since high school and have only become crisper throughout his time in college: coaching soccer.

Upchurch’s love for coaching started when he was 14 years old and began coaching a team for girls under 12. Not only did this experience help him gain confidence in his expertise and ability to lead a team, but it also sparked a desire to be a role model and positive example for young athletes both on and off the field. He said in this position he fulfilled a big-brother role as much as a coaching role.

Upchurch continued to coach throughout high school and college and will be graduating with ample experience, but he said that his time at Lees-McRae has refined his passion and helped him become a better instructor and mentor.

“There aren’t a lot of jobs where you can immediately see the results of the work you’re putting in, but athletics is one of those things, especially at the coaching level,” Upchurch said. “I get a lot of questions about applying to college, and what that even looks like. ‘What does playing as an athlete at the collegiate level look like, and how is it different as a youth?’ All the experiences I’ve had have built up so I can give them back to other people.”

Following graduation, Upchurch will continue his education and pursue a graduate degree in Sport Coaching at Ferrum College in Virginia. As he prepares for graduate school, Upchurch continues to return to his main mantra of exhausting every resource at his disposal.

From making observations about how teams from different schools are run to networking with players on the field and shadowing his own coaches, Upchurch has done everything he can to absorb as much information as possible about the world of coaching and athletics. Some days he said he spends the afternoon in his coach’s office, taking careful note of all the behind-the-scenes work that goes into running a collegiate athletics program.

Upchurch has dreams of one day working for Concacafthe Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Footballa continental confederation of international football association FIFA. To get there he said he will continue to build on the groundwork he has built at Lees-McRae and rely on the mantra he coined that afternoon in the park.

“Exhaust every resource. Every single one. For the last probably six months or so that has been what’s screaming in my head. As a senior you start to look at things differently because you know you’re basically on the way out, and every day I have been challenging myself to exhaust every resource. Whether it’s going to the library, whether it’s online resources we have, whether it’s me not feeling good and going to Nurse Carl or needing to release my body and going to Marla to do some yoga, literally every resource,” Upchurch said. “Students on every campus in this country don’t realize how much of a blessing it is to be on a college campus. We have little societies built for our success. It’s crazy to think about, and it took me pretty long to think of it, but I’m just trying to take as much as I can out of it every day.”

By Maya JarrellApril 05, 2023
Campus LifeAcademics