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‘He was larger than life:’ Union County high school mourns after football coach passes away

A post on Parkwood High School’s football page said head football coach Terrence Gittens passed away unexpectedly last Thursday night, April 7.
Parkwood football coach Terrence Gittens passed away this past Thursday night.
Published: Apr. 11, 2022 at 1:31 PM EDT
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MONROE, N.C. (WBTV) – Students and staff are in mourning following the passing of a high school football coach in Union County last week.

A post on Parkwood High School’s football page said head football coach Terrence Gittens passed away unexpectedly last Thursday night, April 7.

“He touched so many lives at Parkwood and beyond. Please keep his family in your thoughts and prayers in the upcoming days, weeks and months,” the post stated. “Parkwood is a better place because of you Coach.”

Cabarrus County Schools Director of Athletics, Bryan Tyson added that they are heartbroken.

“He was an outstanding teacher and coach but an even better person,” Tyson said. “He genuinely cared for all his students and athletes and served as an outstanding role model. A true “class act” that will be sorely missed.”

Gittens was hired in May 2020, replacing Tim Speakman. He came to Parkwood from Cox Mill in Cabarrus County, where he worked from 2011 to 2020. Hewas an assistant football coach, assistant athletic director and defensive coordinator for the football team during that time.

“Coach Gittens was a friend to many of us and a strong supporter to our students and community,” Cox Mill HS principal Andrew Crook said. “I could always count on Coach to bring a ton of energy, positive attitude, and an infectious smile to work every day. He will be greatly missed.”

Parkwood’s Athletic Director Rocky Richar says Gittens made a huge impact at the school in such a short amount of time.

“He’s one of the best men I’ve ever met,” Richar said.

The school’s principal Tracy Strickland says he supported students both on and off the field. He was also a career and technical education teacher and taught entrepreneurship and career management classes.

“His goal was to use his role as an educator and as a coach to make young people into adults,” Strickland said.

Former students say Gittens was more than a coach and that he was like a father figure.

Michael O’Neill is a local journalist at The Enquirer Journal and interacted with Gittens during multiple games. He also spoke highly of him.

“Coach Gittens touched a lot of lives and made himself available to anyone for anything,”O’Neill said. “He was an all-around great person and he left a legacy that future stars of the game will follow forever. I was honored to have crossed paths with Coach Gittens in our interviews before and after games.

Richar says he was more than a coach and teacher, he was a mentor and a friend.

“When they did wrong he was going to address it, they also knew he was going to celebrate them when they did right and when they achieved,” he said.

Students designed a memorial rock outside of the school entrance with Gittens’ favorite saying “faith family football.”

Richar says Gittens touched the lives of so many people not just in Union County, but across the state and in New York, too.

“The thing that’s been so impressive to me is how wide a net he cast from here to Brooklyn, with his stops at Pinecrest, his stops at Cox Mill, and the time he spent with us here,” he said.

“He was larger than life, he was impactful to every individual that he came in contact with, he sought to make all of us better just by knowing him,” Strickland said.

Extra counseling support services were at the school Friday and Monday. School staff said those services will be available this week.

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