By Sean Chase
Grand Rapids Community College has experienced immense success in men’s basketball, throughout the program’s history. For 31 years, David Selmon, now Interim Athletic Director, has been an integral part of that winning culture.
“If GRCC athletics had a hall of fame (which we were working on pre-pandemic) that Coach Selmon would definitely be (in) that,” said Ben Brown, GRCC Sports Information Director. “He ranks right up with career wins with over 400. I started working with him in 1998 and his competitive drive was amazing. He wanted to win every single possession, whether it be a basket, or get a steal or just get a defensive stop.”
Decades before Selmon started his onslaught of winning at GRCC, he was a young child trying to make sense of his world, as industry began to boom and the American Government began the work toward creating equal rights for all Americans.
In the 1960s, factory-based industry began to take off in the Northern United States, and decent paying jobs in the South disappeared, an opportunity presented itself. When Selmon was 6 months old, his parents, Watt Sr. and Louise, seized that opportunity, and moved their family from Mississippi to Mansfield, Ohio, in pursuit of a better life.
Growing up in a family with 10 children, nine boys and one girl, Selmon recalls his parents teaching their children the value of higher education.
“I have nine siblings, I have brothers that are close to 70 years old, and I have brothers all the way down to 46 years old,” said the 56 year old Selmon, GRCC Interim AD. “I grew up in a large family, we valued education, two of my brothers went to the military and the rest of us went to college.”
As a child, Selmon knew that he was going to pursue a college education, he just didn’t know where.
“It was a known fact that we were going to go to college, before we got out of high school,” said Selmon. “So, I knew in fourth grade, that I was going to college somewhere.”
Football is king in Mansfield, Ohio. Because of this, Selmon grew up playing football and basketball. After his junior year, he left the football team to focus on his role for the Mansfield Malabar varsity basketball team. His decision to focus on basketball paid off and Selmon was able to earn a scholarship to what was then known as Grand Rapids Junior College.
The men’s team at the time was coached by Gene Paxton, a 2018 inductee of the Grand Rapids Hall of Fame. Selmon cherished his time playing for Paxton, learning everything he could about basketball and life from the legendary coach.
“Gene Paxton was like the Michigan dad I had, I felt he always treated me special,” said Selmon. “He always tried to teach me lessons, and he would encourage me. He really told me I could be anything I wanted to be. I admired the man, and I tried to pattern my life after him and do exactly what he was doing.”
Winning was a constant throughout Selmon’s playing career, as a point guard at GRJC, in which he averaged 16 points and 7 assists per game in his two years, bringing a Western Conference Championship back to campus in 1984. More importantly, he found a love for the city of Grand Rapids.
After graduating, Selmon made his way to Walsh College in Canton, Ohio to continue his hoops career, while finishing his schooling. Once he had completed his degree there, Selmon came back to Grand Rapids to work for the Grand Rapids Public School system and join Head Coach Granville Brown’s coaching staff at GRJC in 1990.
When Brown resigned as the GRCC head basketball coach in 1992, to pursue an administrative promotion, there was only one candidate interviewed for the vacancy – Selmon. His reputation for winning as a player at the school and as an assistant coach, along with the word of Brown, sealed the deal.
“They (GRCC) didn’t post the job,” said Selmon. “They asked me if I wanted it, and could I do it, I said yes. Anything I could do to bring students in, to recruit students, bring championships in, I wanted to do it. I wanted to do it at a high level.”
He set out to do just that by combining the lessons he learned from Paxton and Brown to further raise the expectations for winning in the program. He did this by focusing on recruiting top tier talent and utilizing the strength of GRCC’s reputation, as well as, the school’s popularity in the country.
“(GRCC) is popular all over the Midwest,” emphasized Selmon. “When I recruited the students, who weren’t going to a four-year school I had them, I had them.”
Success on the court, however, wasn’t Selmon’s main focus, believing that hard work and dedication in the classroom was just as important as the work his players put in on the hardwood.
“When I played I had to go to school, the coaches made sure of that,” said Selmon. “Then when I coached, I implemented the same policy. My belief was if you are going to class, and doing what you should do there, it’ll trickle down to the court and you’ll do good things, good things will happen for you there. If you’re not doing those things, it’ll trickle down on the court, and negative things will happen.”
Selmon retired from coaching in 2009, briefly returning in 2014. He retired from the sport for good in 2015 and finished his coaching career at GRCC with a record of 416 wins against 136 losses for a .751 win percentage.
During his 19 years, Selmon’s teams won seven conference titles, reaching the National Junior College Athletic Association men’s basketball National Championship game in 1995. Team’s under the tutelage of Selmon also reached the Michigan Community College Athletic Association Championship game multiple times.
After stepping away from the hardwood, Selmon didn’t leave the area instead choosing to continue educating the Michigan youth that choose GRCC as the next stop in their educational journey. He also enjoys going to local high school games, to watch the future of the game.
In May, in the midst of COVID-19 and preparations for the fall sports season, the acting AD, Bill Firn, stepped down. Always willing to help the college he loves, Selmon stepped in as the Interim AD to help steady the ship through the pandemic. His experience as a player and coach wasn’t dampened by COVID-19 protocols and he has an immense respect for those who are dealing with it currently.
“It’s a very difficult time to be coaching,” said Selmon. “I couldn’t imagine, as a player or a coach, going through what we are going through right now, not in my wildest dreams. I really admire these coaches for their patience, for their understanding right now, because it’s not normal. If we get through the season it’ll be a blessing. It’s crazy, it really is, and I wouldn’t wish this on anybody.”
Even though this time is unprecedented, sports have continued at GRCC. As the men’s and women’s cross country teams are nearing the end of their season, incident free, and teams whose seasons begin in the spring have returned to practice.
Selmon’s dedication to the sports scene in Grand Rapids, hasn’t gone unnoticed. Recently the Grand Rapids Hall of Fame unanimously decided to name Selmon to their Board of Trustees. An honor that comes just two years after Selmon was in attendance for his former coach Gene Paxton to be inducted into the hall in 2018. This is something he doesn’t take lightly.
“To still be relevant in the city of Grand Rapids, as I get older, I’m 56 right now, a lot of people don’t even know I coached,” said Selmon, about the honor. “I grew up being around (basketball). I love athletics. I do know a lot of the history of the city. I go to a lot of games still, even though I’m not coaching. I would like to be able to recognize all athletes that maybe have been forgotten about, or have never really been acknowledged for their great achievements.”
His fellow Hall of Fame Trustees have made Selmon feel welcomed, the only way possible in our current world, via phone calls and texts, as he hasn’t been able to meet the members due to the current COVID-19 pandemic.
“David is a perfect fit,” Hall of Fame director Mark Kimball said in a press release. “He is a man of character and passion for sports, has been a part of the community for over 30 years and has been heavily involved in local sports as a coach and school administrator. He’s also a fan of our local athletes and has a wealth of knowledge.”
This most recent recognition will not change Selmon’s passion for GRCC Basketball. He still feels that the GRCC is a place that is capable of producing both, National Championship contenders and academically successful athletes.
“I really feel this way,” said Selmon. “If you’re coaching at Grand Rapids Community College, you should be able to be competitive on the national level with our facilities and what we have to offer educationally.”