On the morning of Saturday, Dec. 3, a small group gathered in the basement of Cameron Hall for a special event: The dedication of the John Kemper ’68 Film Room. The movie theater-like room, with 22 leather-covered, reclining seats, will be used by members of the VMI basketball team to watch replays of their games and games featuring upcoming opponents.
Kemper, a former standout basketball player and longtime supporter of the team, traveled from his Richmond, Virginia, home to attend the dedication and witness an amazing upset when the Keydets beat the U.S. Naval Academy 80-72 in front of a loud and enthusiastic crowd of cadets and community members that afternoon. The victory, the first Division I win for Andrew Wilson, first-year head coach, was even more remarkable as the Keydets played almost all the game with only seven players, as the remainder were missing due to injury or illness.
In his welcoming remarks to attendees at the morning’s dedication, Maj. Gen. Cedric T. Wins ’85, superintendent, noted that the newly created film room is just one component of the Institute’s commitment to its basketball program specifically and athletics overall.
“We are putting and have the right team in place,” said Wins, referring to Wilson and other coaching hires across the entire span of Institute sports teams.
What’s more, the film room will be of vital importance to recruiting, Wins noted, as most other Division I schools have such facilities. “Coach Wilson now has a showpiece, if you will, where he can bring in a young recruit, and he can show that young recruit something that’s a statement of his commitment and VMI’s commitment to athletics.”
Next, Wilson spoke about how heavily the film room is used and how much it means to the team. “We meet every single day,” he commented. “I walk in every day, and there’s guys in this room.”
The coach also praised Kemper for his commitment to the team. At most schools, he noted, team members don’t know the donors—but that’s not the case at VMI because Kemper has made a commitment to building relationships with players.
“One of the great things that I’ve really appreciated about our relationship since I’ve taken the job here is that not only are you generous financially, but you really care about the kids, and you care about people that are here in the program,” said Wilson of Kemper. “And everybody on our team knows who you are. And everybody on our team gravitates toward you whenever they see you in a room.”
Like Wins, Wilson also noted that the film room, with its eye-catching graphics on the walls, is a wow-factor item for teenage recruits.
“And we bring the kids in here, and we dim the lights in here, and you’ve got the VMI basketball that lights up in red,” Wilson commented. “And some kids put out some really cool pictures on Twitter. And they’re proud to be a part of VMI basketball, and they’re proud that they’re coming here. … Something like that might not be possible without [Kemper’s] generosity.”
Kemper, who has been a basketball scholarship donor for almost 20 years, spoke about how giving back to VMI is his response to what the Institute did for him.
“I was successful enough in business because of what I learned here as a player and as a student. And when I first sold my first company in 2004, it gave me the opportunity to give back,” he explained.
That giving back has gone far beyond financial support. “The most important thing to me is to get to know the families, get to know the players, and mentor them, not just while they’re here, but when they go into the outside world,” Kemper stated.
Helping players see the value of VMI, the payback that’s coming after four years in barracks and on the basketball court, has long been a priority for Kemper. He’s adopted a phrase, “Four for 40,” that encapsulates his message: Attend VMI for four years, and you will be reaping the rewards for the next 40 years of your life.
“This school gave me the opportunity to be successful,” said Kemper. “I hope I can do more, but this is a good start, a foundation. I’m glad players are taking advantage of [the film room].”
In his remarks, Kemper also paid tribute to fellow attendee Betsey Nicely, former longtime executive secretary in the basketball office, describing her as “the mother of VMI basketball.”
Kemper was also honored during the first media timeout at the basketball game against Navy. Joining him at center court for a round of applause were Jim Miller, VMI athletic director; Wins; and Andrew Deal ’12, VMI Keydet Club chief operating officer.
Mary Price Development Writer/Communications Specialist
The development writer plays a key role in producing advancement communications. This role imagines, creates, and produces a variety of written communication to inspire donors to make gifts benefiting VMI. Utilizing journalistic features and storytelling, the development writer will produce content for areas such as Annual Giving, stewardship, and gift planning.