Water ski team mourns loss of head coach


On the bayou, behind the wheel of a boat with a smile spread across his face as water whips in every direction. Cheering for his favorite football team, the New Orleans’ Saints, with a cold drink in hand—That is how ULM’s water ski team hopes to remember head coach Michael Woodgate.

On Nov. 3, Woodgate was struck by a vehicle while riding his bicycle. According to Louisiana State Police, he was pronounced dead at the scene.

The loss devastated the university’s campus, especially the water ski team. They did not just lose a leader that day—They also lost a father figure and close friend.

Many of the water ski members were recruited from other countries by Woodgate himself, like Lily Meade.

Woodgate would often chat with new team members online before they made their way to Monroe. Then, he would help them integrate into life at ULM.

“He was like our parent, coach and friend all wrapped up in one person,” Meade said. “Most of the team is international so Woody was the closest thing we had to a parent here in Monroe.”

As a coach, Woodgate was consistently supportive. No matter how badly someone was performing in practice, he always uplifted them with positive reinforcement instead of tearing them down.

Tom Poole, a ULM alumnus, said that this mixed with Woodgate’s loyalty to the team was what set him apart from other coaches.

“Woody wasn’t the most knowledgeable coach or the most experienced, but he was by far the most loyal and committed,” Poole said. “No matter the time of day or weather conditions, he would be there.”

Under his guidance, the water ski team was named the best in the nation with 29 national championship titles.

Looking forward, the team hopes to continue their winning streak with Woodgate’s passion and kindness guiding their way to victory.   

ULM’s water ski team views themselves as a family more so than a sports team. Woodgate extended his kindness to each member which then turned into love.

Although he has died, the team will remember him each time they take their boats out onto the bayou.

“We are a family because of Woody and his kind heart,” Meade said. “I’m sure he will continue to inspire and watch over us on and off the water.”

Originally from Boroughbridge, England, Woodgate became head coach of the water ski team in May 2019. He also served as a graduate assistant for the team and kinesiology department. Woodgate earned his M.S. in exercise science in May 2020 from ULM.

“The team will heal from this loss but like any injury there will be a scar,” Poole said.