Ninth of an 11-Part Series introducing the HOF Class of 2019
By BILL PLOTT
The general consensus of those who know him is that “Billy Odom loves high school sports.” And as a result, the organizers of the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Football Classic love Billy Odom.
The longtime Mobile high school football coach has been a volunteer. No, a super volunteer for the annual Classic from the game’s inception in 1988. He has been the one constant through the years as the administrative coach working in the background year after year to make sure the all-star clash is a memorable for all involved.
The Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame plans to the same for him March 18 at its annual induction banquet held at the Montgomery Renaissance Hotel and Convention Center by enshrining Billy Odom as a member of the Hall of Fame Class of 2019.
“Billy Odon loves high school sports, and to do what he has done for so long with no involvement with a particular school or coach is very honorable and what a true servant is about,” said UMS-Wright football coach Terry Curtis, a longtime friend and admirer who was inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame himself in 2004.
A native of Mobile, Odom graduated from Baker High School in 1968 after a stellar high school career as a student-athlete. He attended Mississippi College on a football and track scholarship, receiving his bachelor’s degree from Mississippi College in 1972. He also earned a master’s degree in 1988.
He began his teaching and coaching career at his high school alma mater in 1972 as assistant football and head basketball and track coach. Three years later, he became head football coach and compiled a record of 61-80. Although his win-loss record was not spectacular, he was in the forefront of innovation at the time.
“He was the one that brought the passing game to Mobile high schools,” said Ed Lathan, who coached against Odom at B.C. Rain and later hired him at Alba High School. “When everyone else was in the wishbone, in the veer, and in the power-I, he had them spread out. We really didn’t know how to defend it.”
Retired Baker principal Clem Richardson remembers Odom’s impact on the student-athletes in Mobile County, especially his school.
“While most coaches were using two tight ends and the ‘three yards in a cloud of dust’ approach, his offenses were two or three wide receivers and throwing the ball,” Richardson said. “His offensive style opened the door for many of his players to receive scholarship offers when they graduated.”
Odom left Baker in 1988 to return to graduate school. After earning his master’s degree, he moved to Murphy High School for three years as a football assistant. Murphy went to the finals twice during his tenure there.
He accepted the head football coach position at Alba High School in 1992. He finished his coaching career at Alma Bryant in 2005.
Richardson said Odom was a major influence on and off the field. “Billy Odom has definitely made an impact on my life. His guidance was one of the reasons that I went into teaching and coaching. I recently retired as principal of Baker High School, and I have used many of the life lessons that I learned from him in my career as coach and administrator. Someone who has touched the lives of his players in the way that Billy Odom has definitely deserves to be in the AHSAA Hall of Fame. Billy Odom was truly a player’s coach. I had the honor of playing for Coach Odom in the 1970s and also serving as an assistant coach under him in the 1980s. He always put his players first when making decisions. As a father of three daughters, his players were the sons he never had.
“His door was always open to his players, who often went to him seeking guidance. On the field, he treated his players with respect and used every opportunity as a teaching moment to build confidence and self-esteem.”
Odom served in two important outside administrative positions even while he was teaching and coaching. For 29 years he was the administrative coach for the South team in Mobile’s Senior Bowl game. He also served as administrative coach for the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star game, handling players, coaches, equipment, rooms, meals and transportation.
UMS-Wright’s Curtis also noted Odom’s innovations in the passing game, but added his friend’s contributions were not limited to that.
“I have known Billy for 40 years,” he said. “The memories of Billy that stand out in my mind include his involvement with the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Game. Billy has been administrative assistant for all of the 30-plus years of the existence of the game. He handles all duties with the players and coaches for the entire week. He is the most organized, perfectionist person I have ever been around. In my opinion, without Billy Odom, the Alabama-Mississippi Game would not be in existence today.”
Randy White, a Hall of Fame inductee in the Class of 2005 and a super volunteer himself, recognized quickly just how much Odom’s involvement means to the AHSAA and its member schools.
“I have had the privilege of working as an administrative assistant to Mr. Odom in the Alabama-Mississippi football game for the past four years,” said White. “I can honestly say that I have never been associated with anyone as dedicated, organized and detailed as Billy Odom. I did not know Billy when he was coaching in the Mobile area, but I know without a doubt his teams were well-prepared because of his attention to detail in all aspects of the game. I honestly cannot think of anyone more deserving (for the Hall of Fame).”
Odom was awarded the prestigious L’Arch Mobile Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012 and the Bob Pannone Service Award in 2017.
COMING FRIDAY: Installment 10 – Contest Official Johnny Robertson of Montgomery
Eighth of an 11-Part Series introducing the HOF Class of 2019
The City of Notasulga went the extra mile, sort of, to honor former Notasulga High Coach Ronnie Sikes’ impact on their small Macon County town. The City Council renamed a street Sikes-Taylor Loop for the much loved football coach.
Sikes had two stints as a coach at Notasulga, one as an assistant and the other as a head coach, with both being memorable rides to success. Sikes, who also had successful coaching tenures at Lanett, Valley, Beulah and Mortimer Jordan high schools, is a member of the Class of 2019 being inducted into the Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame March 18. The banquet will be held at the Montgomery Renaissance Hotel and Convention Center with a 6:30 p.m. start. A press conference for all l1 members of the 29th class will be at 5:30 at the Renaissance.
A native of Wedowee and a 1977 graduate of Randolph County High School, Sikes attended Southern Union Junior College and Auburn University, receiving his bachelor s degree in 1981. He earned a master’s degree from Auburn in 1987.
He began his teaching and coaching career at Valley High School in 1981. “During my first year as head football coach and athletic director at Valley High School, we hired Coach Sikes,” recalled Dwight Sanderson, who was enshrined into the Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame in 2017. “He was fresh out of college, but we hired him even though there were two other applicants that had eight and 10 years of experience. He was that impressive.”
His football assignments were running backs on offense and the secondary on defense. He was the B-team basketball coach (the 1984 team was 17-3) and head track coach. Valley had never had a track program, but by the second year, Coach Sikes’s track program was solid.”
Next, he went to Notasulga High School as an assistant for four years, then moved to Mortimer Jordan High School as an assistant. He took over as head football coach the following year leading the Blue Devils to a 7-4 season and a berth in the AHSAA state playoffs. The school had been 5-25 the previous three years. He moved to Beulah High School in 1990-91 as an assistant.
In 1992, he returned to Notasulga, this time as head football coach. Over the next 12 years his teams compiled a 91-51 record of 91-51 with 10 state playoff appearances. He had undefeated regular seasons in 1998 and 1999. The 1999 team advanced to the semifinals in the state playoffs. Notasulga had four straight seasons of 10 or more wins and put together a 25-game regular-season winning streak during that stretch.
He accepted the head football coach’s position at Lanett High School in 2004, taking over a program that had been struggling. He remained there for five years, compiling a record of 36-23. The Panthers reached the state playoffs four straight years with the 2007 team finishing the regular season undefeated and advancing to the quarterfinals. That was the third Lanett team to win 12 games in school history. The 1976 team coached by AHSAA Hall of Famer Dan Washburn was the first to win 12 games, finishing 12-1, and Lee Gilliland's 1994 team finished 12-2.
Sikes retired from the Alabama Public School System in 2009. He was at Springwood Academy from 2009-13. Since then, he has coached at various schools in Georgia. His record in Alabama was 161-96.
In 1998, he was named Coach of the Year by the Opelika-Auburn News. He was twice named Coach of the Year by the Valley Times. He was selected as a coach in the North-South All-Star football game three times.
Christopher R. Martin, assistant police chief in Dadeville, shared his grateful experience with Sikes: “I would not be an assistant police chief today if it were not for Coach Ronnie Sikes and his leadership,” Martin said. “I would not have been a sergeant first class in the United States Army with 16 years of service, a Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation Medals, five Army Achievement Medals and three successful deployments to some of the most hostile places on planet Earth if it were not for Coach Ronnie Sikes and his leadership, mentorship and discipline.
“What Coach Ronnie Sikes gave to me, I’ll never be able to repay. It has allowed me to mentor others, succeed beyond what I ever thought I would. It allowed me to come from some of the most inhospitable places imaginable. With all he has given me, the least I can do is write this letter to you all, telling you that this man, this coach, this father figure, this coaching genius, and this all-around great man should have his place in the Hall of Fame.”
Martin said his world was turning upside down when he first met Sikes.
“I became acquainted with Coach Sikes during my junior year while I attended Reeltown High School in 1999,” he explains. “I was taken in by Karey Thompson of Notasulga after I had an unfortunate set of circumstances that left me without a guardian. Mr. Thompson introduced me to Coach Sikes, and we immediately began talking about football. Football was my passion. At that time, for a child like I was, football was one of the only structured things that I had in my life. It was what I looked to in an effort to stay out of trouble and keep me straight in my endeavors,
“Coach Sikes was more than happy to welcome me to the team and give me a chance to play. Many of the (his) words spoken to me when I was a teenager still carry on with me today. I attribute my success in life to what Coach Ronnie Sikes instilled into me with a football helmet and adrenaline in my blood.”
Thompson, chair of the Notasulga Hall of Fame Committee and a member of the Macon County Board of Education, will always remember Sikes’ impact as well.
“Recently (April 2018), to memorialize his name in an expression of appreciation, the Town of Notasulga renamed a street in honor of Coach Sikes,” said Thompson. That street is now known Sikes-Taylor Loop. Coach Ronnie Sikes is a legend in Notasulga.”
COMING THURSDAY: Installment 9 – Football Coach and Super Volunteer Billy Odom
INDIANAPOLIS, IN (March 12, 2019) — Zoe Portis, a 2018 graduate of Trinity Presbyterian School in Montgomery, Alabama, has been selected as the Section 3 recipient of the “National High School Spirit of Sport Award” by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS).
The National High School Spirit of Sport Award was created by the NFHS to recognize those individuals who exemplify the ideals of the spirit of sport that represent the core mission of education-based athletics.
Born in a small Ethiopian village, Portis’ mother died in childbirth, and her grandmother and father died before she attended school. Essentially an orphan, she moved in with another family, where she became a servant.
Portis was then asked if she was interested in a possible adoption by an American family. That led to an interview and a move to an orphanage to await a family match. She then received a callback that a family in Montgomery, Alabama wanted to adopt her. Cole and Joy Portis already had three biological children before deciding to adopt, and they have since adopted seven children.
When Portis arrived in Montgomery, she didn’t speak any English. A combination of tutoring, living with a large family and watching American television helped her learn the language. As a National Honor Society student at Trinity, Portis maintained a 3.75 grade-point average, was class president for three years and was SGA president during her senior year.
Portis also was a standout athlete in high school, where she participated in basketball and soccer. A three-year varsity basketball team member, Portis received the Varsity Basketball Wildcat Award as a junior. She played four years of varsity soccer, during which time the Trinity squad placed third in the Alabama High School Athletic Association tournament her freshman year; reached the quarterfinals during her sophomore year; and won the state championship her senior year with a 23-2-2 win-loss record. In 2018, she was named the AHSAA Class 4A Bryant-Jordan Award Program Student-Athlete Achievement Winner.
About the Award
The NFHS divides the nation into eight geographical sections. The states in Section 3 are Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.
Nominations for this award were generated through NFHS member state associations and reviewed by the NFHS Spirit of Sport Award Selection Committee composed of state association staff members.
While the national winner will be recognized June 29 at the NFHS Summer Meeting in Indianapolis, Indiana, the section winners will be recognized within their respective states and will receive awards before the end of the current school year.
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About the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS)
The NFHS, based in Indianapolis, Indiana, is the national leadership organization for high school sports and fine arts activities. Since 1920, the NFHS has led the development of education-based interscholastic sports and fine arts activities that help students succeed in their lives. The NFHS sets direction for the future by building awareness and support, improving the participation experience, establishing consistent standards and rules for competition, and helping those who oversee high school sports and activities. The NFHS writes playing rules for 17 sports for boys and girls at the high school level. Through its 50 member state associations and the District of Columbia, the NFHS reaches more than 19,000 high schools and 11 million participants in high school activity programs, including more than 7.9 million in high school sports. As the recognized national authority on interscholastic activity programs, the NFHS conducts national meetings; sanctions interstate events; produces publications for high school coaches, officials and athletic directors; sponsors professional organizations for high school coaches, officials, spirit coaches, speech and debate coaches and music adjudicators; serves as the national source for interscholastic coach training; and serves as a national information resource of interscholastic athletics and activities. For more information, visit the NFHS website at www.nfhs.org.
MEDIA CONTACT: John Gillis, 317-972-6900
National Federation of State High School Associations
PO Box 690, Indianapolis, Indiana 46206
Seventh of an 11-Part Series introducing the HOF Class of 2019
Anniston High School long-time boys’ basketball coach Schuessler Ware had a special way with kids. And he have an even more extraordinary way with those considered difficult kids.
Now retired, Ware used that talent to mold numerous youngsters from into successful adults by teaching them how to succeed. His efforts have not gone unnoticed. Ware is being inducted into the Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame at its banquet set for March 18 at the Montgomery Renaissance Hotel and Convention Center. He is one of 11 being inducted in the Class of 2019.
A native of Anniston, Ware graduated from Anniston High School in 1974 and Talladega College in 1978. He also earned a master’s degree in elementary education from Jacksonville State. Following his graduation from college, Ware returned to his alma mater to begin his teaching and coaching career. He remained there throughout his more than 30-year career.
He became head basketball coach in 1997, position he held for the next 19 years. His teams were 420-168 during that span with two state championships and three other trips to the semifinals of the state tournament. The Bulldogs also won eight county championships, five region titles and 13 area titles. He was named Calhoun County Coach of the Year nine times and received State Coach of the Year honors in both Class 4A and Class 5A.
Ware’s teams had 12 seasons of 20 or more wins and only one losing season (13-16) in his head-coaching career.
Writing in support of Ware’s Hall of Fame nomination, Anniston City Schools Superintendent Darren Douthitt said: “Coach Ware is known throughout the state of Alabama as the winningest (boys’ basketball) coach in Anniston High School’s history. What many people do not know is that the foundation for his success as a head basketball coach was laid with years of hard work. He and I worked together as basketball and football coaches for Anniston Middle School and Anniston High School, and I learned a lot from him as he transitioned from assistant to head coach. One of the first things I learned from him is that winning does not happen by chance. It is the result of much preparation.”
Douthitt said Ware was born to be a motivating force for student-athletes.
“His practices and games were managed in such a way his players understood that they had to give 110% of themselves or be relegated to the end of the bench. Coach Ware was an expert at teaching the fundamentals of the game of basketball, and that is what made him successful. Coaches and opposing players would often watch in amazement as Coach Ware’s players moved the basketball the full length of the court without one dribble. His teams were more defensive than offensive, and most opposing coaches that had to deal with Coach Ware’s version of the 1-3-1 defense knew they could not win and only wanted to make the score respectable.”
The superintendent also described Ware as a difference maker in young folks’ lives – especially those who need the nurturing most.
“During his career, Coach Ware transformed some of the most difficult young adults into winners, Douthitt said. “He made sure they were properly equipped for the game that we call ‘life.’ Coach Ware protected many Anniston youths from the epidemic known as the school-to-prison pipeline. Simply put, his impact on the game of basketball is second to his impact on the lives of the student-athletes he served in the Anniston community.”
Marcus Perry, a former college and professional player, attributed much of his success to the lessons he learned from Ware.
“I met Coach Ware my freshman year at Anniston High School in 1998,” Perry said. “I can recall going to Coach Ware and letting him know that I wanted to play varsity right out of the gate. He told me to keep working on my game, and that I had guys ahead of me. I ended up playing on the freshman team where I dominated in all facets of the game. I recall staying in the gym late and working on my game.
“Coach Ware moved me up on the varsity for the 1999-2000 school year. I didn’t play much that year, which really frustrated me at the time, but it taught me patience and perseverance. Those were things I struggled with at first. Little did I know, those things would prepare me for the career I have had.”
After a junior year injury, Perry said he became discouraged, let his grades slip and failed to pass the graduation exam. No colleges seemed interested in him.
“I was frustrated and wanted to give up. I remember Coach Ware calling me into his office and talking with me. He told me that everything happened for a reason, and I just have to believe that God had a plan for my life. He encouraged me to keep pressing toward my goal and to study harder than I ever have before. He helped me get tutoring that summer so I would pass the test when it came time to take it again. I did pass the exam and, shortly after that I was contacted by a close friend of Coach Ware, Ron Radford from Southern Union Community College.”
Perry went to become a Junior College All-American and earned a scholarship to the University of Nebraska. From there, he played professionally in Europe.
“I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this if it wasn’t for my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, my family, Coach Ware and my other mentor, Steven Folks. There were a lot of people who played a major role in my success.
When I was going through my high school years and playing for Coach Ware, he always talked with me about working hard and competing at the highest level possible. Those things helped me tremendously as I went on to further my basketball career.”
Ware, despite his retirement, is still actively serving the Anniston community, He is a Board Member of the Presbyterian Westminster Apartments and a member and Elder of First Presbyterian Church.
COMING WEDNESDAY: Installment 8 – Football Coach Ronnie Sikes
Sixth of an 11-Part Series on the HOF Class of 2019
BY BILL PLOTT
It was almost a given that Mark Mincher would someday be a baseball coach. The pedigree was there as the son of former major leaguer Don Mincher. And quite a baseball coach he became.
Mincher is being enshrined as a member of the Class of 2019 into the Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame. The annual banquet is March 18 at the Montgomery Renaissance Hotel and Convention Center. The AHSAA and AHSADCA founded the Hall of Fame in 1991.
A native of Huntsville, Coach Mincher graduated from Hazel Green High School in 1975 and from Memphis State (now Memphis University) in 1980. He also holds a master’s degree in administration from Alabama A&M. At Hazel Green, he played football, baseball and basketball for four years, earning All-County honors in each sport.
At Memphis, he was a four-year starter on the baseball team, compiling a career batting average of .270 and. The Tigers had a 131-49 record during his tenure. They won the Metro Conference championship in 1978 and made two NCAA regional tournament appearances.
He began his teaching and coaching career in 1980 at Monrovia Middle School in Madison County. His first duties were coaching football, baseball and both and boys’ and girls’ basketball. The boys won a junior high county championship.
In 1982 he moved to Sparkman High School as junior varsity baseball and basketball coach. He also was a football assistant. He was elevated to head baseball coach in 1983. His Senators had one appearance in the state playoffs, and Mincher was named Madison County Baseball Coach of the Year in 1984.
He moved to Huntsville High School as an assistant in varsity football and head coach in freshman football. He was also varsity baseball coach, a position he held until 2012. From 1995-2012, he was also HHS athletic director.
While compiling a record of 576-353, his baseball teams won 12 city championships, eight area championships and one state championship (2011). They were in the state playoffs 18 times. He was named National Federation of High Schools and Alabama Baseball Coaches Association state Coach of the Year in 2011.
He was named Huntsville city Coach of the Year eight times and metro Coach of the Year four times. He was named AHSAA/AHSADCA Athletic Director of the Year for 2005-06 and was inducted into the Madison County Sports Hall of Fame in 2011.
Gregory L. Hicks, director of behavioral learning for Huntsville City Schools, wrote of Mincher: “I first met Coach Mincher in the summer of 2003. I had just joined the Huntsville High School faculty and coaching staff. At that time, Coach Mincher was the head freshman football coach, head baseball coach, athletic director and math teacher. While at Huntsville High, I learned a great deal from Coach Mincher. Most of all, I learned to be a leader, a gentleman and a winner! He is an outstanding coach, family man and educator. I am proud to have served alongside this great person.”
Huntsville High School Principal and Freshman Academy Coordinator Leslie Esneault wrote: “With 32 years of coaching, 27 of those at Huntsville High School, Coach Mark Mincher is one of the most well-respected coaches in Alabama. Having had a remarkable mentor in his father, Don Mincher, and known for his integrity and dedication to his school and his players, Coach Mincher is an outstanding example of an exemplary leader in the athletic community.”
“In addition to coaching, Mark was a valuable member of the HHS math department, and in 2009 entered the administration arena to become an assistant principal. During this time, Mark provided thoughtful guidance and direction on important decisions that affected our students and school. I put complete faith in his knowledge, and I value his recommendations. He is a highly reliable authority on eligibility and AHSAA rules. With his years and experience on the field and in the classroom, he is a mentor/leader for our novice coaches and teachers.
“Even with all these awards and accolades, Mark will tell you that his most rewarding coaching experience came in May of 2011, when after 30 years of coaching, he led the Huntsville High School Panther varsity baseball team to the school’s first Alabama 6A state championship, a title that took over a century to claim! Coach Mincher was able to demonstrate that high expectations, commitment, dedication and a ‘can do’ attitude can achieve even the most difficult of accomplishments. Mark’s determination and perseverance should be examples for us all.”
A former player, Kevin J. Wieseman, who later served as Huntsville City Schools’ athletic director and principal at Lee High School, wrote: “As a young man I was honored to play for a young energetic coach at Sparkman High School who showed a true commitment to the players and a commitment to developing them as productive members of society. Since those days I have gone on to serve with him on his baseball staff and work under his leadership as Huntsville High’s athletic director.
“He assisted my coaching career by serving as an assistant on the football staff while I was head coach at Huntsville High. We continued our collaboration after I became Huntsville City Schools Athletic Director, working together to organize athletic programs and promote student-athletes. I consider it a blessing to be associated with this man and his distinguished career. Mark Mincher was first my trusted coach, then a peer that I respected and learned from, and most importantly a friend with whom I share common values and beliefs.”
Mincher currently is serving as athletic director at Madison Academy.
COMING TUESDAY: Installment 7 – Basketball Coach Schuessler Ware, Anniston.
BY BILL PLOTT
Carolyn Mae Wright’s induction into the AHSAA Sports Hall of Fame carries an historical distinction. She joins her husband, Bobby Wright, as the second husband-wife members of prestigious group of individuals enshrined. They follow Tom and Lenette Calvin who were inducted in 1991 and 1992, respectively.
Wright is being inducted as a member of the Class of 2019 into the Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame on March 18 at the Montgomery Renaissance Hotel and Convention Center. The AHSAA and AHSADCA founded the Hall of Fame in 1991.
On Dec. 8, the Central-Phenix City Lady Red Devils presented Carolyn Wright with her 500th win. She finished the season reaching the Southeast Regional finals and now has a career 517-294 career record, Bobby Wright’s career slate is 645-202 – making the duo the winningest husband-wife basketball coaching tandem in state history with a combined 1,162 victories between them.
A native of Tuskegee, Carolyn Wright graduated from Tuskegee Institute High School in 1974 and from Alabama State University in1978. She also holds a master’s degree in specific learning disability. She was first a teacher and later decided to also go into coaching. She began her career at St. Jude Home for Children in Montgomery. She also taught special education students in Georgia and at Stanhope Elmore High School. She spent her summers working with the Upward Bound Program and the National Sports Youth Program at Alabama State.
In 1986 she accepted a position at McIntyre Jr. High School, where she added coaching basketball, softball, track, volleyball and bowling to her teaching duties. She held that position until 1991 when she moved to Phenix City as chair of the Central High School Department of Health and Physical Education.
At Central, she has coached girls track and basketball and was an assistant in boys track. She added volleyball to her duties in 2002. She gave up track in 2011 but continues to coach basketball and volleyball.
She coached more than 30 individual boys’ and girls’ state track champions. In 16 years of volleyball, she has won more than 200 games. But it is basketball that she has had her greatest impact. In addition to her 517 wins, she has guided the Lady Red Devils to area championships and 15 state and sub-state tournament appearances. Three teams advanced to the state tournament semifinals. She has averaged 18 wins per season, won numerous Coach of the Year honors and has also coached the South team in All-Star Week.
Former player Stephanie Pedersen wrote about her relationship with Coach Wright in the Columbus (GA) Ledger-Enquirer. In part, she said: “When I was in the 8th grade, I was scared to death to go to Central High School, and it wasn’t because the school scared me. The ladies’ basketball coach was my fear. I remember going to games in the late ‘90s and seeing Coach Carolyn Wright stomp around in her coach’s box with her fancy heels and nice outfits. She scared me to death. When she became agitated, she would take off her jewelry. You didn’t want to be the referee if she had to take of her suit jacket. Someone was getting chewed out if that happened.”
“I played for Coach Wright for three years. She was strict when she needed to be, but she also stood up for her players when we needed it. During one lunch break, a boy at my table hit me with his folder. It tore my top lip open. When I went to her office to get some ice, she did what any good coach would do. She forced me to tell her his name, went to the lunch room and blessed him out. She had my back when I needed it.”
She said her coach always had the players’ best interest at heart.
“She showed tough love when I needed it as well,” she said. “If one of us twisted an ankle, Coach Wright’s prescription always was a bucket of ice water. I’m certain that medicine hurt worse than the ankle rolling. And if we didn’t keep our foot in the bucket, she’d sit in our laps until it went numb. As you can imagine, we rarely complained about ankles after a few frozen buckets.”
Pedersen explained that her beloved coach teaches the lessons the students need.
“She taught me discipline, and she showed me how to be a leader. She made us better people.”
Another former player, Jimecheia Banks, shared a letter she wrote to Coach Wright.
She wrote: “It has been four years of play with you as my coach. The years have been a great learning experience, Not only from your coaching and guidance but also from the different players and assistant coaches that you’ve mentored along the way. Your positive coaching, guidance, and convincing encouragement have made a larger and more sentimental impact on my life than any other teacher or administrator I know. You’ve disciplined me with love and coached me with passion. At times you’ve had more faith in me on the floor than I’ve had in myself. You’ve always told me that God is the way to everything.
“I want to thank you for allowing me to fulfill the role as the conductor and captain on the floor as a sophomore to a senior. It was one of the most influential acts that I could ever experience growing up. I want to say thank you for molding me into a confident, God-fearing, passionate young black woman. I love you and value your life in mine. The value of the influence you’ve given me is priceless. I plan to take it into the world ahead of me to go above and beyond my limitations and exceed abundantly through Christ.”
COMING MONDAY: Installment 6 – Baseball Coach Mark Mincher of Huntsville
Fourth of an 11-Part Series on the HOF Class of 2019
Phil Lazenby learned some valuable lessons playing sports and serving in the military. He has spent his entire life in education sharing those lessons with the students he has been entrusted to coach.
Lazenby will be inducted as a member of the Class of 2019 into the Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame on March 18 at the Montgomery Renaissance Hotel and Convention Center. The AHSAA and AHSADCA founded the Hall of Fame in 1991.
Phil Lazenby graduated from Bessemer High school in 1968 and from Samford University in 1974 with a bachelor’s degree in history and psychology. He also earned a master’s degree in education administration from the University of Montevallo in 1979.
He served his country in the United States Army, graduating first in his class from the Infantry School at Fort Benning (GA). During his service, he received two commendation medals and had tours of duty in Europe and Central America. He retired as a 1st Sergeant, the second highest non-commissioned officer rank.
He began his teaching and coaching career at his old alma mater, which had been renamed Jess Lanier High School. He was an assistant football coach from 1976-80. He also coached varsity tennis and junior varsity basketball. He moved to Mountain Brook High School from 1981-90 where he served as an assistant football coach, defensive coordinator and assistant principal.
His accepted his first head-coaching job at Guntersville in 1991 and compiled a 38-18 record and won three regional titles in five seasons. Included were three state playoff appearances, advancing to the second round each year. Also, during his tenure at Guntersville, he was head track coach and taught Spanish, U.S. and World history and psychology.
In 1996 he became head football coach and assistant principal at Southside-Gadsden. He directed the Panthers to the state playoffs. He left the following year, however, and became head football coach at Benjamin Russell High School in Alexander City. Over the next four years, his teams made four consecutive state playoff appearances, including two trips to the state finals, and went 41-12 overall. The Wildcats were also 10-4 in the state playoffs.
From Alexander City, he went to Mobile as an assistant football and strength coach under Hall of Fame Coach Terry Curtis at UMS-Wright. “I hired Phil to be the offensive line coach,” recalled Curtis. “We won three state championships in football while he served in this position.”
In 2007 he accepted the head football coach position at Bayside Academy in nearby Daphne, adding head golf coach in 2007 and athletic director duties in 2015. At Bayside he has compiled a record of 87-55. His teams have been in the playoffs nine times, including a runner-up in 2015. Lazenby’s overall head-coaching record is 172-91 – taking four different schools to the state playoffs and compiling a 27-17 playoff record in 17 trips over 23 years to the postseason.
Lazenby is among the most respected in the profession. “Every year when I attend the AHSAA Summer Conference, it amazes me the number of people that gravitate over to embrace Phil,” wrote Bayside Athletic Director Jamie Ferguson. “Whether they are former players who have become coaches or just coaches that Phil has worked with or against, they all embrace Coach Lazenby with affection. I can truly say that I have seen the impact that he has had on football, coaches, and more importantly our state.
“It has been an eye-opening experience to work alongside such an incredible man and coach. I have seen firsthand his influence on the Bayside Academy football program. Phil requires student-athletes to demand more of themselves and their teammates, both on and off the field. This is a vital life-lesson as these students are our country’s next generation. Phil is passionate about teaching respect – whether it is respecting one’s self, teammates, or opponents.”
Ferguson says Lazenby’s unselfishness makes a strong impact on others. “Phil does not carry out good deeds for any other reason than it is just the right thing to do,” he said. “Phil does not list his accomplishments on a resume as they are just ordinary aspects of his day-to-day life. I think it is safe to say that every program in which Coach Lazenby has been involved is a better program because of his influence.”
For all his coaching successes, AHSAA Executive Director Steve Savarese said nothing compares to what happened one day at Bayside. “Phil’s legacy is not confined to his educational or military service only,” Savarese said. “Most importantly, his legacy involves saving someone’s life. One day at practice, Mark Lasseter, an assistant coach at Bayside Academy, had experienced cardiac arrest, and his heart had stopped. He was found lifeless by a student. Immediately after being notified of the situation, Phil began providing CPR and continued for over five minutes until an AED revived his heart. Because of his quick reaction, he saved Mark’s life! Phil epitomizes what every American should be, a servant to those he encounters, as well as, a professional in his craft.”
Bayside Head of School Michael Papa agrees. “No matter whether you have played for Phil or been a member of his coaching staff, he will leave you with a number of life lessons that you can take with you for the rest of your life. He shows us that your role is a single piece of a much bigger thing. Mistakes are inevitable, but your response to them in the moments that follow are what truly matters.”
COMING SUNDAY: Installment 5 – Basketball Coach Carolyn Wright, Central-Phenix City High School
The sport of football has taken Willie Carl Martin to places all around the world. However, the former college and pro standout still calls Alexander City home.
Born and raised in Alexander City, Martin graduated from Laurel High School in 1969, just as integration was bringing about the merger of Alabama’s white and black high school athletic associations. He was one of three black players chosen for the 1969 North-South All-Star game, the first minorities to receive that honor. He would later return Alexander City to lead Benjamin Russell High School to its only state football title as the Wildcats’ head coach.
Martin is being enshrined as a member of the Class of 2019 into the Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame. The annual banquet is March 18 at the Montgomery Renaissance Hotel and Convention Center. The AHSAA and AHSADCA founded the Hall of Fame in 1991.
Martin’s first move came after high school moving from Alexander City to Tahlequah (OK) where he was a four-year letterman as an offensive lineman at Northeastern Oklahoma State University. He had been offered a scholarship by Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant at the University of Alabama but instead, selected NESU, where he earned All-American and All-Oklahoma Collegiate Conference first team honors his senior year. Drafted by the Houston Oilers of the NFL after his senior year was completed, Martin chose instead to play in the Canadian Football League. His 10-year career included stops in Edmonton and Winnipeg. He was an All-Pro selection eight times and participated in six CFL championship Grey Cup games (CFL Super Bowl), playing on two championship teams.
In 1983, after his professional career ended, he returned to his home town accepting a position as football, wrestling and track coach at Alexander City Middle School. Two years later, he moved over to Benjamin Russell High School as an assistant football coach, serving 15 years as defensive coordinator. Over those years, his defenses gave up an average of only 12.32 points per game. In 2001, he took over as head coach, compiling a 51-24 record, a 68% winning percentage. His team won the state crown in his first season as head coach (2001).
University of Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban hired Martin for the position of Director of Player Development (Academics, Strength and Conditioning) in 2007.
“Coach Martin has been a successful high school coach in Alabama for well over 20 years and has a tremendous depth of knowledge and experience to relate to our student-athletes,” said Saban. “[He] will help our program continue to develop relationships in the state of Alabama.”
Martin remained in the UA position until he retired in 2015. That spring the Lake Martin Bama Club and Central Alabama Community College’s Betty Carol Graham Technology Center hosted Willie Carl Martin Day.
“I’m honored to write a recommendation for Coach Willie Carl Martin,” said retired Coach Dwight Buzbee. “I have known Carl for 50 years and had the opportunity to work with him for over 20 years. Throughout his impressive career, Coach Martin has always had the children’s best interest at heart. He developed relationships with young people who so often needed a positive role model in their lives.
“He always taught his athletes and students to strive for excellence, to be respectful of others, not to embarrass themselves, team, or community, and to be humble winners. He didn’t just teach these traits, but he also displayed them in his actions.”
During his tenure at Benjamin Russell, Martin worked with current AHSAA Executive Director Steve Savarese, who was the Wildcats head football coach from 1985-96. Savarese has nothing but praise for his friend and former assistant coach.
“Throughout my career in high school athletics, I have been privileged to work with some of the finest men and women in the field. This group includes coaches, officials, administrators, and AHSAA contributors who all have had one common trait – the desire to excel and to make a difference in the lives of those they serve. The epitome of those individuals is Willie Carl Martin, a standout high school, collegiate and CFL football player, a state champion high school coach, and national champion collegiate assistant coach.”
Savarese said Martin’s contributions at every stop were immeasurable.
“For over 20 years, Willie Carl served the AHSAA as a successful coach at Benjamin Russell High School before accepting a position with the University of Alabama in 2007,” he said. “Not only has Willie Carl always been an outstanding coach, but he has also been a dedicated professional, serving on the Legislative Council and Central Board of Control. Without question, he is a true credit to this Association. I can personally testify to his integrity because I was blessed to have him as part of my coaching staff at Benjamin Russell High School. A native of Alexander City, Willie Carl has had numerous opportunities to travel and work in many different cities and organizations. Although he currently resides in Tuscaloosa, he still considers Alex city ‘home’. He hasn’t forgotten where his career started, nor the people who influenced him along the way.”
“He is a great ambassador for the AHSAA and the entire Alabama high school sports community. Willie Carl is a true professional, and I am honored to have worked with him, but even more blessed to have him as a very close friend.”
Martin is a member of Great Bethel Baptist Church, Red Elephant Club, and the American Red Cross. He helped organize works for the Soup Bowl, which feeds the hungry. He has been a speaker at numerous high schools. He returned to Alexander City in 2017 to speak at the Bridge Builders Youth Football Camp.
COMING SATURDAY: Installment 4 - Football Coach Phil Lazenby, Bayside Academy
Second of an 11-Part Series on the HOF Class of 2019
When Brantley High School hired David Lowery as a football coach and mathematics teacher, it quickly added up to be a successful formula.
Ten of his 14 teams at Brantley won 11 or more games. The 2012 state championship squad set a school record for wins, finishing the season 15-0 and scoring a near-state record 730 points. There were 14-win seasons in 1999 and 2009, 13-win seasons in 2005 and 2006. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to do the math. Lowery is being enshrined as a member of the Class of 2019 of the Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame. The annual banquet is March 18 at the Montgomery Renaissance Hotel and Convention Center. The AHSAA and AHSADCA founded the Hall of Fame in 1991.
Lowery graduated from near-by Georgiana High School in 1983. He played football at Troy University, earning a bachelor’s degree in math and social studies in 1988. He also earned a master’s degree in education administration from Auburn University in Montgomery in 1998.
He began his teaching and coaching career at Evergreen High School in 1988, serving as assistant football, head baseball and junior varsity basketball coach. The following year, he went to Elba High School where he spent 10 years as assistant football coach, defensive coordinator and head baseball coach. He was also head football coach for two years, compiling a 12-10 record.
He moved to Brantley High School in 1999 as athletic director and head football coach. Over 14 years he compiled a record of 156-27 overall, 88-3 in the region. His 2009 and 2012 teams were Class 1A State Champions. He had runner-up teams in 1999 and 2005. Every one of his teams made the state playoffs. His overall career record was 168-37. Every team he coached reached the state playoffs and only two failed to win the region championship.
Lowery was named Class 1A Coach of the Year in 1999 by the Alabama Sportswriters Association. In 2012 he was the Alabama Fellowship of Christian Athletes Coach of the Year. He was named an assistant coach for the 2000 North-South All-Star Football Game and for the 2010 Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Game.
In 2013 he retired from coaching, accepting a central office position as Director of Operations. On Sept. 6 of that year, the Brantley stadium was renamed David Lowery Stadium. Coach Lowery was inducted into the Wiregrass Sports Hall of Fame in 2014.
Kathi H. Wallace, now executive coordinator of the School Superintendents of Alabama Association, recalled the day she recommended that Coach Lowery be hired at Brantley.
“I was the principal at Brantley School in 1999 when I made the recommendation to our superintendent at that time, Dr. Craig Pouncey, to hire Coach Lowery. I thank God the day he walked in for the interview because I needed a math teacher/football coach combination. He fit that bill perfectly. But he made an impression on me that day that proved to be accurate. He was more than a math teacher and a coach. He was the kind of man every parent wanted his/her children to be around; not only in the classroom and on the playing field, but also for life.
”Speaking about him being the football coach, I said many times that he was a good man to have in charge of our young men. His demeanor on the field and in the classroom was the same. He was always in pursuit of excellence.”
Wallace said the longer she knew Lowery, the more she learned about this special man.
“After leaving Brantley School, which by the way, is my alma mater, I became school superintendent of Crenshaw County,” she. “As superintendent, I gained a greater appreciation for Coach Lowery. He was an exemplar for other employees for always doing what was right. His integrity in this area was impeccable. It still is. David Lowery is a wonderful family man and community leader. He continues to make this world a better place because of the positive impact he has on those with whom he comes into contact.”
She said she still cherishes hiring Lowery at Brantley.
“I retired as superintendent in December of 2010, and I now work with SSA. I consider his hiring to be one of the best decisions I ever made in my life as an administrator. I have not personally memorized Coach Lowery’s win-loss record. I believe whatever it is will speak volumes for his skill of coaching football and leading young men to do their very best. But the impact David Lowery made at Brantley School and in our community is just as important as his wins on the field. I worked with Coach Glenn Daniel while I was a teacher at Luverne High School. Coach David Lowery affected Brantley School in the same positive manner as Coach Daniel did at Luverne School. There are no finer two men in Alabama football history for us in Crenshaw County.”
Coach Daniel, 93, was inducted into the first AHSAA Hall of Fame class in 1991.
Tony Stallworth, former Associate Executive Director of the AHSAA and administrative assistant for Crenshaw County Public Schools, worked with Coach Lowery as a principal and assistant principal. He observed: “Coach Lowery served as head coach and athletic director for many years. He also served as a classroom instructor and system administrator. He has provided leadership and character throughout his tenure at Brantley High School and the Crenshaw County Board of Education. Coach David Lowery exemplifies all qualities and leaderships deserving for this outstanding and prestigious award.”
Coach Lowery is an active member of Mt. Zion Baptist Church and is a Woodman Life Insurance representative.
COMING FRIDAY: Installment 2 - Football Coach Willie Carl Martin, Benjamin Russell High School.
First of an 11-Part Series on the Class of 2019
Little did Claborn M. Campbell realize that something as simple as track and field could have such a resounding impact on others’ lives.
The veteran Cold Springs High School track coach did just that over the course of 31 years – leaving a lasting and positive impression on all who crossed his path along the way. His impact did not go unnoticed. Campbell is being enshrined as a member of the Class of 2019 in the Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame at the annual banquet March 18 at the Montgomery Renaissance Hotel and Convention Center. The AHSAA and AHSADCA founded the Hall of Fame in 1991.
A native of Cullman, graduated from Cold Springs High School in 1971 and Southern Benedictine College (formerly St. Bernard College) in 1977. Born to be a teacher and coach, he began his teaching and coaching career at Winston County High School in 1978, compiling a 30-22 record in varsity basketball.
In 1979 he returned to his alma mater, Cold Springs as varsity basketball coach. Over the next four years, he won several county championships. Next, he went to West Point High School for seven years, coaching boys’ and girls’ junior varsity basketball. He won county championships with each team. Although quite successful as a basketball coach, Campbell’s real calling was in track and field, where his girls won 12 county championships.
In 1990 he returned home to Cold Springs, accepting the job of varsity track and cross-country coach, a position he continued until recently. His success has been extraordinary. In track, his boys have won two state championships, five sectional titles and 10 county championships. His girls have won three sectional and 12 county championships. In cross country, the girls won one state championship, five sectional and 12 county championships. The boys won two state, nine sectional and 14 county championships. He also served as athletic director. He retired in 2016.
His Coach of the Year awards include the National Federation of High School Association (NFHS) in girls’ cross-country in 2007 and boys’ cross country in 2016. He was U.S. Track and Field Coach of the Year in boys’ cross country in 2014.
Keith Wilemon, retired track and field coach at Falkville High School, had this to say about Campbell: “I can honestly say that Coach Campbell is the most outstanding coach and rival that I have faced in my 31-year coaching career. His coaching talents go beyond track and field and cross country. He has always stressed doing what is right and exhibiting great sportsmanship, regardless of the outcome of a race or game. His core values of faith, family, academics and athletics are what makes him so successful.
“I know that he had a tremendous influence on myself as well as many other coaches and athletes in North Alabama. I have had the privilege to work with Coach Campbell for many years as section track directors, and he has always done an outstanding job. His teams have always shown class and great sportsmanship.”
Like most outstanding coaches, Campbell’s career produced not only successful seasons but also successful and productive citizens. Dr. Palee Myrex wrote a letter supporting the Hall of Fame nomination. She said: “I’ve known Clay Campbell my entire life, but it was not until I entered the 7th grade that he became my coach. Showing up for my first cross-country practice as a timid, unconfident, overweight adolescent, I had no idea how much the man in the
Wide brimmed hat would alter the course of my life and become one of my most influential mentors, even to this day.”
“Throughout the course of the next six years, Coach Campbell coached me to 14 Alabama high school state championships in track and cross country and campaigned for me to college coaches, allowing me to get a scholarship [at] the University of Alabama. I am a first-generation college student and that athletic scholarship opened doors for me that would have never been possible. My college career catapulted me into medical school, and now, as a physician. I cannot help but to think he indirectly helps every single one of my patients…for that I am eternally grateful.”
She credits her high school coach for teaching her how to set goals and work to accomplish them.
“You see, I learned how to be a champion, not by the workouts Coach Campbell told me to do, but by watching him live the principles that he taught of dedication, integrity, hard work and refusing to give up,” she said. “Prior to Coach Campbell, there was no cross country program at Cold Springs, and the track program was struggling just to field an entire team. Through his determination and commitment to high school athletics, he turned Cold Springs into a household name for track and cross country, especially the realm of long-distance running. During my short six years, I saw our team go from running loops around the parking lot to being able to train on one of the state’s top cross country courses, which he designed and built himself because he wanted what was best for his athletes. The course is such a phenomenal race venue that while I was an athlete there, we hosted the largest cross country meet held on a high school campus in the entire state.
“Not only did he invest himself in coaching state championship teams and athletes, but he also went above and beyond, putting in the extra hours and humbling himself to do unnoticed things such as mow the cross country course, stock the concession stand, time all of the home cross country and track meets as well as fundraise money to resurface our track.”
Coach Campbell, who also served as athletic director at Cold Springs, was inducted into the Cullman County Sports Hall of Fame in 2005. He has been a music director for 30 years at his church and has served as a deacon and youth director.
COMING THURSDAY: David Lowery, Brantley High School.
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