Thursday, December 05, 2019






AHSAA Announces Recipients for 2019 ‘Making a Difference’ Award

        MONTGOMERY – Seven individuals who have made an impact as exemplary role models have been selected as the 2019 Making a Difference Award recipients by the Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) and the Alabama High School Athletic Directors & Coaches Association (AHSADCA).
        One recipient from each of the AHSAA’s seven classifications was chosen from nominations submitted by AHSAA member schools and other support organizations. This year’s recipients are John Hardin, Hackleburg High School (1A) principal; Lisa Bates, Sand Rock High School (2A) girls’ basketball and volleyball coach; Willie Wright, Pike County (3A) principal; Chris Goodman, Alabama Christian Academy (4A) softball coach; Russ Holcomb, Hamilton High School (5A) football coach; D. Mark Mitchell, WKKR Radio (iheart) sports announcer, Opelika (6A); and Ken Storie, Jefferson County Schools Athletic Director (7A).
        The honorees will be recognized at the Championship Coaches Banquet at the Renaissance Montgomery Convention Center July 19. The 6 p.m. event will close out the 2019 AHSAA Summer Conference and All-Star Sports Week for member schools. The Officials’ Awards luncheon will officially close out the week on Saturday, July 20, at the Renaissance at 11:30 a.m.
        The Making a Difference Award was established in 2011 by the AHSAA and AHSADCA to recognize individuals who go beyond their normal duties as a coach, teacher or administrator to make a positive impact in their schools and communities. This year’s recipients include two principals, three athletic directors, one basketball and one track coach.  One of the athletic directors also serves as head football coach, one is a head volleyball coach and the other is a head basketball coach.
        “The recipients in this 2019 Making a Difference class are excellent examples of men and women who take their positions as role models for their students, faculty and community very seriously. Each have had a major positive impact in their communities and schools and across the state and are excellent choices for what this award stands for," said AHSAA Executive Director Steve Savarese.  “This award is the most important honor a professional educator in our state can receive. Characteristics considered for this prestigious award include the recipient’s character, integrity and service, all of which have enabled these individuals to have a life-changing impact on the community or school where they serve.”
        Savarese said this special award exemplifies what makes education-based sports so important.
        “This is one way we can honor them for the examples they set and the life lessons they teach on a daily basis,” he said.
        Following is a brief synopsis of the Making a Difference recipients for 2019:

Hardin is currently finishing his second year as president of the AHSAA Central Board of Control. He served 10 years on the Central Board, where he served as vice president and was on several key committees including Finance, Hall of Fame and Bryant-Jordan Selection Committee. He has been an officer on the District 7 Board and Legislative Council for 23 years.
   A 1974 graduate of Hackleburg High School, he received a B.S. degree in Education from the University of Mississippi in 1978 and a master’s in educational leadership from the University of West Alabama in 2007.
    in 1978, he began a career in education that spanned 40 years with his first job as a middle school teacher and coach at Amory (MS). In 1987, he returned to his alma mater as a history teacher, assistant football and varsity softball coach. He later served as head football coach for 20 years from 1989 to 2009 and was the head girls’ basketball coach for 13 years from 1992 – 2005. In 2010, Hardin became the school’s principal, a position he has held ever since. He is planning to retire June 30.
     Successful at all tasks, his softball trams compiled a 244-121 record with six Marion County championships, five West Alabama Conference championships, seven area championships and six state tournament appearances. His football trams compiled a 120-95 record with 10 area titles and 13 state playoff appearances, and his girls’ basketball teams were 234-106 with five county championships, six conference titles and eight regional appearances in 13 year. Twice his teams advanced to the State Tourney Final 4 in Birmingham.
    His leadership, however, following the tragic tornado that destroyed the school and community in 2011, proved to be his finest hour as Hackleburg dug out of the rubble to return to normalcy much sooner than expected.
    That same leadership quality helped him lead the AHSAA with wisdom, patience and strength as its Central Board president.

An outstanding student-athlete in high school graduating as valedictorian at Locust Fork in 1995, Bates was named Class 3A Player of the Year in 1995 averaging 27.5 points and 15.4 rebounds a game. She played in the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Classic and led her team to the Final Four twice. She was inducted into the Blount County Sports Hall of Fame last March and still holds the AHSAA girls’ single-season rebound record (624) she set in 1995.
    She also had a tremendous college basketball career at Southern Miss and Jacksonville State. She graduated in 1999 and was inducted into JSU’s Hall of Fame in 2011. While in college, Bates was the recipient of JSU's prestigious Eagle Owl Award and also served as president of the JSU Student Athlete Advisory Committee while also volunteering as an event coordinator for the Special Olympics. She earned Academic All-America honors and was Atlantic Sun Conference Student-Athlete of the Year in 1999 and 2000.
    She and her husband Keith, also a teacher and coach at Sand Rock since 2000, have been leaders on and off the court, in and out of the classroom. Best known outside Cherokee County as the school’s girls’ varsity basketball and volleyball coach, those inside the county know here for so much more. Her primary responsibility is Special Education Chairperson at SRHS. She works with all students in K thru 12 that receive special education services and is a strong advocate for students with disabilities.  She has served as Job Ready Day Coordinator since 2016, a service that prepares all Cherokee County students with special needs to enter and be successful in the work force by lining up mock interview experiences for all students with special needs in grades 9-12. She is also a Special Olympics volunteer. She was named 2015 Vocational Rehabilitation Teacher of the Year.
    Her basketball teams have compiled a 382-191 record with three county titles, eight regional appearances and two Class 2A state runner-up finishes. She was named Class 2A Coach of the Year in 2018. Her volleyball teams have compiled a 622-219 record since 2002 with eight area titles, eight county championships, nine Elite Eight state tourney appearances and five Final Four finishes.

Wright is a graduate of Jefferson Davis High School in Montgomery where he played basketball and baseball.  He played baseball at Troy University and earned a bachelor’s degree in Physical Education and a Masters’ degree in Educational Leadership.  He began his career in education at Admiral Moorer Middle School in Eufaula teaching physical education and coaching football, baseball and basketball. 
      Pike County has made great strides academically and athletically during his time as an administrator at the Brundidge school. He has served as an assistant principal at Pike County High School and principal of Pike County Elementary School. He became principal at the high school in 2011. During his tenure in administration, PCHS has been recognized as a School of Distinction in 2018 by the Council for Leaders in Alabama; received the Best Hustle Award for improving FAFSA completion rate (2017-18); awarded a bronze medal by U.S. News and World Reports as part of the magazine’s “Best High Schools” throughout the United States (2008, 2009, and 2016); recognized by the Yellowhammer News as one of the top 25 Safest High Schools in Alabama. Also, Pike County received recognition from SREB for “Making Middle Grades Work” (2017). Athletically, Pike County High School won two state football championships (2005 and 2006) and the boys’ basketball team won the South Regional title and advanced to the AHSAA State tournament Final Four (2016).  He has overseen the construction of Pike County High School’s football fieldhouse and renovations of the gymnasium and football stadium.
     Wright is also the Brundidge Recreation Department Director and is coaching his daughter Skylar’s 7-and-under softball team.

Goodman is a Wetumpka High School graduate and a Faulkner University grad as well. He played college baseball at Faulkner.
      An outstanding baseball, softball and basketball coach since joining the Alabama Christian Academy staff, Goodman became the first coach in AHSAA history to win state titles in baseball and softball – and he has done it twice.
    As a softball coach, his team presented him with his 500th career win in 2019 and closed out the year as Class 4A state champions. His first team in 2007 also won a state title. The Lady Eagles have reached the state tourney every year but one (2016) with three state crowns, three state runner-up finishes and have compiled a 537-195-5 record. He coached ACA baseball teams to a 389-192 record with state titles in 1995 and 2000 and finished runner-up in 1994 and 2004.
    He coached the boys’ basketball program to three area titles and a 216-168 record and led the ACA girls to six area titles and a 225-93 record.  He has been named Metro Coach of the Year in all four sports. His four-sport overall coaching record is 1,367-634-5. His ability to coach boys and girls alike with the amazing successes he has had is a  testament to how he helps the student-athletes reach their potential time and time again.
    He has served on the AHSAA State Softball Coaches Committee since 2007.


Holcomb graduated from the University of Mississippi in 2002 and went to work at Hamilton High School that same year. He just completed his 17th year as a teacher and coach at Hamilton. He currently serves as defensive coordinator in football. He was elevated to that position in 2010 and helped Hamilton reach the state finals that year.
    Head coach and athletic director Rodney Stidham says while Holcomb is excellent at the X’s and O’s of  football, he is means so much more to the students off the field.
    “What started out many years ago with him taking boys to colleges to visit and to try out evolved into him helping in other ways that did not always have anything to do with Hamilton High School football,” said Stidham.
     Since then, Holcomb, wo still lives just across the state line in Mississippi, has taken over a dozen kids into his home to help them pass summer school, has worked to help others get into college and helped them with transportation to and from school. In addition, he and his wife and son have from time to time taken in kids who were homeless. One of the students failed to graduate on time and the coach helped him study and pass his last class so he could finally get his diploma. The Holcombs were the only “family” at the young man’s private graduation ceremony. For many others he has helped get them food when hungry and to the doctor when sick.
    “Coach Holcomb and these kids continue to be like family today,” said Stidham. “And if you are ever at Sargent Stadium on a Friday night, you can usually see several crowded up on the hill waiting for him to come out of the locker room and take the field. For over 15 years he has been the  greatest coach I have ever known.  What he has done for the kids of Hamilton has permeated throughout the school and town and all are better for having him be a part of both.”

Self-described as “Once a Dawg, always a Dawg,” Mitchell’s radio legacy as the sports authority on all things dealing with Opelika High School has spanned 37 years – starting in 1978 when he was still in high school. Mitchell, a 1982 OHS graduate, broadcast Opelika High School athletics, especially football, for that entire span.
    He has celebrated the wins and suffered the losses first-hand as he sat behind the microphone for OHS athletics. He made no excuses for his love of the “Dawgs.” In fact, that is what has endeared him for so many years to the Opelika community. And despite dealing with health problems that led to 37 surgeries since the 1990s, he missed being in the booth on a Friday night only a handful of times during the last four decades.
    In addition to his play-by-play duties, which finally came to an end after the 2017-18 school year, he has hosted “On the Mark,” a local sports talk radio show concentrating on local sports for 13 years and counting. The iheart radio affiliate (WKKR and WTLM) sports director also has hosted the “East Alabama High School Coaches Show” for 15 years and has hosted the high school wrap-up show for seven years.
     A committed volunteer and president of the OHS Booster Club for many years,  he currently serves as co-chair of the Auburn-Opelika Sports Council, co-chair of the Auburn-Opelika Super 7 Committee, is sports editor of the Opelika Observer and also serves as the Alabama Dixie Boys Baseball State Director.
    His work behind the scenes helped bring the Super 7 football championships to Auburn and Alabama on a rotating basis in 2009 and he is still working full steam ahead each year to create opportunities for Opelika.


-- Storie has spent his entire career in education working behind the scenes without fanfare for the betterment of the students and schools in his trust. Serving as athletic director of the Jefferson County School System from 2007-2019, Storie attended Jefferson County schools graduating from Hewitt-Trussville High School when it was still a member of the Jeffco System. He then attended UAB and earned his masters at the University of Montevallo. In 1990 he returned to Jefferson County where he taught history and coached football at Hewitt-Trussville Junior high. In 1996 he moved to Clay-Chalkville and joined the varsity football staff while teaching economics and sociology. He became assistant principal in 1998.
     He became principal at Moody High School from 2004-2007 helping the school achieve initial  accreditation from SACS. In 2007, he returned to the Jefferson County School System in 2007 as Athletic Director where he has remained ever since. He retired earlier this month.
     He earned a reputation of being an excellent judge of personnel as he helped Jeffco Schools fill countless coaching positions during his tenure. Also, during his tenure, the school system won multiple state championships in softball, football and basketball along with several runners-up. He instituted the Jefferson County Cheer competition and helped develop the Jefferson-Shelby Hoops tournament for boys and girls featuring Jefferson County Schools vs. Shelby County Schools.
     Storie also achieved a major overhaul of the system’s coaching supplement structure while assisting in upgrades to athletic facilities at virtually all Jefferson County high schools and also wrote a district wide athletic finance manual that has been instrumental in helping the schools’ athletic programs be financially solvent.


Comments are closed.