Sunday, April 05, 2020



Quick Links 






Alexander City Coach Hamp Lyon Wanted to Win but Not at All Cost

                                             BY BILL PLOTT
                                       AHSAA Correspondent

Final segment in a 12-part series on the Alabama HOF Class of 2020
    MONTGOMERY – Coach Hamp Lyon’s teams at Alexander City High School in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s learned how to win. But never did they learn to win at cost. In fact, winning was a result of his real passion – teaching young men how to be outstanding adults.
    Tonight, Coach Lyon’s efforts will be recognized when he is inducted into the Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame as a member of the Class of 2020. Lyon, now deceased, is going in as a selection from the “Old Timer” division. Also being inducted are: Carrol Cox, Joe Desaro, Aaron Goode, Rick Grammer, Luke Hallmark, Tommy Lewis, Steve Mask, Toney Pugh, Michelle Simmons, Keith Wilemon and Fred Yancey. Lyon’s daughter Elizabeth Burns, will represent Coach Lyon at the induction ceremony.
    A press conference on Monday, June 22 will be held at 5:30 p.m., and the banquet will follow at 6:30 at the Montgomery Renaissance Hotel and Convention Center. Both events will be televised live over the AHSAA TV Network and live-streamed over the NFHS Network. WOTM TV’s Vince Earley will be producing the event for TV.
     Lyon, who was born in Meridian (MS) and spent his high school years in Evansville (TN), graduated from Benjamin Bosse High School in 1932. He then attended the University of Alabama graduating in 1937. He was a tackle on the 1935 Crimson Tide team that beat Stanford 29-13 in the Rose Bowl and on the 1936 team that went 10-0 under Coach Frank Thomas.
     After graduation from Alabama, he accepted the head football coach position at Alexander City High School (late renamed Benjamin Russell High School) in 1937 and served in that position two different times. The first was from 1937-41, the second from 1946-57. World War II interrupted his tenure.
     During his first tenure, the team went 33-9-3 with back-to-back 8-1 seasons in 1938 and 1939. The only points given up by the 1938 team was a lone touchdown in a 6-0 loss to Tallassee. During those early years Coach Lyon organized a booster club that eventually became the Alexander City Quarterback Club.
     When World War II broke out, he entered military service with the U. S. Army, serving in the Europe Theater from 1941-45. The proud soldier returned to Alex City after the war ended and picked up where he left off – with one exception.  He threw out the Notre Dame Box offense he had used before the war and installed the more modern “T” formation. His first post-war team went 5-3-1. Over the next 12 years he had 10 winning season including the 9-0-1 squad in 1953. That team was recognized one of The Birmingham News’ District state championships.

     When he retired from coaching after the 1957 season, his overall record was 107-47-10. But he was not retired from sports. Taking over as athletic director, he served in that position until 1971. The football stadium was later named in his honor.
     He wasn’t just about football, however. In 1947, he developed a Red Cross water safety program that had served more than 30,000 people with swimming lessons, water safety instruction and other activities by the late 1970s.
     When he died in 1973, sportswriter Ronald Weathers interviewed many who had worked with Coach Lyon and knew him best. One of those was I. I. Fox, chairman of the city’s Park and Recreation Board. He told Weathers, “Hamp succeeded me as coach in 1937. He coached everything here at one time or another or saw that the coaching was done. There is no way to describe Alexander City’s loss of Coach Lyon. He was as wonderful an influence on the young people of this town for 36 years as anyone I can think of.
     “He had the kind of influence and leadership of the young people that you would want for your own children. His coaching philosophy was wonderful. He wanted to win – yes, but never at the risk of harming any boy involved.”
     Bettye Britton, wife of Gene Britton, a former Lyon player and later Benjamin Russell wrestling coach, recalled growing up around Coach Lyon. “I was one of four children,” she said. We never had a whole lot. But Coach Lyon took me under his wing as he did so many other boys and girls. He would take me on trips with his family. He taught me to swim and guided so many of us through the Red Cross program. He always said Alex City was a gold mine for children to grow up in. He believed in the city.”

     Weathers reported that Benjamin Russell’s teams became one of the first in the nation to display players’ names on the jerseys.  He helped developed programs not only football, basketball, track and baseball but also wrestling, boys and girls tennis, girls track and swimming.
      Former player William D. Waites recalled a personal relationship between Coach Lyon and his family.
     “My mother and I lived with my grandfather and grandmother,” he said. “They had a gas station and country store. Coach Lyon and his family moved in next door. Since my uncle played football with him at Alabama, friendships were already established. My mother and I moved, leaving my elderly grandparents alone. She was a severe diabetic. Coach Lyon took on the task of giving insulin shots. He helped in many other ways and was with her when she died. This was the kind of man he was with people and young men who played football for him.
     “I played football under him for four years. Due to events in my teenage years, I can honestly say that football and the Navy kept me from turning out to be a very bad person. Coach Lyon had two sayings that I applied to my life: A winner never quits and quitter never wins and ‘It is not whether you win or lose, it is how you play the game.
     “I feel I speak for the doctors, lawyers, retired military, heads of companies, coaches, teachers, successful businessmen and everyone else who played for him, when I tell you he had a very positive influence on their lives.”

Bill Plott is a veteran journalist and state sports historian who has covered the Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame since its inception in 1991.

Comments are closed.