Tuesday, March 19, 2019

 

                                            


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Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame Inducts 11 Monday Night in the Class of 2019

     MONTGOMERY – Eleven major contributors to prep athletics in Alabama were inducted into the 29th class of the Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame Monday night. The 2019 class, which included an “old-timer,” were enshrined at a banquet held at the Montgomery Renaissance Hotel and Spa Convention Center.
      Inducted were: football coaches Phil Lazenby, David Lowery, Willie Carl Martin, Billy Odom and Ronnie Sikes; basketball coaches  Carolyn Wright and Scheussler Ware; track coach Claborn Campbell; baseball coach Mark Mincher; basketball official Johnny Robertson; and longtime coach and administrator Reynolds “R.C.” Cook, chosen in the old-timers’’ division. Mr. Cook is deceased. His son Stan Cook represented his father at the ceremonies.
    Coach Wright gave a resounding acceptance speech for what she described as a very humble and fortunate group.
      “We are a group of 11 individuals with devout faith who all shared the same goals, but we did it in many different ways,” she said. “This class of inductees have been mentors for coaches and teachers throughout the state of Alabama.
   “How did we get here? We have been truly blessed. We all have the same goals and we all had the same passions. Yet, we all expressed it in different ways. We all have the same testimony … with a lot of praying and God on our side we were able to endure together over 350 years of service to school systems all across the state of Alabama. As we take a look back, we can truly see how we were all guided.
   “We got here because our hearts and souls said yes. Yes, we wanted to change lives. Yes, we wanted to produce productive citizens to give back to our communities. And yes, we wanted to instill integrity. We wanted to create in our students a mindset of fortitude.”
       Sponsors of the Hall of Fame program are the Alabama High School Athletic Directors & Coaches Association (AHSADCA) and the AHSAA. The corporate partners include Alabama Power, ALFA, Cadence Bank, Coca-Cola, Encore Rehabilitation, Jack’s, Russell Athletic, TeamIP and Wilson Sporting Goods.
    Carolyn Wright accepted for the Class of 2019. Veteran sportscaster Jeff Shearer emceed the banquet. The NFHS Network live-streamed the banquet over the NFHS Network School Broadcast Program platform.
      The first class was inducted in 1991. These 11 new inductees will run the total enshrined into the Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame to 353.

OPTIONAL BIOS ON EACH INDUCTEE

       A profile of each selectee:
CLABORN CAMPBELL: Campbell, 65, graduated from Cold Spring High School and Southern Benedictine College – then returned as a high school teacher and coach spending the bulk of his years in education at his alma mater Cold Springs (1979-83 & 1999-2018). He also had coaching stints at Winston County and West Point.
   Considered one of the top track coaches in the state, he guided the Panthers’ boys to two state track titles and had four teams finish runner-up. The Cold Springs girls’ track team won 17 Cullman County championships. He also directed the Cold Springs girls and boys to three state cross country crowns and had seven runner-up finishes.
     A dedicated coach and devout man of faith, he has been inducted into the Cullman County Sports Hall of Fame, was an AHSAA Making A Difference Award recipient in 2016, was selected NFHS Alabama Cross Country Coach of the Year in 2017 (girls) and 2016 (boys). U.S. Track and Field named him Boys’ Cross Country Coach of the Year in 2014.

REYNOLDS G. COOK (OLDTIMER Division): Cook, now deceased, was born in 1913 and graduated from Sidney Lanier High School in 1933. He earned his college degree from Troy State Teachers College in 1950. He earned his master’s in 1964.
   He began his teaching and coaching at Williams School in Montgomery, then moved to Union Springs High School in 1952 where he remained in various capacities through 1974.
    He coached Union Springs’ only undefeated 10-0 football team in 1956 – earning him Birmingham Post-Herald Class 1A Coach of the Year. His 1957 team was 9-1 and participated in the prestigious Peanut Bowl at Dothan. As a basketball coach he had two teams go undefeated through the regular season – combining for a 46-2 record in 1963-64 and 1964-65.
    He also coached baseball and helped bring the Alabama Lions Club regional East-West Baseball Game to Union Springs for several years. He also coached Union Springs to signature baseball victories over his much larger alma mater Sidney Lanier and its rival Robert E. Lee. He founded the youth baseball programs for Union Springs and remained active for many years.
   He left coaching to become the Superintendent of Education in Bullock County – guiding the school system through 1974. He also served as president of the TSU Alumni Association and was District Governor of the Alabama Lions International.
  
PHIL LAZENBY:
A graduate of Bessemer High School (1968) and Samford University (1974), Lazenby, 68, also received a master’s in education from the University of Montevallo in 1979. He played on Samford University’s 1971 National Championship football team and was selected Most Valuable Defensive Player for SU in 1973.
    He embarked on a long-time career in teaching and coaching, first as an assistant football and head tennis coach at Bessemer’s Jess Lanier High School (1976-1980). He then moved to Mountain Brook where he served as defensive coordinator and assistant principal (1981-90).
    He became a head coach, first at Guntersville (1991-95), was at Southside-Gadsden for one year in 1996, then moved to Benjamin Russell (1997-2000) and currently is at Bayside Academy (2007-present). He spent 2001-2006 at UMS-Wright as assistant coach and strength & conditioning coach. His overall head-coaching record is 169-89 with two state championship game appearances at Benjamin Russell and one at Bayside Academy. His teams had just two losing seasons in 21 years and have reached the state playoffs 17 times.
    Lazenby coached as an assistant and head coach in the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Game, was ASWA Coach of the Year in 1997, 2011 and 2015 and has served as a past president of the Alabama Football Coaches Association. Lazenby was inducted into the Samford Athletic Hall of Fame in 2018. He served in the U.S. Army infantry reaching the rank of First Sergeant with tours in Europe and Central America.

DAVID LOWERY:
A native of Butler County, Lowery, 53, graduated from Georgiana High School in 1983, Troy University in 1988 and earned a master’s at AUM in 1998. Hs first teaching/coaching position was at Evergreen High School in 1988. He moved to Elba High School as assistant coach and defensive coordinator from 1989-1998. He also was head baseball coach leading the Tigers to the playoff semifinals in 1993 and 1994. He was head football coach two years (1995-1996).
   He then moved to Brantley High School where he was head football coach and athletic director from 1999-2013. He had an amazing run compiling a 156-27 overall record and 88-3 region record. His teams won the Class 1A state football title in 2009 and 2012 and finished runner-up in 1999 and 2005.
   Lowery was named ASWA Class 1A Coach of the Year in 1999 and ALFCA Class 1A Coach of the Year in 2012. Brantley High School named the football field David Lowery Stadium in 2013, and he was inducted into the Wiregrass Sports Hall of Fame in 2014.


WILLIE CARL MARTIN:
The Alexander City native and outstanding high school football lineman graduated from Laurel High School in 1969. He attended Northeastern Oklahoma on football scholarship. He was selected in the summer of 1969 to participate in the North-South All-Star Game – as one of the first three black participants in the game’s history.
   After a successful playing career in the Canadian Football League (CFL), Martin, 67, returned to Alexander City and began a teaching and coaching career at Benjamin Russell High School that spanned the next 25 years. He served as an assistant football coach from 1985-2001 directing a defense that allowed only 12.32 points a game over a 15-year period. He served as head football coach from 2001-2006. He compiled a 51-24 record during that span and captured the school’s only state football title in in his first year in 2001.
    Martin’s leadership expanded to the AHSAA where he served on the District 4 Board and Central Board from 2003-2007.
    He was hired in 2007 to serve on the University of Alabama football staff as Director of Player Development, a role he kept until 2015 when he retired. In May of that year, Alexander City celebrated Willie Carl Martin Day (on May 12) as the city honored the native son who served as a trailblazer throughout his career.
 
   ,       
MARK MINCHER:
Mincher graduated from Hazel Green High School in Madison County in 1975, got his college degree from Memphis State University in 1975 and later earned a master’s in administration from Alabama A&M.
   The son of former Major League baseball standout Don Mincher embarked on a career in education in 1980 that lasted more than three decades. He coached football, boys’ and girls’ basketball and baseball at Monrovia Middle School for two years before moving to Sparkman High School in 1982. He became head baseball coach in 1983. He moved to Huntsville High School as head baseball coach in 1985, a position he held for the next 28 years. He compiled a 576-353 baseball-coaching record with 12 city championships, eight area titles, 18 state playoff appearances and one Class 6A state championship (2011).
   Mincher also served as HHS athletic director during that time and became an important mentor for other teachers and coaches, not only at his school but throughout Huntsville, Madison County and the state.
    He was recognized as the Huntsville City baseball coach of the year numerous times, was named AlaBCA Coach of the Year (6A) and NFHS State Baseball Coach of the Year in 2011. Mincher was inducted into the Madison County Sports Hall of Fame in 2011. He was chosen HCPTA Secondary Principal of the Year in 2015.


BILLY ODOM: Odom, 68, graduated from Baker High School in Mobile in 1968 and from Mississippi College in 1972. He served as a teacher and head football coach at Baker High School for 14 seasons (1972-87), moved to Murphy as an assistant coach from 1989-91 and returned to head coaching at Alba High School from 1992-1997.
    His Alba team won the region title in 1994.
    Odom’s work as a coach and teacher was just part of his many contributions. He also played a key volunteer role in the development and administration of the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Football Game in Mobile from its inception in 1988. He has been a key administrative coach for that game ever since – heading into his 33rd year. He has also served as the South team manager for the Senior Bowl College All-Star Game for the last three decades.
    Recognized as one of Mobile County’s most dependable volunteers, he received the prestigious Bob Pannone Service Award in 2017 and was recognized by the L’Arche Mobile Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012

 

JOHNNY ROBERTSON (Contest Official): This Sidney Lanier 1965 graduate has been one of the state’s top basketball officials more than 50 years. Robertson, 71, served in 17 of 18 AHSAA state basketball tournaments from 1982-1999.
    Recognized by the his peers and the AHSAA for his teaching skills, he served as AHSAA state rules clinician from 1981-1999, has been a Regional Tournament coordinator ever since the regional and state final four basketball format was instituted in 1994 and has been the South Central District Director for Officials since 1999.  He has been serving as State Rules Interpreter since 2008. Robertson helped institute the state officials’ camps and has been the State Camp Director since 2008. He received the AHSAA Distinguished Service Award in 2008.
    Robertson also officiated high school football from 1972-1987, and he officiated baseball from 1972-1974.
   Active in church and civic affairs in Montgomery, he has served in various positions of civic leadership including serving as president of the Kiwanis Club of Montgomery, was Division 9 Lt. Governor for the Kiwanis from 2007-2009 and has also served as president of the Boys and Girls Clubs of the River Region.

RONNIE SIKES: A native of Randolph County, Sikes, 59, graduated from Randolph County High School in Wedowee in 1977 and from Auburn University in 1981. He also attended Southern Union Community College and received a master’s degree from Auburn University (1987).
    The veteran football coach began his career in high school education in 1981 with stints at Valley High School (1981-1984), Notasulga (1984-1988), Mortimer Jordan (1988-1990), and Beulah (1990-1992) before returning to Notasulga in 1992. He served as head football coach for the Blue Devils for 12 years compiling a 91-51 record. He then moved to Lanett from 2004-2009. He has coached and taught at Georgia public schools since 2013. While at Notasulga his teams compiled a 25-game winning streak with his 2001 team capturing Class 1A state runner-up. He rebuilt the Lanett program in a short time becoming the first coach to lead the Panthers to a 12-win season since former AHSAA Executive Director Dan Washburn, a 2000 Inductee into the HOF, led Lanett to a 12-1 record in 1976.
    Sikes coached in the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Game twice and also coached in the North-South All-Star Game. He was named O-A News Coach of the Year in 1998.
 

SCHUESSLER WARE: Anniston High School’s long-time boys’ head basketball coach graduated from AHS in 1974 and Talladega College in 1978. He earned a master’s degree in elementary education from Jacksonville State University.
   Ware, 60, began teaching and coaching at his high school alma mater in 1979 – spending his entire career with the Anniston City Schools. He became head basketball coach in 1997 and for the next 20 years his teams compiled a 420-168 record with two state championships, the Class 5A title in 2002 and the 4A championship in 2009. Anniston made five State Final Four appearances, five Northeast Regional titles and seven Calhoun County championships during his tenure.
   He was chosen Calhoun County Coach of the Year nine times, AHSAA Class 5A (2002) and Class 4A (2009) Coach of the Year, and saw 12 of his teams win 20 or more games in a season.  Only one team had a losing record but still won the area title, and two years later the program rebounded to go 27-6 and reach the Northeast Regional tourney.
   He is active in his church and community serving as an Elder at First United Presbyterian Church.


CAROLYN WRIGHT: Mrs. Wright, 62, graduated from Tuskegee Institute High School in 1974 and from Alabama State University in 1978. She earned a master’s in specific learning disability.
   She has spent the last 40 years teaching and coaching, primarily at Central High School in Phenix City. She became the head girls’ basketball coach at Central in 1991 and finished the 2019 season with a 517-293 record. She guided the Lady Red Devils to a 26-4 record in 2016-17 and a berth in the Class 7A State Tournament after winning the Central Regional title. Her teams have had just two losing seasons and finished 29-5 in 2005 to set a school girls’ record for basketball wins in a season.
   Wright, who also coaches volleyball at Central, served as girls’ track coach from 1992-2007 with 14 individuals or relay teams winning state event titles. Her volleyball team reached the Super Regional tourney in 2014.
     She serves in several other leadership roles include department chair for the health and PE department (1991-2008) at Central, and is also currently assistant athletic director. She served on the AHSAA Strategic Planning Committee in 2016.
    Her husband Bobby Wright, the Central boys’ basketball coach, was inducted into the Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame in 2015. With over 600 wins, the husband-wife duo have more basketball games than any other husband-wife coaching duo state history. The couple now have the distinction of being just the second husband-wife tandem to be selected to be enshrined in the Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame. The first were Tom and Lynette Calvin.
   

R.G. Cook was a Father Figure to Hundreds of High School Student-Athletes

           A high school coach is an educator who wears many hats. A Hall of Fame coach is one that wears them all well. Meet Reynolds Gwaltney Cook -- Coach R.G. Cook to the hundreds of student-athletes whose lives were changed for the better because of his ability to teach the real lessons that can be learned from educational-based athletics.
          Cook, now deceased, is being inducted into the Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame as a member of the Class of 2019. He is going in from the “old timer” category. The banquet will be Monday night, March 18 at the Montgomery Renaissance Hotel and Convention Center. His son Stan Cook is representing his father, accepting on behalf of the Cook family.
         A native of Greenville, Alabama, R. G. Cook graduated from Montgomery’s Sidney Lanier High School in 1933 and from Troy State Teachers College (now Troy University) in 1950. He later earned a master’s degree in education from Auburn University.

Cook began his teaching and coaching career at Williams School, a private prep school in Montgomery. He started the athletic program and was head basketball coach from 1950-52.
           He moved to Union Springs in 1952 – where he remained at Bullock County High School in some capacity through 1974. During that span he coached football, basketball, baseball and track. His 1956 football team was 10-0, and he was named the Birmingham Post-Herald Class 1A Coach of the Year. In 1957, he extended the winning streak to 19 games before losing a close game to Abbeville in the Peanut Bowl at Dothan. He was selected to coach in the AHSAA North-South All-star football game in Tuscaloosa in 1957.

Cook resigned as football coach in 1962, focusing on the basketball and baseball teams. His teams won more than 250 games in basketball with his 1963-64 and 1964-65 teams both going 23-0 in the regular season.

In baseball, his teams had signature wins over much larger schools such as Sidney Lanier and Central-Phenix City. He helped arrange for Union Springs to be an annual host of the Lions Club East-West all-star baseball game for Southeast Alabama.

Cook received numerous Coach of the Year Awards in various sports and helped organize the Central Alabama Conference for small schools Central Alabama.

After leaving the classroom and coaching field, he served as Bullock County Schools’ superintendent from 1968-74.

Hall of Fame member Ken Blankenship recalled his relationship with Coach Cook.  “In the early 1950s, I had the opportunity to compete against Coach Cook’s teams, and later he served as a mentor to me as I began my high school coaching career,” Blankenship said. “It was through his positive, caring influence that I learned it was an honor to have the opportunity to work with young people and an obligation to guide them as their lives were developing.”

J. Carlton Smith, who became a school superintendent himself, said Cook taught him the importance of priorities.
          “He taught me how to relate to high school kids,” said Smith, who served as an assistant to Cook at Bullock County High School. “R.G. was demanding of his players but gained their respect and admiration. He was an outstanding, winning coach, but winning was never his first priority. In his calm, low-key manner in dealing with teenage athletes, his first priority was always to teach his kids to be good citizens, to follow the rules, and to become strong, confident men.”

Smith recalled an incident in which Cook’s character came to the forefront dramatically. “A former athlete, a senior named Benny Johnson, dropped out of school because he was still struggling with ninth-grade English,” Smith said. “He found that the local supermarket where he worked would not keep him on because he was not a high school graduate. Cook persuaded him to return to school, attending Bullock County during the day and going to Montgomery to study English at the Williams School at night. He eventually graduated.”

But the story did not end there, Smith said. “Johnson developed a rare form of arthritis that would eventually cost him his eyesight.” He went to Cook and said, “What am I going to do? I have a wife and baby. How can I support them when I am blind?” Coach Cook was active in the Lions Club and its sight conservation mission. He took Johnson to Talladega and helped him enroll in the School for the Blind.  There, he acquired the skills to operate a small business without sight and was able to provide for his family.

“This is (just one) example of how R.G. Cook loved his students and the extra help he provided. This was far above what could be expected. That is the kind of coach, educator and person he was.
           “A Hall of Fame coach should be many things. He should be a person who develops young men. He teaches them to be solid, confident adults. He teaches them how to become leaders. He teaches them to always follow the rules. He teaches them to be contributing team members. He teaches them that they can achieve their goals through teamwork. He teaches them to be loyal and dedicated to their team and their teammates. He teaches them right from wrong, and he teaches them how to win and how to lose.”
         Smith said that Coach R. G. Cook meets all requirements as a Hall of Fame coach.
         “The best indicator is the love and pride he had for all his players and the love and devotion they still have for him to this day. Yes, he was a winning coach, but he was so much more than that. He was a father figure for hundreds of young men who became better adults because of his love and quiet leadership by example.” 


Organizers Praise Innovative Billy Odom’s Impact on Alabama-Mississippi Game

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


Street named for Ronnie Sikes Memorializes the Impact of Coaching Legend’s Career

Eighth of an 11-Part Series introducing the HOF Class of 2019

By BILL PLOTT

            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


Former Alabama Student-athlete Selected as Section 3 Recipient of NFHS National High School Spirit of Sport Award

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.

 


# # #

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

                                                      jgillis@nfhs.org


Schuessler Ware Had a Special Knack in Transforming Youngsters into Winners

Seventh of an 11-Part Series introducing the HOF Class of 2019

By BILL PLOTT

        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


Coaching Baseball Was Inevitable for Mark Mincher, Son of Former Major Leaguer

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.

 


Basketball Coach Carolyn Wright to Join Husband in High School HOF

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           


Phil Lazenby Combined Military Experience with Athletics to Teach Life Lessons to Kids

Fourth of an 11-Part Series on the HOF Class of 2019

BY BILL PLOTT

         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       


Thru All His Travels, Trail-Blazing Willie Carl Martin Still Calls Alexander City Home


       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