NOTE: This is the second in a series introducing the AHSAA Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2015. Look for basketball legend Jack Doss’ profile Wednesday. Tickets for the 25th AHSAA HOF Banquet set for March 23 at the Montgomery Renaissance Hotel and Convention Center are still available to the public by calling 334-263-6994 by March 16. No tickets will be sold at the door and mail order ticket deadline has passed.
By BILL PLOTT
A native of Coffee County, James Donald Chesteen graduated from Brantley High School in 1946 and from Troy University in 1951. He died on Dec. 19, 2014, just a few weeks after learning that he had been inducted into the Hall of Fame.
His son Donnie said J.D. knew early in high school that he wanted to be a football coach. The only way that could happen was to lay the groundwork in the military. He served two years in the U.S. Air Force, rising to the rank of staff sergeant, and then was able to enroll at Troy where he played football and earned his bachelor’s degree.
His teaching and coaching career began in 1951 as an assistant coach at Samson High School. He stayed three two years and then took his first head coach job at Coffee Springs High School. When they beat Cottonwood 7-6 in the fourth game of the seasons it was the revived Coffee Springs football program’s first win since before World War II.
In 1954 he returned to Samson, this time as head coach. After a 4-5-1 start he led Samson to four consecutive winning seasons. It was the days before the state playoff system and a number of towns held high school bowl games. Coach Chesteen’s teams appeared in the Lions Bowl and the Peanut Bowl. His five-year record was 19-18-4.
In 1960 he moved to Geneva County High School at Hartford. Again there was a slow start with his first team going 3-7. Then it was 26 wins and two more bowl appearances over the next three years. The 1962 squad finished with a school record 10 wins after beating Rehobeth 3-0 in Dothan’s Peanut Bowl game. It was the school’s first undefeated season since 1926.
The following year Geneva County finished 9-0-1 with another Peanut Bowl victory. They were named Class 2A state champs by The Birmingham News.
Coach Chesteen retired from coaching in 1969 but remained a teacher until 1989.
Among the coaching honors he received were:
--South Alabama Conference Coach of the Year, 1961 and 1962
--Head coach of South All Stars, 1963
--Represented state High School Coaches Association on the National Football Rules Committee
--President of Alabama High School Coaches Association
--President and vice president of South Alabama Conference
--Elected into Wiregrass Sports Hall of Fame in 1994.
Like so many coaches, Chesteen’s influence went far beyond sports. Hartford businessman Danny Fulford wrote: “Coach J.D. Chesteen is without a doubt one of the most influential people in my life…Although I didn’t attain greatness in the football sport world, I achieved far more than I ever expected because of this man. As my high school coach, he made me believe in myself enough to walk on at Auburn University and eventually attained a four-year grant-in-aid scholarship. Without his faith in me and encouragement I would have never thought this was possible. He personally carried me to Auburn in 1962 and left me in a world I was completely unfamiliar with, and, to be truthful, I probably would have never stuck it out had I not known this man was back in my hometown with complete confidence in me...Also, I know that I’m not the only person who he has influenced so much in past years. I know of numerous other people that he influenced to be better people in life as well as sports.”
Another former player, Tom Bryan, said Chesteen changed not only individual lives but also community pride: “When Coach Chesteen came to Hartford, he inherited a program that had won only three games in two years and had only 17 players on the team. In two years his 1962 team went to 10-0 and won the 2A state championship, and he followed that up with a
9-0-1 season in 1963. By then we had over 60 players on the team. Following the 1962 season he coached the 1963 AHSAA All-Star Game in Tuscaloosa and I was fortunate to be on that team.
“Turning around the football program at Hartford doesn’t come close to telling the story of J.D. Chesteen as a man of character, commitment, and community service. He completely changed the attitude of the whole town. His enthusiasm got everyone involved and the school became a source of town pride.
“My father died when I was 10-years old and Coach Chesteen became the father figure I needed at a critical time in my life. He did that for everyone who played for him. Without his encouragement and fatherly guidance I would not have been able to earn a scholarship to Auburn and a college degree that has enabled me to be in a position to help others like he helped me.”
Dale County associate superintendent Lamar Brooks grew up in Hartford when Chesteen was coaching. He recalled: “I was not old enough to play for Coach Chesteen. However, the influence that he had directly on me came from other places. Coach Chesteen was my Sunday School teacher. Many of the lessons he taught did not come from a book or any text. He taught us lessons about life and what was really important . To do this, he used real life situations in which we could relate.”