NOTE: This is the ninth installment in a series introducing the AHSAA Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2015. Look for Central-Phenix City Coach Bobby Wright’s 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. Tickets will not be sold at the door and mail order ticket deadline has passed.
By BILL PLOTT
Montgomery native John Tatum, Jr., graduated from Robert E. Lee High School in 1964 and Troy State University in 1969. He also holds a masters degree from Georgia State University.
The AHSAA Hall of Fame Class of 2015 inductee began his teaching and coaching career at Everitt Junior High School in Pensacola, FL, where he was an assistant coach in football and track for six years. He then moved to Walker High School in DeKalb County, GA, serving as head football and track coach for four years. His football record was 24-17-1 with three playoff appearances. In 1983 he moved to Norcross, GA, for a year.
In 1984 he became athletic director, head football and track coach at Montgomery Academy, a position he would hold for the next 23 years. He started out winning with his first team compiling a 7-3 record and a trip to the state playoffs.
Winning seasons and playoff appearances became a regular feature of Montgomery Academy football during his tenure. His record of 146-78 included 18 trips to the playoffs where his record was 40-17.
He had two undefeated regular seasons at MA, 1987 and 2006. The 1987 team finished 14-0, a school record for wins, and won the Class 1A state championship. The 2006 squad advanced to the quarterfinals of the playoffs, finishing with a 12-1 record. Two other teams made it to the quarterfinals and three to the semifinals. Tatum had nine area/region champions.
Current Montgomery Academy athletic director and head football coach Anthony McCall said Tatum has strongly impacted the way he does his job today. “I have had the pleasure of knowing John Tatum for the past 19 years. In addition to serving as my athletic director for 13 of those years, I was also a member of his varsity football coaching staff for five seasons. I am currently serving in the same positions John held at the Montgomery Academy prior to his resignation in 2007. Much of what I do each day in service to the Montgomery Academy community is a result of the great example he set for me to follow. His life of integrity and strong work ethic have made a significant impact on my life and career, and I attribute much of my transition into my present leadership role to him.
“Although John has made a profound impression on my development, I would be remiss if I didn’t’ mention his love and commitment to the players he coached and the men and women that served under his leadership. He consistently demonstrated how much he cared for his players with a stern, paternal love that impacted countless student-athletes, including my son. He taught his players to compete and win without doing it at all cost. He helped them to understand the importance of athletics as a means to enhance their maturation and development into productive citizens. He is loved and admired by many of his former players and employees because of his consistency, loyalty, and genuine friendship. There are not many men that I would recommend accolades for their life’s work, but I enthusiastically recommend John Tatum for the Hall of Fame.”
Archie Douglas, principal at Pacific Collegiate School in Santa Cruz, CA, and a former colleague, wrote; “I worked with John from 2001-2007, and I can say with confidence that he represents the finest virtues that attend the alignment of athletics and education. John can coach anything. He has the innate ability to motivate young people to reach beyond their comfort zones, to build a team around its particular strengths, and to bring out the best in his assistant coaches. For years, despite his humility, he was MA football. Generations of young men who played for him remember him with tremendous fondness and fierce loyalty, not so much for the lessons he taught them about football but for the preparation he gave them for life.
“As athletic director, John always had time for students, parents and anyone else. Though he continued to coach football, he was a strong advocate for all sports – for boys and girls – and he oversaw the emergence and growth of strong soccer, track, cross country and golf teams at MA during our years together without detriment to already prominent programs in tennis, football, basketball, volleyball and baseball.
“He advanced strength training and conditioning for all students with great foresight, resulting in a significant decrease in serious injuries in interscholastic sports as well as a significantly more effective physical education program.
“John was legendary at the academy for his humble kindness and generosity, for his commitment to every student, and for his fierce devotion to fairness and sportsmanship. Most of all, however, he was known for his integrity. In the years that I knew him, nothing mattered more to John than doing the right thing. He taught that to me, he taught it to my sons – both of them athletes – and he taught it to everyone his work touched. That single, unwavering aspect of his character has, I venture to say, contributed significantly to every successful athlete and team with which he has been associated.”
Former assistant coach Tim Bethea recalled Tatum’s relationship with his players. “When John got on a player at practice, he always followed up with an encouraging conversation after practice. He made sure the player did not lose confidence.”
After retiring from coaching, Tatum served as a consultant for Learning Through Sports Star Sportsmanship Program and as principal of St. James High School for a year.