MONTGOMERY – Long-time Decatur coach and administrator Lorenza Jackson’s role evolved to “father figure” for many of the students entrusted to him during his stellar career in education that lasted for half a century.
Jackson, who died in 2004, is one of 12 individuals in the Class of 2017 being inducted into the Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame. He is being enshrined in the “Old Timer” category. The Hall of Fame banquet will be Monday, March 20, at the Montgomery Renaissance Hotel and Convention Center.
A native of Decatur, Lorenza Levi Jackson began his coaching and teacher career at his alma mater, Decatur Negro High School, in 1955. He graduated from the school in 1947 and from Alabama A&M College in 1957. He also earned a master’s degree and AA certification.
Decatur Negro High School was later renamed Lakeside High School. Jackson served as the school’s head football, basketball and track coach as well as a classroom teacher until 1969 when integration closed the school. He then transferred to Austin High School where he was an assistant football and head track coach. His track teams won 11 district championships and his football teams won 75 percent their games at Lakeside. He had similar success at Austin.
Jackson received several North Alabama Coach of the Year awards during his coaching career. Lakeside’s 1959 basketball team finished the regular season undefeated. Curtis Miller, one of the players on that team, said Jackson’s influence on and off the court was immeasurable.
“Often when people think of coaches, they think of an individual whose sole purpose is to win ball games,” Miller said. “When people think of Lorenza Jackson, they think of an individual who cared deeply for the individuals whom he worked with and came in contact with. They think of him as an individual who was a teacher, not only in the classroom, but in many other aspects of this community’s development processes.
“Coach Jackson served as father figure not only for me but for many this community. We learned the art of competing in the different sports arenas, but more importantly he taught us the art of being men and community leaders.”
Miller was a key member of that 1959 team at Lakeside. He also was a three-year starter for Jackson’s football team and also was an outstanding track runner.
“I can honestly say that I reached my full potential as an athlete under Coach Jackson,” he said. “As a successfully retired adult, as a devout member of my church family, and as a dedicated father and husband, I can say with all sincerity that Coach Jackson left an indelible mark on my life.”
Sports writer Deangelo McDaniel, in an interview with Jackson in The Decatur Daily in 2000, wrote: “He accomplished about everything a black coach could accomplish during segregation. He won district championships. He carried teams to state tournaments. His players got scholarships. But most importantly, he made the boys he coached better men.”
When integration came Jackson decided to move into administration after seeing his coaching duties become more limited. In 1974 he became a full-time administrator when he was named assistant principal at Austin. Three years later he was named principal at Leon Sheffield Elementary School where he remained until his retirement in 1989.
He earned the respect of his peers, helping the community work through the difficult days of integration. In a letter supporting Jackson’s nomination to the Hall of Fame, Decatur Superintendent Ed Nichols Jr. described his perception of Jackson’s many contributions.
“Mr. Jackson was a servant leader in the education community for many years,” Nichols said. “His leadership in the challenging and historic segregation period within the city of Decatur is without equal. Mr. Jackson served as a teacher, administrator and coach as our community and state worked through the integration process and did so with, pride, humility and a positive attitude.
“His teachers and students described him as a man of great integrity, a model of leadership and a community leader for all people. Current teachers who worked under him share stories of his understanding attitude to meet their needs and the changing needs of students across the changing social times. He is a man who brought diverse communities together.
“Mr. Jackson is a model of the leadership one would expect and desire in an educator of the students of yesterday and today. His legacy lives in the students he taught and coached, who speak fondly of him, and the teachers he supervised, who continue to practice the leadership model and communication that the fostered in them.”
Jackson was inducted into the Athletic Boosters Club Sports Hall of Fame and was named the city’s Educator of the Year in 1989.
Among his many civic and community activities were the Civitan Club, Decatur City Planning Commission, Decatur Parks and Recreation aquatic supervisor, Decatur General Foundation Board and an elder at Macedonia Cumberland Presbyterian Church.
Friday: Ninth and tenth installments of the Hall of Fame series: Sand Rock football coach Russell Jacoway and Hatton volleyball coach Rebecca Lee.