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Rotch was ‘epitome of a teacher’

Donald W. Rotch — known as “Coach Rotch” by students even long after his days on the field were over — had been teaching at T.R. Miller High School twice as long as current students have been alive, and his death Wednesday night in a tragic head-on collision stunned the community.

Rotch was a Jackson, Ala., native who became a member of the T.R. Miller coaching staff in 1974. He spent 18 years on the Tiger sidelines, working under head coaches Frank Cotten, Mike Sasser, Joel Williams and Jamie Riggs. When he moved into administration, he was the offensive coordinator and also coached baseball.

Cotten, the former T.R. Miller principal who hired Rotch in 1974, said they had grown up and played sports together in high school.

“He was a hard worker and made a close relationship with both students and the other coaches,” Cotten said. “It is a sad day for all of us who knew him. The community has been lucky to have him and he will be missed. … He was a class act in every way.”

Funeral services for Rotch are set for today at 4 p.m. at First United Methodist Church, where he was a member. He is survived by his wife, Jane, and two children, Richard and Jayme.

Mike Sasser coached with Rotch when he first came to Brewton.

“This whole community is in shock,” Sasser said. “Donnie was the type of person you could trust and know that everything was going to work out. I never knew anyone who loved T.R. Miller as much as he did. He always worked hard at anything he did. He was a positive influence of everyone. This is a tremendous loss. I treasure his friendship all these years and he has a wonderful family who will miss him for many years to come.”

The Rev. Jack Fitts, pastor of First Baptist Church of Brewton, said many people were influenced by Rotch over the years.

“I came to Brewton in 1978 while he was coaching baseball,” Fitts said. “He made himself one of those guys that became a figure in the community. He always was there for his students, whether they were in class or playing on an athletic field. I also have a lot of personal memories over the years. He will be missed by everyone that knew him. This was a tragedy for his family, his school and the community he served for the past 36 years.”

Brewton City Schools Superintendent Lynn Smith said Rotch had a passion for education and for T.R. Miller High School.

“I believe he would have done this job for free, even on the bad days,” Smith said.

A Facebook page set up in Rotch’s memory had attracted more than 1,400 fans by Friday afternoon.

Current and former students were stunned by the loss of their principal.

“I’m really going to miss his morning greetings,” Elizabeth Nelson said. “Every morning when I walked into school I could always count on him to welcome me, ask how everything was going, and wish me a good day at school. He will truly be missed.”

Junior Leah Brundidge called Rotch “a great man.”

“He cared about and loved TRM so much,” she said. “He expected greatness, and he’s one of the reasons why TRM has such a great reputation. I will really miss seeing him around the school and at different sporting events.”

Senior Natalie Neal said she would miss Rotch’s presence at the school and his interest in students’ activities.

“He would always smile and never ignore you,” Neal said. “I can’t remember a day that he didn’t want to be at the school. He was always prepared and organized. And he always made volleyball games. He has made T. R. Miller a very remarkable place. I don’t think there could ever be a principal as good as he was.”

Senior Ed Hines said the school would pull together to continue Rotch’s legacy.

“It’s a horrible thing that happened, and maybe it could have been prevented, maybe not, nobody knows,” Hines said. “Everyone in our community is grieving now, and the whole T.R. Miller program seems lost without Coach Rotch. But I believe that he would expect us to continue to be the best school that we could be, to keep building the legacy he started at T.R. Miller High School. We all are definitely going through a tough time, but I know in my heart that this is not the end, and we can get through this together and continue being great.”

Adam Robinson contributed to this report.