Six to receive ‘Making A Difference’ 2011 Coach of the Year award

Published 3:22 pm Wednesday, June 22, 2011

MONTGOMERY – The Alabama High School Athletic Association and the Alabama High School Athletic Directors & Coaches Association will recognize six high school head coaches who have been selected to receive the first “Making A Difference” Coach of the Year Award next month at the Championship Coaches Banquet.
The banquet at the Renaissance Montgomery Hotel at the Civic Center will be July 15 at 6:30 p.m. It closes out the five-day 2011 All-Star Sports Week.
One coach from each of the AHSAA’s six classifications was chosen from a field of 39 nominations submitted by AHSAA member schools and other support organizations. The inaugural winners are Greg Hamilton, Vina (1A); Jason Franklin, Horseshoe Bend (2A); Earlando Courtney, Greensboro (3A); Jack Hankins, Jr., Thomasville (4A); Jim Elgin, Pleasant Grove (5A); and Fred Riley, Davidson (6A).
This award was established earlier this year by the AHSAA and AHSADCA to recognize member school coaches who go beyond their normal duties as a coach to make a positive impact in their schools and communities. A committee of Alabama Sports Writers Association members served as the selection committee.
“This award I feel is the most important honor a coach can receive,” AHSAA Executive Director Steve Savarese said. “Criteria for this prestigious award include a coach’s character, integrity and service above and beyond the norm which has had a life-changing impact on the community or school.”
The nominee must also be a head coach of a sport in the AHSAA championship program.
“We are proud of all our coaches. This is one way we can honor our coaches for the examples they set and the life lessons they teach on a daily basis in their schools and communities,” Savarese add.
The Awards Banquet will also recognize coaches who led their teams to AHSAA state championships during the 2010-11 school year.
This year’s “Making A Difference” Coaches of the Year:
Class 1A
Greg Hamilton, Vina High School
Hamilton has served as head baseball coach at this small school Franklin County for 15 years. He also has worn several other hats, including assistant principal. He took over a fledgling baseball program and within five years had built it into a consistent winner and Top 10 team.
His ability to encourage his players to reach past their ability is a testament to his being a role model as a coach, teacher, and committed family man.
One former player, U.S. Marine officer Patrick McCarley, said Hamilton has been the most influential figure in his life. “Coach Hamilton taught me the importance of perseverance, determination, dedication and what he called “coachability”. I could tell you how he affected my life by being there through the deaths of family members, personally driving me 10 hours to a recruiting visit in Indiana, and visiting me when I was in the hospital.
“He once told me that if he never taught me anything else, he would make sure that when I left Vina I would be coachable. By indirectly teaching me selflessness, Coach Hamilton primed me to be a leader and helped me understand what it takes to ensure a greater good. Now, as an officer in the Marine Corps, we must daily put the needs of our Marines ahead of our own. Had I not grasped the concept of Coach Hamilton’s “coachability”, I may never have been fit to be a leader in the Marines. I owe everything I have to Coach Hamilton.”

Class 2A
Jason Franklin, Horseshoe Bend High School
When Franklin took over as head football coach at Horseshoe Bend, a Class 2A school located east of Alexander City in Tallapoosa County, the program barely had enough players to play – even dressing out only 12 in some games – and attendance at games had all but dried up, said assistant principal James Aulner. The team had won only one game the two previous seasons.
Now, however, the numbers are up to 65 youngsters in the program as Franklin enters his third season. Attendance at games is near capacity and the mindset of the kids has gone from that of being defeated before a game started to now competing in every contest they play, he said.
Franklin is described as a man of integrity, honesty and strong moral character. “He has spent many hours above and beyond the norm encouraging students to come out for the team and has infused a self-confidence into them that has slowly changed the culture of losing into one of hard work and effort,” Aulner adds. “A renewed community spirit and pride is now changing lives. He doesn’t preach to the students, but there is a strong ministry of presence. They know he cares.”

Class 3A
Earlando Courtney, Greensboro High School
Courtney arrived in Hale County at Greensboro in 2009 and quickly made a difference in the Raiders’ basketball program as well as in the mindset of the Greensboro student-athletes.
Employed as a math teacher and boys basketball coach, he replaced a coach that had major success, including a 27-2 record the previous year. His arrival was not accepted wholeheartedly by everyone.
Still, he met the challenge head-on. His first team went just 6-16, but the young coach did not lose sight of his more important goals. He immediately began tutoring players and other students that needed assistance in math. He stressed hard work, discipline, determination and teamwork. He slowly began to convince his players that his way would be productive.
He set academic expectations and guidelines. A potential player who received a failing grade in a class was not allowed to try out for the team. Two starters from the previous year did not make the cut. These guidelines also got the other kids’ attention. A buzz was created as students started talking about winning on the court and in the classroom,
Two years later, Courtney’s team finished 28-6 and won the 2011 Class 3A state basketball championship. In addition, his student-athletes are working hard to make the grade in the classroom.

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Class 4A
Jack Hankins, Thomasville
Thomasville’s Tigers rolled to a 15-0 record and the Class 4A state football championship this past season and with it improved Hankins’ overall record to 96-22 in 10 seasons as head coach. While winning the state title is always a goal for the Tigers under Hankins’ leadership, it is not the end all.
He has transferred the success of off-the-field commitment to excellence into the football arena. His nominator wrote, “Coach Hankins is the perfect example of what a coach should stand for in a young man’s life. He is an outstanding role model who focuses on developing the young men he coaches and teaches to be future leaders, fathers and employees. Our success on the football field is merely a by-product of the life lessons he teaches each and every day.”
Hankins takes his team to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes summer camp each year and spends countless hours discussing topics like responsibility, leadership and character with every single student-athlete in the school. His focus has not been to win championships but to build champions, said the nominator.

Class 5A
Jim Elgin, Pleasant Grove High School
When Jim Elgin arrived at Pleasant Grove High School in 2004, he brought a resume that included coaching football at the college level. His football knowledge has turned the Spartans into one of the top teams annually in Jefferson County and Class 5A with 51 wins and just 29 losses during that span.
No doubt he has made a difference in the discipline and commitment shown by his players. However, it’s that commitment to them that stands out. Although he lived 20 miles away in Hoover when the devastating tornado system of April 27 left the town of Pleasant Grove in rubble, Elgin was one of the first responders that night as the storms moved through.
He contacted his players in a matter of hours to make sure they and their families were safe. He roamed by foot through the destruction helping anyone he could over the next weeks – sometimes clipping 10 to 12 miles a day. He mobilized his players to help with debris removal and was at the forefront as they began picking up the pieces in the battered community. He also got other coaches involved, found chain saws and mobilized them as they all worked long hours in the recovery effort.
His tireless example is one that will remain with his players and that community for many years to come. His nominator said, “As a coach he has talked of commitment and teamwork. In a time of need, he put those words into action as Pleasant Grove rose above the rubble with a spirit of family and togetherness.”
The work there and in other cities in recovery will take a long, long time. Just like building a winning football team, it will take hard work and tenacity along with the spirit that is generated by a positive leader such as Elgin.

Class 6A
Fred Riley, Davidson High School
The Warriors football team has compiled a 66-21 record, won three regional titles, and reached the Class 6A semifinals twice and the quarterfinals twice under Riley’s tutelage. He has served as the Mobile school’s athletic director since 2004. The football program is now considered a “Top 10” team each year.
That’s just part of the story. When he became AD, he instituted a core group of “Academic Athletics”, a team of educators that track students who are potential Division I or Division II college athletes. That team of educators has operated as a support group helping to nurture a working relationship with parents and other teachers while steering student-athletes to more challenging academic courses that help better prepare them for college and college entrance tests, etc.
The first year four Davidson students signed Division I scholarships, and the next year 12. That list continues to grow and Riley’s model of academic support is being used now by other districts throughout the southeast.
His high standard of excellence is now the standard all student-athletes are setting for themselves and has become the norm at Davidson, wrote a nominator.