A salute to two great coaches
Jimmy Yarbrough, Guest columnist
Those of us who were fortunate enough to attend Morgan County High School during the late '50s until the mid-'60s experienced a very special era. The Kennedy White House was referred to as Camelot and that word best describes what it was like at MCHS.
It was a golden age, an age of innocence and naivete.
As the battles of integration and social change and the Vietnam War boiled around us, we were in a protective bubble, shielded by the small town atmosphere of Hartselle, our families and a faculty of great teachers. Noted author James Dobson has said that the seniors of 1965 faced the most difficult times of any class in the history of our country. The turmoil of that era barely reached into MCHS where we were being prepared to face life and those turbulent times.
Good teachers never die; they live on forever in their students and the generations that come from those students. Lizzie Reed Penn, Beulah Hester, Anne Weinman, and Joe Groover, to name a few, taught us not only subject matter but, more importantly, about life. Today's educators are pushed to teach subject matter, to "be on task," and there is so much emphasis on test scores that there is little time left for, perhaps, what is most important: sharing life's lessons.
Guy Dowd, a former national teacher of the year, called teachers the molders of dreams. So many of our teachers during that time period did that, molding our minds and characters. It's no wonder that so many of our class became educators.
I will never forget Fessor Burleson's practical teaching about a range of topics from buying Moon Pies (the biggest size is usually the best buy) to caring for your hair (100 strokes a day with a brush), I fondly remember recesses that lasted for two to three hours on warm spring days. Most of all, I remember he played baseball with us.
Mr. J. C. Pettey was our principal at MCHS and used to let us have movies and long pep rallies. In spite of all this lost "on task" time, we still learned and were well prepared for college and life.
Two men at MCHS had a tremendous positive influence on my life and those of countless others. These were my coaches: J. P. Cain and Brub Hamilton. As I write their names, I cringe at using their first names. They will always be Coach Cain and Coach Hamilton to me. Out of respect, then and now, I would never use their first names.
Coach Hamilton died recently. His death brought back a flood of memories. I can still picture him standing at mid-court of J. C. Pettey Gym, whistle hanging from his neck on a string fashioned by tying two tennis shoe strings together; his khaki pants rolled up and his white T-shirt not quite covering his belly.
He was my seventh grade math teacher and an excellent one. During part of the day, he had P.E. classes and the high point of my school day was playing touch football in P.E. Coach Cain would quarterback one team and Coach Hamilton the other. It was so special for these men that we so admired and were our role models to play with us, to praise us after a good play and to encourage us after a bad one. Everybody on the team got a pass thrown to them during the course of the game. We ran to P.E. Today's students often dread it.
Coach Hamilton was extremely modest. He had been a Little All-American at Florence State College (now UNA). He never mentioned it to us. As he played football, basketball and softball with us, his tremendous athletic ability was evident.
He was as shy as he was modest. I remember how nervous he was about having to make speeches at his inductions into the UNA and Morgan County Athletic Halls of Fame. Coach was always fun to be around, joking and smiling.
When Coach Hamilton became West Morgan's first head coach as that school began its football program, Frank Parker, Charlie Yarbrough, and I helped him with pre-season practice. As he drove to practice from Hartselle to West Morgan, Coach would turn around and talk to the passengers in the back seat.
Several close encounters with other cars never phased him but scared us to death. Coach Cain and Doc Sittason said he learned this driving technique from Mr. Pettey. Ironically, Coach Hamilton ended his teaching career teaching driver's ed.
Coach Hamilton made a difference in the lives of so many people. He left behind four fine sons and their families. He won't be forgotten. I hope he knew how much he meant to his students and players and I wish I had told him so. I think he knew, but I should have told him.
It's not too late to tell Coach Cain. When my brother and I were in the eighth grade we were giving a female teacher a hard time. One day in P.E., Coach got me by the neck with one hand and Charlie with the other. You've never had your neck squeezed until Coach does it.
I'll never forget what he told us: "You boys are leaders, but you are leading in the wrong direction." That's the way the experts say to correct: positive first, then the negative. I doubt that Coach had consulted the discipline experts since by nature he was one.
What he said made a difference for life. I didn't become an angel immediately, as many of my teachers can testify, but that comment was planted in my mind. I respected him so much and wanted to please him and still do. If he told me today to run through a brick wall, get the stretcher and the brick masons ready.
Respect is earned. Our coaches did that by their actions and by the time they gave us. They taught by word and example. My senior year a football team without a lot of great talent finished 8-1-1 and number three in the state polls. We feel that with a playoff system we would have been number one. We overachieved because we loved football and our coaches. A lot of that love for both goes back to those touch games in P.E.
Incidentally, the first year my brother and I taught at the Junior High, we spent every Sunday afternoon with many of the boys in our classes playing touch football in Roger Chapman's front yard. We loved those games and those boys.
Coach Cain gave me, my wife, my brother and Frank Parker the opportunity to become teachers when the Junior High opened and he was the first principal. All of us have become lifelong educators. Hopefully, we carried on what we had learned from him and all of those great teachers at MCHS. Others have or will take our places, but part of us will go on in our students and so will part of those teachers we had during that magic era.
So, Coach Cain, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for helping me to become a man. Only my dad has had more human influence on that process. You have helped so many and maybe they will join me in saying: "Thanks Coach, you made all the difference."