The trip to Haddock was out of his way.
But Richard Reid enjoyed the camaraderie much more than the drives bothered him. In fact, because of the company he was keeping, the longtime basketball coach didn’t mind the travel at all.
Every March, Reid would make that drive to Haddock to pick up a teenage Grady Smith from his family’s cattle farm. Along the way, Reid would collect a few others, and the group would make its way to the Macon City Auditorium for the GHSA state basketball tournament. Reid, who had just taken a head coaching job at Stratford at the time, made the long circuit every year of the 1960s for the basketball tournament.
“It meant a lot that he would go out of his way to come out and get me,” said Smith, who is now the athletics director at Stratford. “He was a fun person to be with, and I enjoyed any time I could spend with him.”
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The two have been linked together for most of their lives, as student and teacher in Jones County, as fellow coaches at Stratford and as rival coaches at Stratford and Tattnall Square. They will be linked again today when Tattnall dedicates its basketball court to Reid, whose Trojans will play Stratford at 6:30 p.m.
The dedication comes two weeks after the 76-year-old Reid officially earned his 1,000th career win against Macon Area Christian and two weeks before Reid attempts to chase down a state championship for the seventh consecutive decade. It also caps an emotional year for Reid, who returned to coaching last season, fought off colon cancer in an especially tough battle and now leads a favorite to win a championship.
“It should be a special night,” Smith said. “I think it will be great for Stratford and Tattnall to be playing (today) because of the history he has with both schools. And Coach Reid has meant so much to so many people. I think there will be a lot of people there on Tuesday for that.”
Finding a mentor
Smith and Reid cultivated a relationship much earlier than their long trips together when Smith was a 10-year-old basketball fan and team manager for his sister Cathy’s Jones County girls basketball team. As Smith got to know Reid better, the two would fish between 10 to 12 times during the spring and summer months at the Smith’s pond. Reid would help Smith fertilize the pond and would take groups fishing in Monroe County.
They eventually became a golfing team, playing in tournaments at local courses around Middle Georgia.
“Richard Reid is one of the greatest athletes to come out of Macon,” Smith said. “Anything he competed in, he was good at it.”
Current Tattnall head boys coach Paul Brooks can attest to that.
He and Reid had a day off from school in the mid-1980s because of an election day. They got together and headed out to Lake Sinclair, where they caught about 115 white perch in an afternoon.
“He can fish, play golf,” Brooks said. “He used to beat out grounders to the shortstop in softball, and he was about 50 years old then. He was a 16-foot pole vaulter in the Army; he almost made the Olympics.”
Reid featured both tremendous athleticism and an uncanny ability to build relationships with fellow athletes and later the players he coached.
Reid was a standout player at Mercer from 1950-54 following a state championship run as a player at Lanier in 1950. A self-professed pass-first guard, Reid managed to score 1,246 career points at Mercer, which was good for second all-time when he graduated. Reid is now 14th on the list. Reid was inducted into the Mercer Sports Hall of Fame in 1973.
Finding his calling
Following his career at Mercer, Reid took over as the basketball coach at Jones County. Reid won the 1958 GHSA Class C state championship in his first year with the Greyhounds with a 37-36 win over undefeated Toombs Central in the title game. He had never seen a girls basketball game before that year.
Telegraph State News Editor George Landry wrote that Reid was known for his “smoothness and cucumber-coolness” during that first championship season. It was the temperament that many basketball fans have seen during the past seven decades.
“I guess I stay pretty calm,” Reid said. “I’m old as dirt now, so I can’t get too excited. But I never have been that kind of coach.”
The Greyhounds won another state championship in 1960 and continued a string of 20-game winners before Reid left for Stratford in 1964.
At Stratford, Reid had his best year in 1970, right before Stratford left for the GISA. He led both the boys and the girls to the state tournament, taking the boys to the quarterfinals and girls to the championship game, where they lost to Taylor County.
Reid led the Stratford boys to a state championship in 1971, the school’s first year in the GISA. Meanwhile, his protege Smith was racking up four state championships with the girls in the 1970s.
“It was an unbelievable resource to have Coach Reid here,” Smith said. “I went to him a lot for advice. And I watched how he coached. He carried himself like a gentleman. He was always calm, and he was one of the best bench coaches I’ve ever seen. He just had this ability to make adjustments during a game.”
Brooks developed that same teacher-student relationship with Reid when the two were paired together at Tattnall. Brooks first met him as a player at Gordon Ivey on a Reid-coached all-star team in 1971. They coached together for two years at Tattnall before Reid asked Brooks if preferred coaching boys or girls. Brooks said boys, so Reid handed him the head boys job.
“I have a tremendous respect for Coach Reid,” Brooks said. “He has been like both a father and a brother to me. We have a tremendous bond, and it meant a lot when he gave me that opportunity.”
Reid took the Trojans on a remarkable run in the 1990s. He led the girls to state championships in 1990, 1992, 1997 and 1998. That run included an improbable 1998 championship that saw the Trojans enter the region tournament game with a 7-15 record.
“That was certainly the most unexpected state championship,” Reid said. “I knew from the beginning we had a better than our record. But everything fell into place.”
Reid stepped away from basketball in 2001 — he gave it up one time before he went to Tattnall in 1978 — but he won a boys golf state championship that same year.
Like the days of traveling to the City Auditorium, Reid could be found in gyms almost every night there were games scheduled until he returned to help Brooks. The Trojans made it to the state semifinals in 2007 with Reid on the bench.
“He just keeps everybody so calm and relaxed and loose,” Brooks said. “The kids love him.”
And Reid loved coaching, so when the head girls basketball job came open in 2008, Tattnall headmaster Barney Hester and athletics director Jeff Ratliff went straight to Reid.
“I think he really wanted to get back into it, and I wasn’t going to tell him no,” Hester said.
Bolstered by Reid’s return and the transfer of two promising guards from Westside, the Trojans rebounded from a two-win season in 2007-08 to go 11-15 last year. With all of his experienced players returning, Reid was looking forward to the 2009-10 season as soon as last year ended.
But even getting to this season wasn’t easy.
Reid discovered he had colon cancer during the 2008-09 season. He battled through chemotherapy during the season, keeping the medicine in a pack on his waist.
“I was tired, but it didn’t really get me,” Reid said. “It didn’t hinder me during the season. But I got sick right after.”
Reid said the cancer treatment went sour, perhaps too much chemo too quick. His vital signs dropped, and he was taken to the hospital in an ambulance after a particularly bad episode last March.
Reid spent eight days in the intensive care unit, and many close to him thought he might not survive.
“It was really scary,” Brooks said. “At one point, I told my wife that I didn’t know if he would ever make it home.”
But Reid did bounce back. He regained a sense of appetite that he lost with the chemo treatments and he started to regain the 35 pounds he lost during the ordeal.
“I never did lose sight of what was going on,” Reid said. “I never thought I was going to die.”
The episode did, however, give Reid a renewed sense of life. He went into the summer leading a team that he thought was good enough to compete for a state championship. The Trojans got off to a great start and are now 20-3, although they have lost two of their past three games.
“I think we are a very good basketball team,” Reid said recently. “I think we are a contender. You never know with high school kids, but we’re a contender.”
Reid said he isn’t sure if this will be his last season as the head coach. Tattnall hired former Central Fellowship and Covenant girls coach Todd Whetsel to serve as a coach-in-waiting. The Trojans should have a very good team next year with the return of standouts Faren Harris and Shanice Stanley.
Reid said he knows he’ll reach a point in life where he has to give up coaching. He said he hasn’t reached it yet, “but I know I’m getting there.”
“I really believe being around the kids keeps you young,” he said. “If I didn’t have anything to do, nowhere to go. I’d be in bed at noon watching ‘The Price Is Right’ and withering away.”
Reid said his brother, Tommy, retired from a successful career in the clothing business, but then he health went quickly after the retirement.
“I don’t know why I would want to go away,” Reid said. “I love doing this, and I could still do it. It keeps me alive. I know I don’t have 10 more years in me.”
If this is Reid’s final season with the girls, Brooks might have a hire in March.
“No matter what happens with the girls, I would love him to be my assistant,” Brooks said. “He loves this school, and we need him. I think he needs us too.”