Saturday, June 3, the Georgia Athletic Coaches Association held its 79th Annual Awards and 17th Annual Hall of Fame Banquet. The association has a hall of fame representing 92 inductees through the 2016 class. This year’s inductees brings the total to 97. Many of the names you would recognize: Billy Henderson was inducted in 2004 and Northeast’s Alvin Copeland was one of four inducted in 2012.
Being inducted into the GACA Hall of Fame is quite an honor. I just wish Coach Don Richardson were still with us to have received this honor personally. He passed away in 2011, but at least my good friend Bobby Pope, who wrote a year ago about four coaches he thought should have been inducted into the hall, got one of them in. The family receives a nicely framed memento, ring and medallion, plus a bronze plaque is displayed at the Dalton Trade and Convention Center where the hall is located.
Though we share a last name, Don and I could never figure out a familial connection. Ronald Taylor (Coach T), and I, had a good time talking about Richardson after he returned from the induction ceremony in Dalton. Coach T accepted the GACA award along with Richardson’s granddaughter. Coach T was an assistant coach under Richardson. Maurice Freeman (remember him?) now Brooks County head football coach, made the presentation. It was old home week for Southwest. Former coaches Edgar Hatcher, Eddie Ashley and Carror Wright were in the house.
The numbers Richardson put up — a record of 463-90, state coach of the year six times, six GHSA championships and one mythical national title — only tell one small part of his story. Like all great coaches, he made everybody around him better. I can attest to that. As a broadcaster, who followed the Patriots all over the country, he made me a better play-by-play announcer.
How did “Duck” make everyone better? Simple, really. He set high expectations and he had a plan for his team to meet those expectations. At his funeral, player after player talked about “Duck’s Discipline.” He was a hard task master. I saw it in his practices and it paid off in games on the court and in the game of life.
At the heart of Richardson’s plan was discipline. He could raise holy hell over the slightest infraction by his players, but he kept the team in check. None of his players wanted the “Wrath of Richardson” aimed in their direction, but at some point, just about every player was hit by it. What they didn’t know was his ability to play mind games with them.
Coach T, who went on to be a principal at several Bibb County schools and I, had to laugh about the state of high school basketball today. Few teams play any sort of defense. Players just come down the court and shoot the ball. That didn’t happen back in Richardson’s day. The Patriots played defense and a controlled look inside first offense.
While there is a basketball Renaissance in Bibb County, during Richardson’s 21 years at Southwest, the road to the state championship passed through Macon. Classic battles between the Patriots and Walter Johnson’s Northeast Raiders, were played out before overflow crowds at the Macon Coliseum. When the Central Chargers played the Patriots at the Coliseum, it was Randy Brown’s outside game against Southwest’s inside game.
Yes, that was a special time in Macon and I’m happy the GACA took the time to recognize Richardson, not just for winning basketball games, but for shaping young men’s lives and changing the histories of their families forever.