2014 Making A Difference Award Winners Named
Six individuals who have made an impact as exemplary role models have been selected as the 2014 Making A Difference Award recipients by the Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) and the Alabama High School Athletic Directors & Coaches Association (AHSADCA).
One recipient from each of the AHSAA’s six classifications was chosen from nominations submitted by AHSAA member schools and other support organizations. This year’s recipients are Jerome Sanders, J.F. Shields (1A); Amy Warrick, Goshen (2A); Steve Smith, Piedmont (3A); Rusty Bates, Ardmore (4A); Ron Smith, Brewer (5A); and Robby Parker (6A).
The six will be recognized at the Championship Coaches Banquet at the Renaissance Montgomery Convention Center July 25. The 6 p.m. event will close out the 2014 Summer Conference and All-Star Sports Week for member schools. The Officials’ Awards luncheon the following day at the Renaissance at 11:30 a.m. will officially close out the week.
The Making A Difference Award was established in 2011 by the AHSAA and AHSADCA to recognize individuals who go beyond their normal duties as a coach, teacher or administrator to make a positive impact in their schools and communities. This year’s recipients include one principal, one full-time athletic director, a head football coach, head boys’ basketball coach, head volleyball coach and head softball coach.
“The recipients in this fourth Making A Difference class are tremendous role models for their students, faculty and community. They are indeed excellent examples of what this award stands for. Each has made a major difference in their communities and schools," said AHSAA Executive Director Steve Savarese. “This award is the most important honor a professional educator in our state can receive.
“Characteristics considered for this prestigious award include the recipient’s character, integrity and service, all of which have enabled these individuals to have a life-changing impact on the community or school.”
Savarese said this special award exemplifies what makes education-based sports so important.
“We are very proud of all our coaches, teachers and administrators,” he said. “This is one way we can honor them for the examples they set and the life lessons they teach on a daily basis.”
Here is brief synopsis of the Making A Difference recipients for 2014:
Jerome Sanders, J.F. Shields High School, Beatrice
Jerome Sanders grew up in Riley Crossing near Beatrice, graduated from J.F. Shields in 1972 and played on the school’s 1972 state basketball championship team. That was just the beginning of Coach Sanders’ impact on the students, teachers and community at J.F. Shields. Learning first-hand how to be a winner on and off the court, he has spent most of his adult life teaching life lessons to the young men and women of J.F. Shields. He coaches them about commitment, sacrifice, teamwork and also teaches them about respect, character and life’s responsibilities.
Sanders serves as a mentor, leader and guide throughout Monroe County and surrounding areas, said Principal Carol Brown. “I was told many people make suggestions, but leaders make decisions,” she wrote. “When Coach Sanders decided to return to his alma mater more than 20 years ago, he made a difference in the lives of so many. He has been doing that diligently every year since.”
Amy Warrick, Goshen High School
Amy Warrick has been at Goshen for the past eight years where she has taught special education and served as volleyball and softball junior varsity and varsity coach at Goshen. Three years ago her dedication and perseverance were called on in a major way when softball and volleyball head coach and best friend Dee Hughes learned she had cancer.
Since then, Coach Warrick had to assume most of the duties of a head coach while also trying to ease the mind of her friend and mentor as she underwent intense chemotherapy. Coach Hughes passed away last fall.
According to GHS athletic director Bart Snyder, Coach Warrick had to step into the nurturing role that Coach Hughes had with Goshen’s female student-athletes.
“Coach Warrick saw to the needs of the teams, student-athletes and also to the needs of Coach Hughes and her family,” Snyder said. “During that time, Coach Warrick guided Goshen’s volleyball team to the Super Regional tournament in Montgomery and the softball team to the state tournament two years in a row.”
He said she has been a rock that students, teachers, Coach Hughes and her family leaned on. Warrick’s strength and strong determination showed through even though she herself was grieving for her dear friend.
“Through it all, our girls’ athletic program has remained strong,” said Snyder, “has kept the core values taught from these life lessons at the forefront. We all have grown stronger through the endurance and example displayed by Coach Hughes in her last days and by Coach Warrick in these trying times.”
Steve Smith, Piedmont High School
Steve Smith was a standout quarterback who earned All-State honors as a senior in 1987 at Cherokee County High School in Centre. He then played football at Jacksonville State from 1988-91 and served as a graduate assistant on the 1992 national championship team at JSU.
Smith was hired at Cedar Bluff in 1995. During his tenure, the Tigers went 85-45 overall and won two area titles and four region crowns. He earned the reputation of developing smart quarterbacks and was one of the few coaches who allowed his quarterbacks to call the plays on the field – just like he did as a player.
Smith's 1997 team ended the regular season with a perfect 10-0 record, completing the school's first undefeated season since the storied days of Coach L.D. Bruce in the 1960s. His teams qualified for the playoffs each year except his first at Cedar Bluff.
At the age of 35, he accepted the position of head coach and athletic director at Piedmont High School in 2006. The Bulldogs won the school’s first state title in 2009 with a 35-28 victory over Cordova in the 3A finals and set a school record for wins with a 13-2 record. Last year his team reached the quarterfinals before falling in overtime to eventual state champ Madison Academy 34-33. His team went for two to win and came up just short.
However, it is that kind of confidence in his players that makes Smith one of the top football coaches in Alabama. They believe in him and the values that he teaches daily. His teams have won 10 or more games 12 times in 19 seasons, including the last seven in a row at Piedmont.
As AD he has seen the boys’ basketball team reach the Final 48, the boys’ track team win two straight outdoor titles and the baseball team go deep in the state playoffs each of the last two years. He is always present at Piedmont school events supporting the students and faculty. His wife coaches the school softball team.
A member of the AHSAA Football Coaches Committee, he is an advocate for high school small school athletics and is changing the lives of his players one kid at a time.
Rusty Bates, Ardmore High School
The athletic director at Ardmore for the last five years has been a calming force for the school’s athletic programs – helping to mold young coaches concerning the areas of sportsmanship, character and integrity.
Bates began his coaching career in 1993 at Calhoun Community College as an assistant softball coach under Myra King. Over the next three seasons the duo would see Calhoun win three state and region championships.
In 1996 Bates returned to his alma mater, West Limestone High School, to coach football, basketball, and softball. At West Limestone he took over a fast-pitch softball program in its infancy and went 98-36 the next four seasons. He was voted The Athens-Limestone Metro Coach of the Year three times.
In 2000 Bates headed to Hazel Green High School where he led the softball team from slow-pitch to fast-pitch. Success came quickly with back-to-back county championships in 2003 and 2004 and a trip to the state tournament in 2003. He stepped down as a softball coach with a 321-173 overall softball coaching record.
Bates and his wife Kristin have one child, Lauren, who was born premature. The struggle their daughter battled through has given both parents a passion to help organizations such as the Melissa George Foundation, an organization that helped them and is aimed at helping premature infants survive by equipping hospitals with the latest technology.
“Coach Bates and his wife have really gotten our school behind this project each year,” said Principal Tommy Hunter. “They have shown our students that every child matters and that each of us can make a difference.”
Hunter calls Bates a sounding board for him and a dear friend for life. “He has a passion and has really made a difference in the lives of all of us here at Ardmore High School. We are thankful we have held onto him for so long.”
Ron Smith, A.P. Brewer High School, Somerville
Smith, who is the head volleyball coach and assistant girls’ basketball coach, is described by his principal as “like a second father to the girls on his teams.” Over the years several of the girls have been without dads or adult male role models in their households and Coach Smith has stepped in and given them a Godly role model for them to look up to on and off the court.”
Students point out that Smith constantly goes the extra mile in assisting them in landing college scholarships and other financial assistance for college. He meets with college recruiters and writes countless letters of recommendation.
The successes shown by girls on the court can be directly attributed to his leadership (three straight state volleyball tournament appearances and four straight basketball state tournament appearances).
Some of his players wrote the following comments.
“Coach Smith has pushed me to my limits and encouraged me to surpass them. All of our teams would not have been able to accomplish all we did without Coach Smith being right there with us. Just knowing someone believes, loves and supports you can make a world a difference in your life. We know because Coach Smith gave us that.”
Robert “Robby” Parker, Bob Jones High School, Madison
Nominator Kent Chambers said, “A school is reflective of its leader. We are blessed (at Bob Jones) to have Robby Parker as our principal. It is obvious to every student, parent and teacher that he cares about the students and wants the very best for each child.”
Chambers said that Parker, who came to Bob Jones as a teacher and assistant coach in 1988, connects with the students on Twitter, in the halls, and he attends every event possible. He promotes every team/squad from football to swimming to the math team.
“He lets the students know they are important, going above and beyond what the average expectations are of an administrator,” Chambers said. “He has created a sense of family in our students. His love for Bob Jones is evident in all that he does.”
Before Christmas he sends emails and makes announcements telling students that if they need somewhere to go over the break to contact him or a member of his family because he believes “no one should be alone at Christmas.”
Chambers adds, “Mr. Parker sets the bar extremely high for all high school principals.”