Sunday, October 23, 2011

Phil Williamson Day

Saturday, we spent the day celebrating "Phil Williamson Day" at LaGrange College.  My dad retired this summer after 42 years as the Athletic Director at LaGrange College.  To honor him and his service to LaGrange College and to the hundreds of student athletes that he has encountered, LaGrange College designated this year's Homecoming as "Phil Williamson Day." 

My dad started his coaching career 51 years ago as a coach at Troup High School.  9 years later, in 1969, he became the Athletic Director at LaGrange College.  He has coached tennis, basketball and baseball.  He started the baseball program at LC and coached until 1996.  He remained Athletic Director after retiring from being a head coach.  He has been to more ball games and athletic events than anyone I know!

"Phil Williamson Day" started with a breakfast in his honor.  Over 150 people gathered for breakfast, fellowship, and speakers.  One of the speakers was Jack Martin, a former baseball player that played on my dad's first baseball team at LaGrange College.  Jack was entertaining and funny, but he also spoke from the heart.  You could hear the emotion in his voice and half the room had tears in their eyes as he paid tribute to my dad.

 


Another speaker was Q.V. Love, the baseball coach at Auburn Unversity at Montgomery. 



The new LaGrange College Athletic Director, Jennifer (J.D.) Claybrook spoke at the end.  She did a great job honoring my dad and bring tears to everyone's eyes!  She was a student athlete at LaGrange College and later became a head coach at LC.  Earlier this year, she was named as the new A.D.  She spoke about what an amazing mentor, encourager and friend he has been to her.

At the end, my dad spoke and told several stories about some of the former athletes in attendance.  He can recall details of games from 20, 30, and 40 years ago! 






My dad with two of his former basketball players.  I believe that both of these men went on to become coaches themselves. 

After the breakfast, my dad was the Grand Marshall of the Homecoming Parade.  Connor got to ride in the convertable with him! 



We spent the rest of the morning tailgating with friends and family.  We didn't see much of the man of honor during the tailgate because so many people wanted to talk to him and wish him well!  But, the kids had fun playing outside all morning!

At the football game, my dad did the coin toss.
After the game, we headed over to the baseball field for the final event of the day.  The baseball field was being renamed in his honor.  When the field was built, it was named Cleaveland Field in honor of Philip Cleaveland, a fomer LC trustee.  On Saturday, the stadium was named Williamson Stadium, so the baseball complex is now Williamson Stadium at Cleaveland Field. 

Lots of friends and family came for the dedication.

Carlene and Dusty Mills (Nonnie and Uncle Dusty to us!)

Thom and Faye Williamson (my dad's nephew and his wife) and Ree Mallory

Murry and Wayne Williamson (my dad's brother and sister-in-law)

Coach Kevin Howard, the current LaGrange College baseball coach spoke and did a great job paying tribute to my dad.  Coach Howard met my dad when they coached against each other in the mid-90's.  Several years later, my dad hired Coach Howard as the baseball coach at LC. 


Revealing the new sign:

Revealing the plaque:
 I love the next picture because it is of my dad with the guys from his first LaGrange College baseball team.  It was such a blessing and a testament to his influence that so many of these guys came to this event over 20 years since they played ball for him.  These guys showed their love and admiration for him by hooting and hollering when the sign was revealed.  They were so excited for his legacy to be preserved at the baseball stadium.  Throughout the day, I heard person after person talk about what he has meant to them and how much he has influenced their life.  I saw men become emotional as they talked about him and I heard over and over again how he has been a father figure to someone.  One former player, Scott Middlebrooks, said of him on Facebook, "Coach means more to us 'hoodlums' than he will ever know.  We love him so much...espcially me - he and Sonji took care of me when they didn't even know they were taking care of me... I love them so much!  They were family when I needed family."

And, Scott is not the only one to feel this way.  Over the past 6 months, since he announced his retirement, I have read emails, letters, and cards from friends and former athletes congratulating him on his retirement and thanking him for his mentoring and influence.  My dad has said several times that he may not have more wins than he does loses, but what matters is the influence he has had on these players lives.  Seeing the huge turnout this weekend, reading all of the letters, and hearing all of the testaments, I know that he has influenced more lives than most people could ever dream about!
In addition to the renaming of the stadium, LC had my parent's "spot" painted at the baseball field.  My parents always sit in the same spot and now their spot has a special signature.  #35 was my dad's number when he coached baseball. 

My mom deserves her own day, "Sonji Williamson Day" or "Coach's Wife Day"!  My mom was the ideal coach's wife.  Being a coach's wife is not an easy job.  Coaching is not a 8-5 job or a Monday through Friday job.  Coaching is beyond a full-time job and with that, a coach's wife is a full-time job.  And, I think that Athletic Director's wife is even more demanding!  Not only did my dad coach baseball all spring, he coached fall baseball throughout the fall, recruited and scouted througout the summer.  On top of that, he was the Athletic Director, so he attended sporting events from other sports throughout the rest of the year.  My mom has been to almost as many ball games as my dad!  She has attended games at colleges all over the Southeast and beyond.  She went out of her way to attend almost ever game he coached and continued to travel with him to games after he retired as baseball coach.  She learned the names and numbers of hundreds of players over the years.  She has cheered for baseball, basketball, soccer, football, lacross, and many other sports.  Not only does she know the players, she knows their parents, grandparents, girlfriends and boyfriends, and siblings!  Other than attending games, my mom went beyond the call of duty as hostess.  She has personally cooked dinner for entire teams and their parents.  She has cooked dinner for all of the coaches and their families and hosted annual Christmas parties for the coaches and their spouses.  More people have eaten at her house for one meal than I will probably ever cook for in my life! 


The next picture is of the current A.D., Jennifer (J.D.) Claybrook, my dad (the former A.D.), and Jerry Cleaveland, the son of Philip Cleaveland of whom the field is also named. 


 And, here is a family picture of all of us from Saturday!


It was a great day and I am so glad that my family could be there for it.  I have always known that my dad is loved and respected in LaGrange, but it was great to see how far his influence has reached.  Men and women from all over came to LaGrange on Saturday for the sole purpose of recognizing Phil Williamson for his accomplishments.  People went out of their way to be there to celebrate him. 
Congratulations Daddy!
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1 comment:

Geep Cunningham said...

It was a great day. I am so glad that Sue Ellen and I were a part of it. Coach will never know how much he touched our hearts not only yesterday but everyday since 1974. He has always been there for me and I am eternally grateful. We love you.
Geep and Sue Ellen Cunningham