By R. Alan Richardson
As children grow into men and women, they begin to realize the role their parents played in their lives. Appreciation for those lessons grows over time. Such is the case for the Garey Huff family. There are so many stories and memories surrounding the life of the legendary Coach Huff from his family that there is no way to print them all. Here are a few that were shared by Mike, Barry, and Joi Huff.
His son Mike said, “He was always involved in sports at MCHS. His students say that they feared and respected him, but they all agreed he had touched their lives in a positive way. Being his son, I would get a chance to visit him at football, baseball, or basketball practices. I was there with some of the greats like Donald Hilsman, Snooks Saye, Neal Vason, Bobby Tamplin, Bob and Bill McWhorter, and Jerry Hilsman to name a few. I rode many laps around the practice field with his linemen powering us around on the sled with him saying, “Dig, dig, dig.”
Mike continued to tell us that he was fortunate to be able to ride the bus, attend football camp, tape ankles as a manager, put down foul lines, keep the scorebook, and even play baseball for his dad. Sometimes it’s hard for a son to find time to spend with a father who coaches, but it sounds like he did.
“Daddy had a humorous side to him as well. Once he caught a student filling up a water pistol at the fountain. He took it away from him and emptied the entire contents on him. On another occasion we traveled to an away baseball game and someone gave me chewing tobacco. I ended up swallowing it by mistake in right field. On the way home he made all who were chewing put it back in. We had to roll up all the windows and not allowed to spit. The whole group got sick, but one player spit some out a window. We had to wash the bus and clean it inside and out on our return. He also loved giving his students a trick test where you had to only sign your name if you read all the directions first. They all did poorly, but he would give them the real test the next day,” said Mike.
Most of his students remember that giant, infamous paddle he carried around. The wood shop had skillfully manufactured it for him with a handle for his two massive hands and holes in it to reduce drag during the swinging action. It was not a punishment most boys looked forward to.
The Coach played baseball at Piedmont College as a first baseman. Neither he nor Coach Bill Corry had played football when they came to Morgan County, but still produced four state football championships. In Mike’s opinion, “They had what it took to be great coaches by demanding and receiving respect. They had disciplined players who knew exactly where they stood with the coaches. Play smart and give your all in all you do. Be a part of the team. My daddy passed on to me these desirable attributes and has helped me to be what I am today. He loved coaching and he especially loved his athletes that gave 110% for Coach Huff and the Bulldogs. If our schools today had more teachers like my daddy I believe our world and our country would be better off.”
Barry Huff talked about his dad’s legacy with these memories, “As the son of a legendary coach, my earliest sports memories of daddy as a coach was when he coached our Pony League baseball team in Madison. I can recall the workouts he put us through, especially how thorough he was. I sensed early on the respect his players had for him by the effort they put forth. I played for my daddy for the first time at Morgan County High School, which would turn out to be my only year there, on the B-team football squad made up of seventh and eighth graders. He decided I would make a good quarterback with a strong arm, but thankfully there were others like my good friend Ricky Cochran and another eighth grader that were ahead of me in the lineup. I quickly became the third string quarterback, a role I cherished, because some of those bigger Ruarks and Malcolms would literally knock the snot out of you. I don’t ever remember getting to play mostly because every time we would be winning big and daddy would start subbing seventh graders, I would hide behind the bleachers. I think he was as scared of me getting hurt as I was,” he laughed.
Barry said he was always the class clown. When Coach Huff left Morgan County to take a coaching and teaching position at the newly formed Rutledge Academy his dad became his basketball coach. “I remember one night when we had a big game with our most feared and hated rivals, Gatewood Academy. That day I decided that I couldn’t wait for lunch so I stole a classmate’s lunch from his locker. He determined that I was the culprit and as Headmaster then he proceeded to wear me out with that skinny belt of his. He then told me I would not be in the starting basketball lineup that night. Mom told me later there was a buzz in the gym when I wasn’t starting. He was still punishing me for my transgressions. She was wondering why I wasn’t starting in such a big game. It was a testament to how fair daddy was when dolling out punishment. He never compromised and it didn’t matter if you were the star or his own blood. Thanks daddy. Lesson well learned.”
His youngest child, Joi Huff Campbell talked about him being a dad more than a coach. She commented, “I remember one of the very first basketball games I ever played in at Rutledge Academy with daddy as my coach. He always kept an old silver metal box as a first aid kit under his seat. I scored the first four points of the game, but I scored them for the other team! I didn’t have a clue about what I was doing. I just remember hearing that metal box being kicked and echoing throughout the entire gym. Twice!”
She also mentioned how her daddy would take girls home from school if their dresses were too short to suit him. “It was sorta hard growing up with friends that disliked your daddy. I believe now those same people would say they respected him as they’ve grown older. He was the headmaster and it was his job to abide by the rules.”
She ended our conversation with this, “I wouldn’t trade these memories for all the gold in the world. I loved my daddy more than anything. Fortunately, I got to experience another side of him when he became a granddaddy. He was the best BIG DADDY in the whole world. There was nothing, and I mean nothing, he wouldn’t do for his kids or grand kids.”
Mac Corry, son of Bill Corry, found an old video of a 1994 team reunion of all the state championship teams. It was filmed at the Morgan County High School auditorium. None of the Huff family had ever seen it and as it played there wasn’t a dry eye in the house as we all gathered to watch it. Coach Corry introduced his line coach to all the great players that played for them. As the big fella came to the podium his first line was, “OK fellas let’s hit the sled.” His one-liner was met with uproarious laughter from those who had been a part of the tortuous practices that made them winners.
You could tell his short speech came from the heart and was full of emotion as his voice broke at times. He said, “These years here without a doubt were the best years of my 41 years of coaching and education. From 1956-1962 I have a lot of memories about those teams. I remember Jake Saye running 95 yards up the sideline against Washington-Wilkes on a broken play on a very wet field to win the game. I remember Rusty Hightower intercepting a pass that he ran in for a touchdown. I remember Ray Bennett running a kickoff back for a touchdown against Washington. We played Newton County and they had the biggest team I’d ever seen in high school. The fullback was an all-state player who weighed 230-240 pounds, the two halfbacks were 195, and the quarterback was about 190. I remember the big fullback went to the sidelines early in the game after being hit by our 135 pound linebacker, Jimmy Griffin. These were good years and I enjoyed them all.”
Coach Huff will be remembered by all that lived, played for, were coached by, were taught by, and had the opportunity to be under his tutelage during that era. If anyone belongs in the Morgan’s Finest Hall of fame, it is Garey Huff.