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Don Hendrix set standard of excellence at Hogansville

By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY

Daily News

Donald Hendrix arrived in Hogansville in 1965, a few years removed from his time as a student at the University of Georgia, and fresh off a stint as an assistant football coach at Washington-Wilkes.

Hogansville High had been playing football for more than 30 years, and before Hendrix’s arrival, coaches had come and gone with frequency, with no one staying in the position for more than a handful of years.

That was about to change.

Hendrix coached his first game at Hogansville in the fall of 1965, and it was the Troup Tigers prevailing on that September evening.

That was the start of a 22-year tenure as Hogansville’s head football coach, and by the time Hendrix hung up his whistle, he’d compiled a career record of 153-93-2.

Hendrix remained at Hogansville as athletics director until the school closed in 1996, and he held that same position during the first few years of Callaway High’s existence.

When Hendrix retired in 1998, he’d been associated with Hogansville High or Callaway High for more than three decades, and he continued to be an avid supporter of Callaway athletics in the ensuing years.

Hendrix, who died on Saturday at the age of 81, was a coach, an educator, a mentor, a friend, and a shoulder to lean on for those who knew him and relied on his guidance.

Many of the student-athletes he led went on to become coaches themselves, including Thomas Crocker, who played football at Hogansville in the 80s.

“There were no easy days with coach Hendrix,” said Crocker, who has been a long-time football coach at LaGrange High. “It was tough all the time. You had to be tough to be a football player for him. That’s what I always remember. Every day you dreaded it, and then you loved it at the same time. He was tough, hard-nosed, and you knew what to expect every day you went to practice.”

The success for Hendrix didn’t come right away at Hogansville.

Hogansville went 9-1 in 1968, but the team had losing records in six of its first seven seasons with Hendrix at the helm.

Everything changed in 1972 when the Greenwave went 11-1 and reached the semifinals of the state playoffs.

Hogansville was 4-6 in 1973, but the team posted 12 consecutive winning seasons after that while making it to the state semifinals again in 1974 and 1976.

From 1972 to 1981, Hogansville was 75-16 with four region championships.

Hendrix was also a successful basketball coach at Hogansville, and he led the girls’ team to a second-place finish in the 1981 state tournament.

Hendrix coached numerous other sports at Hogansville High as well, all while becoming a central and prominent figure in the community.

“He stayed here for so long that everybody got to know him,” said Tim Freeman, who was a member of the Hogansville football teams in the 80s and is currently a baseball coach at Callaway. “All the kids that played sports ultimately went through coach Hendrix. He had a passion for football, and kids. He loved it.”

Tony Williamson was a freshman at Hogansville when Hendrix became the head coach, and he was on the football team from 1968 to 1971.

“He had a big impact on my life, not just on the field, but also personally,” Williamson said. “On the field, he taught us that how you practice determines how well you play in the games, and also prepares you for life after graduation.”

Williamson later went into coaching himself, and he’s grateful for the lessons he learned from a man he’d eventually come to call a friend.

“I coached little-league football for more than 40 years, and won a lot of championship games using the skills he taught me, that I passed on to the kids I coached,” Williamson said. “Don and I stayed close friends throughout the years. He made a great impact on my life and he will be greatly missed.”

Hendrix grew up in Manchester and was a standout athlete in high school, and after graduating from the University of Georgia, he began his coaching career at Washington Wilkes where he remained for three years.

With the departure of Jim Davis following the 1964 season there was an opening for a head football coach at Hogansville High, and the decision was made to bring in a young and unproven coach to fill that spot.

Considering Hendrix remained at Hogansville until the school closed 31 years later, that decision proved to be a wise one.

“I have great respect for coach Hendrix, and the job that he did, the tradition that he established and built at Hogansville,” said Pete Wiggins, who is creating a lasting legacy of his own as the head football coach at Callaway. “I heard so many stories from former players, and coaches that were associated with him, just about how much integrity he had, and his work ethic.”

Hendrix’s influence wasn’t limited to the student-athletes he guided as a coach.

He was also a mentor to young, aspiring coaches, including Trey Tucker, who was the equipment manager at Hogansville High.

“He was like a second daddy to me,” said Tucker, who made the move to Callaway High in 1996 and has remained on staff as a coach and equipment manager ever since. “He took me under his wing when I went to work for him in Hogansville. He taught me everything I know about athletics, and about how to order uniforms. He taught me all that. After he taught me all that, he turned it over to me, but he still had his hand in it.”

Hendrix, Tucker recalls, was not only an exceptional football coach, but if something needed to be done at the football field he was the man for the job.

“Don could fix anything,” Tucker said. “One time the scoreboard tore up, and he had it tore apart and fixed it.”

Everything Hendrix did was in preparation for Friday night, and football games in Hogansville were events.

“The town shut down about 6, and everybody rolled up to the school,” Tucker said. “Everybody had their green and white shirt on. It was amazing. The atmosphere was just exciting.”

As a youngster, Thomas Crocker was anxious to be a part of the Hogansville football family and play for coach Hendrix.

“All I wanted to do growing up was play there,” Crocker said. “I couldn’t wait until I was old enough to play and be a Greenwave.”

When Crocker did arrive at Hogansville, he found Hendrix to be “a no-nonsense guy.”

“He was an old-school football coach,” added Crocker, whose father Thomas Crocker was a coach and administrator at Hogansville. “When he said we were doing this, guess what, that’s what we were doing. He had his philosophy of offense, and defense. This is what we’re going to do, this is how we’re going to be successful, and I don’t care what anybody else is doing. We’re going to be tougher than them, and just try to do things the right way, and have a system you believe in.”

Crocker decided to pursue a career in coaching, and he was on the LaGrange High staff during the state-championship seasons in 2001, 2003 and 2004.

“I fell in love with sports at a young age, and I thought that’s what I always wanted to do,” Crocker said. “Coach Hendrix definitely had an influence on me as far as my profession, and choosing to do what I wanted to do.”

When Hendrix stepped down as head football coach following the 1987 season, that position was turned over to his good friend and colleague, Sonny Cummings, who died in 2013.

Hendrix took over as Hogansville’s athletics director, although he did later return to coaching as an assistant on Cummings’ staff.

After Hendrix retired from education, he remained a fixture at Callaway Stadium on game nights.

Hendrix was able to watch the Callaway High program become one of the state’s best under head coach Pete Wiggins, who has a 138-47 in 15 seasons.

“It was very special to me to know that he was at many of our games,” Wiggins said. “I had conversations with him throughout my career that meant a great deal to me. He had very beneficial words that he would share with me, and just his thoughts on the game, and his thoughts on how our team looked. It meant a lot to me. It was very special to have coach Hendrix just passing down words of wisdom.”

Another current Callaway coach who came to rely on the guidance of Hendrix is Dusty Hubbard, the school’s head baseball coach and defensive coordinator on the football team.

“He and my dad were always good friends, and he was always there for me to call, and to help me out,” said Hubbard, a Hogansville native. “He was at every game up until the last couple of years when his health started to get a little worse. He was always there, and he’d call me after the game sometimes and he’d talk to me about what we were doing defensively. He was always a good person to talk to.”

While Hendrix is best known as a winning football coach, he also enjoyed massive success leading the girls’ basketball program.

Hogansville reached the state semifinals in 1979, 1980 and 1982, and it finished second in the state in 1981.

“He came off the football field and went onto the basketball court with those girls,” Trey Tucker said. “He was good for them. He was tough, he was demanding, and they played hard for him, just like they did in football.”

Hendrix also coached girls’ softball, baseball, track and field, and tennis, and he was on the board of the Georgia High School Association for more than 30 years.

“Coach Hendrix is a great part of the tradition in Hogansville,” Wiggins said. “There’s so much pride in Hogansville athletics, and he’s a great contributor to that success, and that pride in the city and in the athletic program.”

A lot of that pride stemmed from the success of a football program that was expertly led by Hendrix for so many years while playing its games at a stadium that later came to bear his name.

“He rode that team to a powerhouse,” Dusty Hubbard said. “They were good, and it had a lot to do with him. He’s legendary in Hogansville. I guess they don’t name a field after somebody unless they’re pretty legendary.”

It’s been more than 30 years since Hendrix coached a game, but those days remain meaningful for the players who had the opportunity to play for him.

“When we get together, the first thing we started talking about was old ballgames,” Crocker said. “It’s a special part of growing up. And in Hogansville, (Hendrix) was the guy. He was their coach. He was their guy. He was my coach.”

OF NOTE: A celebration of life will be held on Saturday at 3 p.m. at Hendrix Stadium in Hogansville. Anyone attending is requested to wear a mask and practice social distancing.