This week in HS Sports: Memories of some special people from a special time in my life

This is an opinion piece.

I started my journalism career straight out of college at the Gadsden Times about 33 years ago.

Looking back on it now, I wonder if I knew then how blessed I was to be in this city, surrounded by these people and these athletes and coaches.

I know for sure now.

It’s remarkable how often I’m reminded of those days and the people I had the privilege of treating all those years ago. In fact, it has happened several times over the past week.

It was announced Sunday that Hokes Bluff legend Mike Robertson would be inducted into the Alabama High School Hall of Fame in March.

“Coach Rob” was the Hokes Bluff girls’ basketball coach when I was working in Gadsden. He then coached the Eagles baseball team and is still the school’s head football coach.

Few coaches have had as much success in three different sports as he has. His football team won the state championship in 2001. He won 461 girls’ basketball games in 23 years as a coach and was a two-time runner-up. His baseball team was runners-up in 2018.

“I was so lucky,” Robertson told me this week. “I arrived at Hokes Bluff at a good time. To survive this long, I just had a lot of support. It doesn’t work without support, and I learned that from the parents through the administration and certainly also from the players.”

Mike Robertson is Hokes Bluff High School.

He won three state baseball championships there as a player and had his #2 jersey retired. He was first in his class in 1977. He has been a coach for a combined 41 years and was inducted into the Etowah County Hall of Fame in 2016.

I enjoyed reporting on Coach Rob then and still enjoy talking to him when I get the chance. He joked with me this week that he remembers I being a “blow-faced punk” back then. He meant it was a compliment – I think – and I probably was, too.

But Robertson didn’t treat me like a post-college kid or a punk. He treated me like a seasoned reporter, and I couldn’t be happier to see him inducted into the state Hall of Fame.

For me, he was always a person in the Hall of Fame.

“It means a lot,” Robertson said of its upcoming launch. “I think longevity gets you to this point to some degree, but I just got really lucky. Hokes Bluff is a special place. My family has always been supportive, especially my wife (Phyllis). Sometimes it’s difficult for the coach’s wives to sit in the stands and hear what other people are saying, but she always supported me.”

Joining Robertson in the same Hall of Fame class will be Fyffe’s Paul Benefield. One of my last stories for the Gadsden Times was about Benefield’s decision to leave Sylvania to take a football job at Fyffe. Twenty-six years, 288 wins and five state titles later, he’s still working with the Red Devils.

Special people in a special time.

While those two great coaches were being covered, a young running back was in the area, slashing Attalla’s defense.

His name? Carnell “Cadillac” Williams.

Carnell Williams

Auburn acting head coach Carnell Williams reacts during the first half of the team’s NCAA college football game against Mississippi State in Starkville, Mississippi, Saturday, November 5, 2022. Mississippi State won 39-33 in overtime. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)AP

It was fun to see the energy he brought to Auburn University as interim coach. Carnell is as real now as he was back in his Blue Devil days. He genuinely loves Auburn and it shows so vividly in his actions and speech.

Congratulations to Robertson, Benefield and all 13 Hall of Famers this year, and to Cadillac. Thanks for letting this “bubble faced punk” be a part of your ride.

It was an honor for me.

Sad news in Montgomery

Former Lee-Montgomery football coach Bill Granger lost his battle with cancer earlier this week.

A graduate of Carver-Montgomery, Granger spent 35 years as a high school coach. His stints have included Sidney Lanier, Jeff Davis, Auburn, Lee, Macon-East Montgomery and most recently Success Unlimited Academy.

Granger was Lee’s head coach from 2000-2003, scoring an overall record of 26-19. He also spent two years as a head coach at Talladega and two at Success Unlimited, an AISA school

Praying for his family in their loss.

thought for the day

“The God who made heaven and earth knows you by name.”

80s quote of the week

“I like having you for my brother.” – Charlie Babbitt, Rainman.

Ben Thomas is a high school sportswriter He was named one of the 50 Legends of the Alabama Sports Writers Association. Follow him on Twitter @BenThomasPreps or email him at [email protected]. His weekly column appears every Wednesday and Friday at He can be heard weekly at Cooper Restaurants “Inside High School Sports” on SportsTalk 99.5 FM in Mobile or Wednesdays at 2:00 p.m. on the free IHeart Radio app.


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