Neither coach Willie Carl Martin or Steve Savarese have stayed in Alexander City.
Their careers, which both included long stints as head football coach at Benjamin Russell, have both taken them far. Savarese is now the executive director of the AHSAA and Martin was the Director of Player Development at the University of Alabama before his retirement.
But despite them both living out their dreams, they also both remind us Alex City is a forever home. The two will forever be enshrined at the home of the Wildcats when the Charles E. Bailey Sportplex stadium is named in their honor at BRHS’ first home game.
I got a chance to speak with both of them earlier this week for a story about the rededication and they both reminded me why I love Alex City and Tallapoosa County so much.
“It brought back a lot of memories,” Martin said. “Alex City has so many people that support athletics there. The players, first of all, buy into it. The assistant coaches, the administration and the people in the community will back a class program, and we always told our players regardless of wins or losses, we were going to play with class and represent our hometown.”
Of course, both Martin and Savarese did have a lot of wins with the Wildcats too. Savarese spent 12 years as head coach of Benjamin Russell and amassed a 96-38 record, advancing to the playoffs in all but three years. He also helped usher in Martin, who remains the only coach in Benjamin Russell history to lead the Wildcats to a state championship in the playoff era.
All that said, they certainly didn’t have bad resumes but former players remember them for their coaching style and their love and passion for BRHS.
Both still have that love. Savarese has been to Benjamin Russell representing the AHSAA countless times and Martin still regularly visits the city.
“It’s a place that I always have in my heart,” Martin said. “I hope to be buried there; that’s how much I consider Alexander City home.”
And it’s not just Martin and Savarese who have gone on to do great things. Benjamin Russell seems to breed successful human beings. A former principal became state superintendent; countless teachers have gone on to become professors at universities. The list goes on and on.
But one thing so many of them have in common is they all return.
Just yesterday, I wrote about Brett Pritchard who had opportunities abound coming out of college. He was a media relations intern working under Auburn legendary coach Tommy Tuberville, but what did he do? He returned to Alexander City to broadcast the Benjamin Russell Wildcats, a team he had grown up watching. And why did he do that? Not because he had no other option but because he wanted to, because he loves Benjamin Russell and he loves this city.
It’s not only Alexander City either. There are so many examples around the county of people returning to their alma mater.
Horseshoe Bend’s softball coach Hagen Whiteard and volleyball coach Julie Turner are both graduates of HBS; Reeltown football coach Matt Johnson came back to his alma mater; and Richard White doesn’t remain at Dadeville for 20 years because he doesn’t enjoy it.
A lot stay within the county even if they didn’t attend that school. Look at someone like Horseshoe Bend baseball coach Jason Johnson; he graduated from Dadeville but wanted to stay near home so he went to New Site.
Last week, Caleb Brooks asked me to join him on Sportz Blitz and he asked me why I continue to cover high school sports. Why not try to be a college or even pro reporter? The answer is simple. I love high school sports. I love the passion these kids and coaches have for it, and I couldn’t think of a better place than Tallapoosa County to do my job.