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HUCKABY: Rockdale stadium's namesake loved young people

Darrell Huckaby

Darrell Huckaby

The eyes of the football-watching world in the North Georgia Piedmont will be on Conyers tomorrow night. At least until Mississippi State and LSU kick off at 8 o'clock. Heritage and Rockdale County High schools will renew their 30-some-odd year-old gridiron rivalry at 7:30 in Reid Stadium -- and the game will be televised on WSBR TV--Comcast channel 248.

Now honesty compels me to admit that I am not a fan of high school football on Thursday night, for a lot of reasons. For one thing, it is a school night and there are already enough distractions to the school schedule without adding a varsity football game to the mix. But beyond that, I am just a traditionalist and there has always been something magical about Fridays in the fall -- especially at high schools in the South.

Having said that, let me say this. I would not support a steady diet of Thursday night football, but for a one-time shot, I think it is a great opportunity for the players and coaches and cheerleaders and bands and all the other students involved to get some well deserved exposure. I can't wait to watch, myself, and I am sure that everybody in attendance at the game will have their VCRs and DVRs set to record the action -- assuming everyone can figure out how to program the machines -- and will watch and re-watch once they get home.

But I wonder how many of the folks who crowd their way into Robert Reid Stadium tomorrow evening have any inkling about the man for whom that particular edifice was named. I bet none of the current students at either school have given a second thought to why the stadium bears the name "Reid." A few of the older fans might recall that it is named in honor of a former coach, and some of the folks who have reason to climb into the press box on football Fridays -- or Thursday, as the case may be -- have probably seen the portrait of the man in the blue jacket with the crew cut and one arm that is shorter than the other. They may or may not have realized that they were looking at a portrait of the stadium's namesake, and they may or may not have given the portrait a second thought.

But I'm here to tell you that Robert Reid deserves a second thought.

I first heard about Coach Reid from my friend Jeff Autry. Jeff's son, Greg, played for me, in my former life as a football and basketball coach. Greg was one of the finest young quarterbacks -- and finest young men -- I ever had the privilege of coaching. His dad and I became best friends and spent many, many hours sharing stories and solving the world's problems.

Jeff Autry came up hard and spent his high school years living at the Jolly Home, which is now Elks Aidmore Children's Center. I am not sure it would be entirely accurate to call the Jolly Home an orphanage, but it wouldn't be inaccurate, either. Jeff had the gift of discernment. He knew people and he was hard to fool. He wasn't impressed by many folks. He adored Coach Reid, and Jeff Autry's stamp of approval is good enough for me, any day of the week.

I have heard lots and lots of stories about Coach Rob Reid. Some were from my own father-in-law, Benny Potts - Conyers High School, Class of 1954. He played football and basketball under him. So did Ronald Smith.

Ronald Smith is one of my favorite people. His mama and my mama worked together in the Osprey Mill, and I have known Ronald's family for a long time. Now he stops by Conyers Pharmacy, where my oldest child, Dr. Jamie, is gainfully employed, almost every afternoon. I ran into him there a few weeks ago and the talk turned to Coach Reid. It was quickly evident that his admiration and affection for the man equaled that of my friend, Jeff. According to Ronald, Coach Reid was a master at motivation and would employ such measures as a lick with a paddle for every foul shot missed in practice, if the situation warranted such extreme measures. Wales Barksdale, who has been a native of Rockdale County since nine months before he was born, has a few tales to tell me as well.

The stories I have heard about Coach Robert Reid were very varied and were told from widely different perspectives, but one component was universal. Everyone who spoke of their coach did so out of utmost respect.

I remember a statement Jeff made about his old coach as we were drinking coffee at Jim Stalvey's place at the old Crest Motel Restaurant in Covington. He said, "Coach Reid, boy, he loved young people." And then Jeff looked at me and said, "He was a lot like you."

In retrospect, as I learn more and more about Robert Reid, I have never had a greater compliment.

Y'all enjoy the game tomorrow night, even if it is on a Thursday -- and when they announce it is being played at Reid Stadium -- now maybe you'll better appreciate why.