BY CAROLYN GRIFFIN
The Greenville Standard
Butler County’s Black History in sports is phenomenal. There are so many outstanding athletes, coaches, and mentors. It would take volumes to tell the amazing stories. We are only scratching the surface.
We look forward to sharing many of these stories in the future. Here are just a few for now.
JEROME HARRIS JR.
Jerome Harris Jr. is a name that many in this generation are familiar with. He coached men and women sports including football, basketball, baseball, softball and track. He has coached two to three generations across Butler County.
His family chose not to share any names because Mr. Harris touched so many lives. His son Jerome Harris III is continuing the coaching legacy.
Currently he is assisting Coach Marcus Mickles at Greenville High School. They are having an amazing season.
Mr. Harris had some outstanding mentors and coaches that blazed a trail before him. They include, but are not limited to, Mr. Oscar Shambray, Mr. Jimmy Crum, Mr. Werle Perdue, and Mr. James Canady.
EDWARD ROBINSON SR.
Edward Robinson Sr. shared a few names that some of you might remember. Many of them were two sport athletes. Jimmy Davidson, Werle Perdue, Ted Peterson, Henry James, Daniel Sr. and Lloyd Robinson, Eddie Warren, Frank Lewis, Leroy Miller, Donald Crenshaw, and many others.
He stated that Sam Malisham kicked the longest field goal at Greenville Training School. In Robinson’s words, the glue that held these guys together was Coach Rainey Varner.
He lived in Montgomery, but coached football, basketball, and track & field at Greenville Training School.
Robinson fondly remembered John Ogletree who played quarterback for Georgiana Training School and at Alabama State University.
He later became the head basketball coach and assistant football coach at Greenville High School. He also excitedly shared that Clara Steele was an outstanding female athlete. She held the record for the 100-yard dash in track & field.
Jerome Antone played football, basketball, and baseball at St. Jude Catholic School in Montgomery. His mentor was Coach Ostelle Hamilton.
He helped him to move to the next level educationally and then athletically. Coach Hamilton emphasized the importance of helping others just as he had been helped.
Coach Antone began his coaching career in Butler County at Greenville High School as an assistant coach in 1994. That year the team won the State 5A Championship. He also coached girls’ softball, basketball, and track and field.
Coach Antone has helped many Butler County athletes as he was taught to do. Two of those athletes, Sam Williamson and SaRhonda Cheatham are continuing that legacy and doing the same. We are also sharing a bit of their stories this week.
Ezell Powell played football and basketball at Georgian High School. He is now the head football coach at his Alma Mater.
His greatest sports influences growing up were Mr. Willie Averett and Mr. George James. They never coached him, but they inspired him to reach for success as a young black boy.
Mr. James was an R.L. Austin Bulldog, who later coached at Tennessee State University. These gentlemen were much older and left a legacy for Coach Powell and others to follow.
Coach James “J. J.” Jackson, a young Black basketball coach came to Georgiana during Powell’s senior year. He had played at the University of Alabama.
He provided great inspiration to Coach Powell. He showed him what was possible as a young black man. Powell also speaks highly of Coach Myzell Cobb. He coached at J. F. Shields, but lived in Georgiana, where he worked in the Youth Sports Leagues. He touched the lives of many young people in Georgiana.
Coach Powell mentioned a few standouts from past classes at Georgiana High School who went on to play at the next level. Jacquez Payton at Jacksonville State University, Ezekiel Powell at the University Missouri, Quan Crenshaw at Louisiana, Willie Mobley at St. Louis, and Richard Bogan at Talledega College.
Coach Powell is immensely proud of all of his players and continues to share the wisdom that he has gained with them.
I remember lacing up my basketball shoes getting ready to play in our high school sub-regional basketball playoff game in February of 2001. As I sat there, my entire high school career crossed my mind.
The long and late practices, the early morning workouts, and the times I snuck in the gym to get better.
The Saturday mornings I gave up just to do individual work. It all came down to this moment.
At the age of 17, I thought all of that was just to win a 5A state championship; however, it wasn’t only for a championship.
It was to develop something within myself that would take me far beyond sports. That was the development of discipline, intrinsic motivation, self-sacrifice, and perseverance.
My high school athletic career allowed me to earn an athletic scholarship to be a two sport athlete to play basketball and softball at Southern Union State Community College.
There I was a student athletic trainer, member of the 2001-2002 NJCAA Women’s Basketball Championship team, and I also earned academic honors.
I later transferred to Winston-Salem State University (WSSU) in Winston-Salem, N.C., where I decided to only play softball.
There I was also a student athletic trainer. I received numerous awards and was even fortunate to be nominated and blessed to attend the NCAA Student-Athlete Leadership Conference to represent my HBCU in June of 2005.
My entire life has always been about athletics and I was fortunate enough to have great mentors to help me see the greatness within myself.
Having great coaches is always a plus, but as a young, black girl, it was an added bonus to have great coaches who looked like me in leadership positions that I could one day strive for.
Mentors like Coach Jerome Antone at Georgiana School, Coach Leslie Rowls at Georgiana School and and Coach LaTaya Hilliard-Gray at WSSU all helped instill core values that would not only help me be successful in athletics, but also in life.
Life has a funny way of bringing things full circle and giving you an opportunity to give back to the place where you started.
Over the past two years, I have been teaching 6th grade science and social studies at Greenville Middle School and also coaching girls basketball and volleyball at both Greenville Middle and Greenville High School.
When asked why do I coach? My answer is simple; this is what God graced me to do. I am simply chasing my purpose and hoping that the life I live on and off the court will always be an encouragement to someone. I just want to be effective.
Leon Crenshaw was born in Greenville in 1943. He attended high school in Butler County and was a 1966 graduate of the Tuskegee Institute, where he played his collegiate football.
He received his master’s degree from the University of Georgia and was a Doctoral student at Vanderbilt University.
Professionally he was a member of the Green Bay Packers football team. He was drafted in 1965.
The 6 ft. 7 in., 280 lb. defensive tackle played 10 games during the 1968 season.
Rev. Crenshaw later became a pastor at True Divine Baptist Church in Phenix City. He taught at DeVry Institute of Technology, and retired as an educator at Terrell County, GA, high school.
He passed away on Aug. 22, 2008
Zadarius Smith is a 2011 graduate of Greenville High School. He is a 2013 graduate of East Mississippi Community College, and a 2014 graduate of the University of Kentucky.
He was a 2015 4th round pick in the NFL draft. His breakout season in Baltimore with 8 1/2 sacks led him to his first year with the Green Bay Packers where he led the team with 13 1/2 sacks, 55 solo tackles, and ranked #17 out of the top 100 NFL players and the #1 player from the state of Alabama.
His earlier years in sports centered around basketball. Zadarius is proud of his Butler County roots and continues to give back to the community.
Sam Williamson played basketball with Greenville Parks and Recreation under Jerome Harris. He is a 2001 graduate of Greenville High School where he played football and basketball.
He was coached and mentored by Coach Jerome Antone. He received a football scholarship to UAB. After graduation he remained there as a Jr. Coach.
His coaching journey led him to Tennessee Tech University with his then head coach at UAB. Sam started as the Defensive Coach at TTU. He is now the Assistant Head Coach. Sam continues to pour into other young athletes. He stands on a solid foundation from his parents, coaches, and mentors in Butler County.