Thursday, May 21, 2015

Former Sparta Academy coach Don Hand ranks among state's best

Don Hand
I saw in an old edition of The Courant recently that yesterday (Wednesday) marked 10 years since Don Hand was hired as the head football coach at Sparta Academy. Hand, one of the most successful coaches in state history, was named Sparta’s head coach on May 20, 2005, replacing outgoing head coach Gerry Watson.

Hand’s time at Sparta was somewhat unusual. The 2005 season began on Aug. 26 against Fort Dale, and the Warriors went on to lose the next six games. Hand resigned after Sparta’s 27-22 homecoming loss to Taylor Road on Sept. 30, and Daniel Wilson was named interim coach on Oct. 3, 2005. Sparta lost the next two games under Wilson, but finished the season strong with wins over Coosa Academy and SMCA.

It’s unfortunate that Hand didn’t have more success at Sparta, because he brought to the table one of the finest coaching resumes in the state. I first became familiar with Hand a number of years ago while researching his early years as a coach, back when he was the head football coach at Repton High School and Frisco City High School. Hand coached at Repton in 1966 and 1967, before coaching at Frisco City in 1968 and 1969.

Hand’s two teams at Frisco were among the greatest teams in the history of the school, which closed its doors in 2009. His team in 1968 went 9-1 overall, which was the school’s best record in 32 years, going all the way back to the 1936 season when the Whippets went undefeated. Halfway through the 1968 season, Frisco was tapped as the No. 1 team in the state in Class 1A and was undefeated up until the final game of the season, which they lost to their big rival, Monroe County, 42-19, in Monroeville.

Hand went 8-2 at Frisco in 1969, losing to arch rival Excel, 20-18, in Excel in the second game of the season. Excel went on to win the 1A state title in 1969 and their closest game of the season was their two-point win over Hand’s team. In Hand’s last game at Frisco, he dropped another game to Monroe County, losing, 50-16, in Frisco.

In 1970, Hand became the head football coach at Chilton County High School in Clanton and he’d go on to coach there for the next 18 seasons, compiling an overall record of 160-72. During his time there, he won five area titles and made the playoffs eight times.

He also coached baseball and basketball at Chilton County, winning a state baseball title in 1973 and compiling an overall baseball record of 161-60. His all-time varsity basketball record stands at 64-11.

After his coaching and teaching careers, he also served as a principal and as Superintendent of Education in Chilton County for a number of years. Prior to coming to Sparta, he worked for the Alabama Independent School Association for seven years. In March 2007, Hand was among 11 coaches, administrators and supporters of prep athletics in Alabama to be inducted into the Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame.

I’ve often heard Hand described as an “old school” coach, which may explain why he didn’t have much success at Sparta. Kids today are arguably different than they were in the 1960s and 1970s, and the methods that worked back then probably don’t work as well nowadays. Regardless, Hand had an outstanding career as a high school football coach, and he set the bar very high for coaches across the state. 

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