When Garlan Gudger Sr. takes the stage at Saturday’s Cullman County Sports Hall of Fame banquet, he’ll no doubt stop and take a brief moment to soak it all in.
Over the past several years, Gudger has left his mark throughout Cullman County in a variety of special roles — head coach, administrator and dean — and will yet again find himself front and center when he and a group of 10 others are inducted into the CCSHOF’s 15th class at the Civic Center.
Gudger said he couldn’t even try to hide the elation that bubbled over the surface after receiving the news.
“Naturally, I was just thrilled to death about it,” he said of the honor. “I’ve been here since the ‘60s, and when I think about all the people I know who are in there and who I really think highly of, it’s just really awesome. You kind of just say, ‘Thank you very much.’ I’m really looking forward to it.”
Gudger graduated from East Rowan High in Salisbury, N.C., in 1960 as one of its very best athletes. Not only was he a solid weight-lifting champion, he was also a sublime football talent.
He was All-County all four years before being selected as the team’s best lineman during his senior campaign. He also earned All-State accolades for his role on the gridiron.
“We went to a high school that hadn’t been winning too many games and was getting a new coach,” Gudger said. “But he was the type of coach who said, ‘Run through a brick wall,’ and that is what you did. We were able to win the conference one year.”
Gudger turned his talents into an offer from North Carolina. However, due to oversigning, he had to attend Castle Heights Military Academy for a year. Unfortunately for him, the coach at Chapel Hill passed away from a heart attack, leading to the standout making his way to Tennessee Tech on a scholarship.
It was there he met his wife Dot, who actually played a huge role in getting Gudger to Cullman County in the mid ’60s.
“We wanted to get married, but I had absolutely no job and no money,” he said with a laugh. “I got a call and was asked by the county board to become a line coach at West Point. When I was there, a lot of things happened and one day I was the head football coach, the athletic director, the head golf coach, the head baseball coach and head anything else you can think of.”
As the second-ever coach for the Warriors, Gudger said there were only nine players who tried out for football during his first season with the team. He was also responsible for bringing the program’s baseball and track teams back after budget cuts due to the Korean War.
“I liked coaching very much,” Gudger said. “I was there and then I was at Fairview when I got the call from coach (Oliver) Woodard to come and coach the B team for him. That was a really fun group of guys to coach.”
Following his departure from coaching, Gudger completed his doctorate degree and had a very important decision to make in regards to his future in Alabama.
According to him, he was looking at a position back in North Carolina, but neither he or his wife wanted to move away from their home. Then — as Gudger would say — “the Lord went to work for me.”
While having a garage sale to ease the move, Gudger received a serendipitous visit from the head honcho of the junior college program for the state of Alabama.
“We got to talking and he ended up offering my a job at the state deparment of education in Montgomery,” he said. “Then, three months later, I got a phone call from Governor (George) Wallace. He said he was going to make Wallace State a JUCO and asked if I wanted to go back up there. I did that, and I was there for 25 or so years.”
As the dean of students, Gudger came up with the bright idea to develop an intramural sports program for the junior college.
His reasoning was that most of the students entering school were former county and city athletes who had “nothing to do or play or take energy out on.”
“If you don’t direct them in what you want them to do or to learn, they’re going to do it anyway,” Gudger said. “We started it there and it went off with a bang. The kids really enjoyed it.”
% Jake Winfrey can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 136 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.