By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
There are a few things most men will hold a special place for in their hearts their entire lives — their first car, their favorite sports team and their alma mater.
That last one could have something to do with why Greg Boatright poured his heart and soul into serving as Fairview's varsity boys basketball coach for more than a decade. After 14 years in the position, the tried-and-true Aggie announced his resignation at the Purple and Gold’s annual basketball banquet nearly a month ago.
“It’s not easy to walk away from something that’s been your life,” Boatright said. “Fairview is a great place to coach, and I played here, too. That’s the reason I wanted this job — I wanted to come here to make a difference, and I hope that I have.”
With a 251-170 record during his lengthy tenure with the Aggies, Boatright will sail into the sunset as a proven winner. His only losing season came in his first year on the job. Even then, the team rebounded from a shaky start, closing with a winning record in the second half and taking Madison County to overtime on the road during the area tournament.
“That losing season is on me. I had to become a varsity coach,” Boatright said. “They were a good bunch of boys. If I had been a better coach the first half of the season, I’m positive they would’ve had a winning season.”
Boatright won three county championships — the last came this past January — two area championships, one sub-region championship and made one Elite 8 appearance while atop the program. It’d be easy for the coach to take the brunt of the credit, but that’s not Boatright’s style. Instead, he deflected all the praise to the boys who have taken the court in the Purple and Gold these past 14 years.
“The reason we’ve been able to sustain a competitive, solid program is Fairview continually produces quality basketball talent,” he said. “I’ve been blessed to have quality basketball players with good talent, good work ethic and good attitudes.”
What won’t show up on Boatright’s overall record are the wins his squads compiled during the summer months. Though those contests don’t count for much more than bragging rights, the coach said some of his most enjoyable memories came during that offseason period.
“When you’re a player or a coach, it’s not so much about winning in the summer, but you’re still trying to give everyone an opportunity to play,” Boatright said. “They weren’t just there to participate. They wanted to win. That’s the kind of attitude as a coach, it doesn’t get any better than that.”
Boatright made sure to thank one coach — Wendell Calloway — who’d been with him the longest while also bringing up another — his son, J.T. Boatright — who, just one year after graduating from Fairview, led the Aggies’ ninth-grade team for the 2012-13 campaign.
“He did a heckuva job with that team. I’m super proud of him,” the elder Boatright said with fatherly pride. “He was in his first year in college, trying to juggle school and work and then come over here and be the coach of our freshmen team. I’m pretty sure he did a better job than I did my first year of coaching.”
Without the daily grind of coaching basketball to worry about for the first time in 31 years, Boatright isn’t quite sure what his immediate future holds. He said he’d like to do some part-time work in education and didn’t rule out helping another team or coach develop their players.
Right now, Boatright’s chief concern is ensuring Fairview brings in the best possible replacement to keep the program heading in the right direction, which is exactly what Chris Gambrill plans to do as soon as the current school year comes to a close.
“We’ll be fine,” the Aggie athletic director and principal said. “Just like anything else in an ideal world, the right coach has to find the right opening. We’re not down-and-out about our prospects.”
Gambrill couldn’t say enough about Boatright, both as a coach and a man.
“Coming back and trying to make an impact at the school you started at is a big deal,” Gambrill said. “He’ll obviously be missed. He’s done a lot for this school, and that alone says a lot about his character and his love for this school.”
Boatright isn’t the Purple and Gold’s only basketball coach on their way out the door, with longtime girls coach Cheryl Mangum also tendering her resignation in late March. Gambrill was just as sad to see her go as he was Boatright.
“Her dedication, her willingness, was nothing short of incredible,” he said. “Our kids have benefited from that. With a new coach in the position, hopefully we’re going to keep going in the right direction on and off the court.”
Mary Hartline has already been tabbed as the new head of the Lady Aggies basketball program. Gambrill said he’s confident the former middle school coach will continue what Mangum and others have started.
“Hopefully with her background at the levels she’s competed at — college — it’s going to be an opportunity to show our girls what it takes to get to the next level,” he said.
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 257 or at email@example.com.