Coach Hammonds Has Made Big Mark On Area Youths

By Keith Jarrett, Courtesy Of
Updated: November 30, 2005

Gene Hammonds ASHEVILLE – Do African-American and other minority athletes need coaches of color to relate to?

In an era where more and more professional athletes are failing as role models, teachers and coaches at the high school level are often in a position to provide guidance and serve as examples for young athletes.

Gene Hammonds has been the head baseball coach and assistant football coach at Asheville High for 35 years, and many current and former players use the term father figure” to describe the African-American mentor.

It s always important to have coaches who can relate to kids, and race is one of the ways we can relate, Hammonds said. You can t replace the experience of having been there and knowing what these kids need or what they are feeling.

He is an inspiration of mine, said Smoky Mountain High athletic director Al Mutt DeGraffenreid, 51, who played at Reynolds High and is believed to be the first African-American head football coach in WNC since integration when he was hired at Cherokee High in 1999.

Growing up, coach Hammonds was somebody I wanted to be like. He was out there and showing that it could be done.

Coach Hammonds was somebody we looked up to, someone who was like us and that we could relate to, said Mickey Ray, an African-American star when he played for Asheville in the early ’80s and a current assistant coach on the Cougars’ staff.

If you re an African-American kid, it’s just easier to approach a coach who is African-American, Ray said.

The ability to mentor kids and serve as a role model is a major reason cited by coaches and administrators for the need to increase the number of minorities in coaching.

There is something to be said for having more minorities in leadership roles to serve as role models in areas where there are more minorities in the school system, said Asheville City Schools superintendent Robert Logan, who oversees a system of 3,819 students that is 37 percent African-American.

Erwin High football coach Chris Brookshire, who is white, has six African-American players on his team but no minorities among his 10 assistant coaches.

Coaches should be good role models and serve as examples to all their players, regardless of race, said Brookshire.