ABERDEEN — Charles Davison picked the right time this weekend to make his first trip to Aberdeen.
Davison, who lives in Atlanta, was one of more than 300 friends, family members, and citizens on hand Sunday at Aberdeen High School to attend the dedication of the Aberdeen High School gymnasium in the name of boys basketball coach Roy Hazzle.
The gym, formerly known as the “Aberdome,” will now be known as the Roy E. Hazzle Gymnasium.
Davison first met Hazzle in 1974 when they were members of the Mississippi Valley State University baseball team. A pitcher, Davison was amazed at how far Hazzle, a center fielder, could hit the ball. He came to be more impressed with how Hazzle carried himself, how he lived his life, and how he set an example for others to follow.
As Davison traveled with Hazzle around Aberdeen this weekend, he quickly saw how much the veteran Aberdeen High teacher and boys basketball coach means to the community.
“You can see from the kids to the parents and all of the lives he has touched here, just like he touched my life and other teammates” lives when we were in college,” Davison said. “I am sure it is of even a higher magnitude here within the walls of this gymnasium and in the classrooms with the kids.”
Hazzle graduated from Aberdeen High in 1971. He returned to Aberdeen six years later, giving up a potential career as a professional baseball player, to help his family. He soon found his calling as a teacher and as a coach.
Hazzle is best known for winning more than 460 games as boys basketball coach at Aberdeen High. He led the Bulldogs to the Class 3A state title in 2008. In February, Hazzle was one of 21 high school coaches from across the country to be named 2008 National Coach of the Year by the National Federation of State High School Associations Coaches Association.
The people who honored and remembered Hazzle on Sunday called him an “inspiration” and someone who lived his life with integrity.
Davison, who said he “wouldn”t have missed it for anything,” said it was an honor for the school and the city to have the high school”s gym named for Hazzle, and that it “couldn”t have come to a better man than Roy Hazzle.
“Mr. Hazzle is a very humble man, and we tend to seek out people we have similarities to,” Davison said. “When I first met him, he was somewhat of a model to me because he was an upperclassmen and I kind of clung to him.”
Hazzle said it was incredibly special to have so many other community members on hand Sunday to share the day. He was even more touched that Davison decided to attend.
“That is the greatest gift. It is bigger than the gym being named after me because I know I have a friend I can count on and depend on,” Hazzle said. “This gym will fade away, but friendship and love will never go away. That is what a true friend will do for you. … We have been close and tight. We haven”t talked as much as you should have, but once you have developed that friendship over that religion, which was baseball at the time, it lasted. It means a whole lot. It is more precious than gold.”
Hazzle spent the final portion of the dedication ceremony talking the to the crowd. Initially, he stayed close to the stage where many of the featured guests were seated and then found himself getting some momentum. His energy carried him away from the podium and toward the bleachers. He stopped himself and asked, “Can I walk around?”
No one objected.
“It feels real great to know so many people care about you,” Hazzle said. “It is so heartwarming that there is still love that can still flow to help someone. I am proud to be a part of Aberdeen High School and this community. I am proud to also be a coach and to have come into contact with so many great people in the coaching and teaching professions.
“When you put God into your life, he has a way of bringing angels and sending angels to you to help you, to sustain, and to help someone else help themselves.”
Hazzle talked about loyalty and friendship and encouraged the Aberdeen High students to act the right way and to treat each other with respect. He said those were lessons his parents taught him and that he tried to convey to all of the students he taught.
Hazzle said earlier this year he plans to retire in a few years. Several of the speakers Sunday encouraged him to remain at the school for a little longer. Whether that happens remains to be seen, but two things are for sure: The things Hazzle taught will live on in Aberdeen for generations and his legacy will be remembered every time someone walks into the Roy E. Hazzle Gymnasium.
“God sent us here for a purpose and a period of time to help someone along the way,” Hazzle said. “Giving back is more satisfying to me than the naming of the gym.”
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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