Alabama High School Sports most prestigious leadership awards are in. Here they are!

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Van Phillips, retiring President of AHSAA Central Board of Control in front of Center Point High School (Bham Now)

For more than a decade, the Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) and Alabama High School Athletic Directors & Coaches Association (AHSADCA) have honored coaches, teachers and administrators with the Making a Difference Award.

Given to individuals who make a positive impact in their schools and communities, the award has been called the “most important honor a professional educator in Alabama can receive” by AHSAA Executive Director Alvin Briggs. 

On Friday, July 22nd, 6PM at the 2022 AHSAA Summer Conference Championship Coaches’ Awards Banquet in Montgomery, seven individuals — representing each of the association’s seven classifications (1A to 7A)—will receive this prestigious honor. 

Recently, we conducted special interviews with three of the honorees: 

We talked to them about high school athletics, the Making a Difference Award and what the  honor means to them and their community.

Wise Words from a Principal

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Van Phillips, former Principal at Center Point High School. (AHSAA)

This was our second interview with Van Phillips this year about his work within the AHSAA. Back in January, we featured him in a story about the Association’s 100th anniversary and how it supports all its member schools.

Since we last met, Phillips has retired as principal at Center Point High School and stepped down from the AHSAA Central Board of Control this month after decades of service. 

The Making a Difference award was a pleasant surprise.

“The work that we do, you’re not trying to get awards,” he said. “You’re not trying to get recognized. You’re trying to make a difference in the lives of children that you come in contact with every day in the community in which we serve.”

When you hear Phillips speak about AHSAA and high school athletics you soon understand why he was nominated and selected for the Making a Difference Award.

“My dad was a pastor of a church, so he told us to always give more than what we received. So I tried to live my life by giving more than I ever received. I’m 62 years old. I’ve been a part of the Alabama High School Athletic Association for 50 years, since I was 12 years of age, in seventh grade. I understand the importance of athletics in the life of a child because athletics made a difference in my life.”

 An inspirational leader, Phillips will continue in retirement mentoring teachers, coaches and administrators in Jefferson County and across the state. At the end of our interview, Phillips, who was named the Alabama Principal of the Year earlier in his career, did leave us a number of what fellow educators call “Van-isms”—words of wisdom to remember:

“Give more than you receive.” 

“If I can help somebody as I pass along, then my life was not in vain.”

“Athletics is a great teacher. Athletics reveals who you are — not necessarily who you want to be. And most of the time it comes up when you have not been successful.”

Making a Difference—A Family Affair

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Athens High School’s Linda Moore (AHSAA)

Linda Moore, this year’s 2022 Class 6A Making a Difference honoree, is not the first member of her family to receive the award. In 2016, her husband Willie Moore — who at the time was a head boys’ basketball coach at Dallas County High School — was selected as the Class 5A Award recipient.

Linda and Willie now hold the distinction as the first husband-and-wife team to receive the Making a Difference Award.

Currently the Athletic Director at Athens High School and Middle School, Moore worked at Dallas County High School and Bibb County Junior High School as a teacher, Assistant Athletic Director, Athletic Director, basketball and volleyball coach.

A self-proclaimed lifelong learner, Moore is certified as an Athletic Administrator by the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association. She is also currently pursuing her Certified Master Athletic Administrator and Registered International Athletic Administrator Certifications.

“Staying up to date on the latest information and making sure we are in compliance with whatever the athletic association needs — it’s my way of being a good role model for the coaches and the athletes,” she said.

Described by the person who nominated her for the award as compassionate and humble, Moore displayed those traits during our conversation.

“I get my inspiration from seeing others succeed. I’m a background person. I push everyone else into the spotlight,” she said. 

And then she proceeded to do just that saying, “I looked at this award as not one for me. It’s an award for the high school and middle school, the whole Athens community, the athletes, the coaches. It’s a team award, not an individual award.”  

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

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Vincent High School’s John Hadder. (AHSAA)

John Hadder always wanted athletics to be a part of his life.

“I’ve been teaching for 27 years. I don’t know that I ever really considered doing anything else. When I was in high school, I enjoyed sports and was involved in sports so much that it was the only thing I could ever think about doing. Going to college enabled me to continue to have sports as a central part of my life.” 

Hadder, who is the physical education teacher for grades 6-12, likes being able to get to know, by name, every student at Vincent Middle High School — a school that graduates about 50-60 students a year. 

“The big advantage that we have here in sports is that by having a middle school and high school together, I get to see every single one of the students every single day,” Hadder said. “They all come to the gym. You get an opportunity to build relationships and make an impact in their lives.”

As a head boys’ basketball coach, Hadder has compiled a 275-122 record since 2009, with one state runner-up, two Final Four appearances, 10 regional tournament appearances and 11 straight area  titles. He became athletic director in 2011. 

On being selected for the Class 2A Making a Difference Award recipient for 2022, Hadder told us it is a humbling experience and he is grateful to have taken the path as an educator, coach and administrator.

“The one thing I’ve learned is that a lot of the things that make people better athletes in your program are the same things that make them better people in life.”

Also Receiving the Making a Difference Award

Four additional well-deserving individuals are going to be honored at the 2022 AHSAA Summer Conference Championship Coaches’ Awards Banquet in Montgomery.  

Here are their bios via AHSAA:

Class 1A—Pat Thompson, Sweet Water High School

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Sweet Water High School’s Pat Thompson (AHSAA)

Thompson has been the head football coach and athletic director at Sweet Water High School since 2014. As the head football coach, he has led his team to playoff appearances every year, winning two state championships—one in 2017 one in 2021. 

Thompson has provided steady guidance for all students in his role as athletic director and has “led this community with the same kind of strength, character and kindness of those great coaches who served this community before him,” said his nominator.   

Class 3A—Steve Reaves, Winfield High School

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Winfield High School’s Steve Reaves. (AHSAA)

Described by his fellow teachers as a “very humble man who always puts the students first,” Reaves has served Winfield High School as a teacher and coach for the past 42 years. Winfield is the only school where he has ever taught.

His track program is one of the largest small-school programs in the state and has won numerous state titles. One of his former students, Trey Cunningham, set the national indoor 55 (and 60)-meter hurdles and dash records. 

Cunningham has gone on to set one world record, won national championships in the NCAA as a track standout at Florida State University and was an Olympic Team alternate in 2021. Cunningham is also a finalist for the Bowerman Award, the track equivalent to football’s Heisman Trophy, this year.

Class 4A—Jazmin Mitchell, Sumter Central High School 

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Sumter Central High School’s Jazmin Mitchell. (AHSAA)

Affectionately known as “Coach Jaz,” Jazmine Mitchell is a native of Sumter County, graduating from Sumter County High School in 1998, where he was an outstanding student-athlete—helping Sumter County win the Class 4A state basketball championship as a senior. 

After college, he returned to Sumter County, where he has served in various positions including coaching boys’ basketball for the last 18 years. 

Elected a York city councilman, he organized the first Sumter County softball program and leads a local basketball camp each summer to ensure that all children in the community are active and excited about learning new skills. 

He is a chief advocate for integrating athletics and academics and has encouraged the local school board to expand and promote academic and athletic opportunities for the students of Sumter Central. 

Class 7A—Debra Broome, Vestavia Hills High School 

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Vestavia Hills High School’s Debra Broome (AHSAA)

Debra Broome has served as a physical education teacher and coach for 35 years—with all but one year in the Vestavia Hills City School System.      

She has been a coach Vestavia Hills High School could turn to no matter the sport. At one time or another, she has coached:

  • Recreational softball and basketball
  • Middle school basketball and volleyball
  • High school volleyball, basketball
  • Softball
  • Golf, bowling and girls’ flag football        

From the individual who nominated her for the Making a Difference Award, “She is a true team player and a blessing to us at Vestavia Hills High School. Her loving and caring disposition around everyone is why she makes a difference every day. She brings the best out in us all.”

Making a Difference

What an incredible list.

Van Phillips summed up why the Making a Difference Award matters.

“The Making a Difference Award recognizes people who go beyond the call of duty. It is always standing firm to the principles and beliefs of the Alabama High School Athletic Association mission and upholding all the rules and the bylaws in the association with integrity and with character.”

Interested in celebrating high school sports? Attend AHSAA’s All-Star Week—July 18-21.  Here are the details.

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