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'Once coaching gets in your blood, coaching will always be in your blood'
Claude Powell

Claude Powell spent 39 years working in McDuffie County Schools. Even though he retired as principal of Thomson Middle School, many people still refer to him as "Coach Powell."

"Once coaching gets in your blood, coaching always will be in your blood," Mr. Powell said. "You can retire. You can get out of it. But that drive always stays with you."

Coaching and athletics brought Mr. Powell to Thomson in 1971 when he was hired to be a physical education teacher by then McDuffie County Schools Superintendent James A. Maxwell.

Mr. Powell grew up playing a lot of sandlot baseball in Laurens County. At Dudley High School, he played baseball, basketball and ran track. He went to Georgia College and State University on a baseball scholarship, where he also played on a travel team during the off-season.

"I love them all (different sports)," Mr. Powell said. "But, baseball always has been my passion."

Fresh out of college, Mr. Powell received an invitation to tryout for the Baltimore Orioles Major League Baseball team. There, an old knee injury got in his way.

"I found out I was a little fish in a big pond," he said. "I was very competent on defense, but for some reason, I was not able to hit the ball out of the infield that day. ...It was a good experience, but I never completed my dream of playing professional baseball."

The knee injury also kept him out of the military during the draft. So, he ended up at R.L. Norris Junior High School in Thomson. Since there was no baseball coaching position open at that time, Mr. Powell worked with Coach Calvin Sampson coaching football. He took over as head coach when Coach Sampson retired.

"I learned quite a lot about football from Coach Sampson," he said.

A few years later, Mr. Powell was able to reignite his real passion when he became the baseball coach at Thomson High School. While there, he also worked with Bill Reese coaching football. Although he's too humble to admit it, working under such football greats made Mr. Powell an expert himself.

For a brief stint in the early 1980s, Mr. Powell left education and coaching to "make a million dollars selling insurance." He returned to his educational career a few months later after discovering insurance "wasn't his forté". Since he was essentially starting over and unable to coach, Mr. Powell became a color commentator on the radio for Thomson High School football games, working alongside long-time voice of the Bulldogs Dennis C. Sanders.

"It's kind of like a dance step, and Claude just did a spectacular job," Mr. Sanders said. "He instinctively knew when to come in. And what he had to say was always so knowledgeable. Because of his experience, he did such a great job analyzing and dissecting the plays that Coach Luther Welsh took him from me and made him an assistant coach. That's how I lost him as my color man."

So once again, Mr. Powell was coaching football -- this time as a defensive backfield coach under head Coach Luther Welsh from 1984-1990.

Mr. Powell also worked summers at the local recreation department coaching all ages of baseball. Although he laughs when describing the tee ball experiences, Mr. Powell said his biggest coaching challenge was the first girls' softball team of Thomson High School in the early 80s.

Because his wife, Joyce, played softball on the church league team, Mr. Powell said he thought he knew all about slow-pitch softball. Unfortunately, his team members weren't as experienced. Many of them had never even thrown a ball before.

"And you wouldn't believe the excuses they had," he said. "They would sit down on the ground in the outfield and say they were hot... Their feelings would get hurt and they would cry. ...It was an interesting era."

The female tears and drama were more than the coach could handle, so it was his first and last year as a softball coach. He stuck with coaching boys' high school baseball and football teams and junior high basketball teams.

"He was one of the best baseball coaches around," Mr. Sanders said. "I'd go out there and watch his practices and I always admired the job he did as a coach. It gets lost because it was so long ago, but the people who played under him would tell you that he was an exceptional baseball coach."

After Mr. Powell returned to school and got his specialist degree in education, he swapped his coaching cap for a coat and tie. He became assistant principal of Norris Middle School in 1991 and went on to become principal of Thomson Middle School until his retirement this past year.

"Half my career was spent coaching, and then the other half in administration," Mr. Powell said.

He didn't leave the field entirely. When the THS football summer camp needed a certified life guard, he volunteered.

"I knew a swim in the lake would be just what those kids needed after a hot day of practicing, so I kept up my certification and spent a few summers doing that," he said.

As he learned well from observing other coaches, Mr. Powell said he observed other administrators to better himself as a principal. Therefore, it was no surprised to those in McDuffie County when Mr. Powell was named a Distinguished High Performance Principal by the Georgia Department of Education for two consecutive years.

"He's one of the most likeable guys in the world," said Mr. Sanders, the Toombs Judicial Circuit District Attorney. "He's always in a good mood and always has something positive to say. He's a positive person, and Joyce is the same way. They're a great couple. In his leadership position, Claude has just done so much for McDuffie County and I'm proud to call him a friend."

Web posted on Thursday, July 29, 2010

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