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AHSAA Announces Recipients for 2022 Making a Difference Award

Brant Berry | PrepsNet

Montgomery, AL – Seven individuals who have made an impact as exemplary role models have been selected as 2022 Making a Difference Award recipients by the Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) and the Alabama High School Athletic Directors & Coaches Association (AHSADCA).  One recipient from each of the AHSAA’s seven classifications was selected from approximately 40 nominations submitted by AHSAA member schools and other support organizations or individuals. This year’s recipients are:

  • CLASS 1A:  Pat Thompson, Sweet Water High School athletic director and head football coach.
  • CLASS 2A: John Hadder, Vincent High School  athletic director, boys’ basketball and boys’ and girls’ cross country coach.
  • CLASS 3A: Steve Reaves, Winfield High School  boys’ and girls’ indoor and outdoor track and boys’ and girls’ cross country coach.
  • CLASS 4A: Jazmin Mitchell, Sumter Central High School athletic director and boys’ basketball coach.
  • CLASS 5A: Van Phillips, retired Center Point High School principal and retiring AHSAA Central Board of Control president.
  • CLASS 6A: Linda Moore, Athens High School and Athens Middle School athletic director.
  • CLASS 7A: Debra Broome, Vestavia Hills girls’ bowling, girls’ golf and assistant girls’ basketball coach.

Each honoree will be recognized at the 2022 AHSAA Summer Conference Championship Coaches’ Awards Banquet, which will be held Friday, July 22, at Montgomery’s Renaissance Hotel and Convention Center.

The Making a Difference Award was established in 2011 by the AHSAA and AHSADCA to recognize individuals who go beyond their normal duties as a coach, teacher or administrator to make a positive impact in their schools and communities. 

“The recipients in this 2022 Making a Difference class are prime examples of men and women who take their positions as role models for their students, faculty and community very seriously and have shown exceptional leadership and determination in the challenges each has faced,”  said AHSAA Executive Director Alvin Briggs. “Each of these individuals has had spent their entire teaching, coaching and administrative careers making a major positive impact in their communities and schools across the state and are excellent examples for what this award stands for.

“This award is the most important honor a professional educator in our state can receive. Qualities considered for this prestigious award include the recipient’s character, integrity, determination and service, all of which have enabled them to have a life-changing impact on the community or school which they serve.”

Briggs said this special award exemplifies what makes education-based sports so important.

“This is one way we can honor our teachers, coaches and administrators for the examples they set and the life lessons they teach on a daily basis,” he said.

Following is a brief synopsis of the Making a Difference recipients for 2022:

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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 in 2017 and last season (2021).

During his time at Sweet Water, he has taught physical education for all grade levels and drivers education for sophomores. Prior to being elevated to head football coach, Thompson served as the Bulldogs’ defensive coordinator and was the school’s  head softball coach for seven years.

More importantly, he has provided steady guidance for all student athletes 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. “He is always doing something extra for someone, be it a student, teacher or someone in the community.”

Being part of a small school, Thompson said he has been fortunate to coach all of his children, including his youngest son, who was the quarterback for the Bulldogs 2021 state championship squad.

Prior to Sweet Water, he was an assistant coach/defensive coordinator at Thomasville High School for 10 years.

Immediately after graduating from college, Coach Thompson worked at Northview High School in Bratt, Florida, where he was an assistant football, baseball and basketball coach.

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Hadder has spent more than 25 years teaching and coaching in high school – and most importantly, changing lives.

He graduated from  the University of Alabama in 1996 and  immediately began his career in education, first at Buhl Elementary and Lloyd Wood Middle School in Tuscaloosa County. He joined  the staff at Bottenfield Middle School in Jefferson County in 2002 and moved to Vincent High School in Shelby County in 2006 as boys’ varsity basketball coach and assistant football coach/defensive coordinator.

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

Dedicated to providing opportunities for all the students at Vincent, he started a cross country program and assigned himself as its head coach.

He works with all middle and high school sports programs, mentors Yellow Jacket coaches and has set a standard of excellence on and off the field for the students and coaches that the entire coaching staff has embraced.

“Coach Hadder really cares about the kids and coaches,” his nominator said. “And he is always willing to go the extra mile. He sets the example for all of us by his own actions. He holds himself to a high standard and holds his coaches to the same high standard.”   

He was named the Birmingham Basketball Officials Association Coach of the Year in 2011 and has twice been named Shelby County Reporter Coach of  the Year.

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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 Reaves has ever taught.

Serving in various capacities for the last four decades, he has made his mark in Alabama and nationally as the Pirates’ indoor and outdoor boys’ and  girls’ track and field coach, cross country coach and as defensive coordinator for the Winfield football team.

His track program is one of  the largest small-school programs in the state and has won numerous state titles. His students have set a number of state track and field records and one runner, 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 sums up his coach best. In a letter published by Alabama Runners website and shared in the AHSAA March Executive Director Newsletter, the All-America hurdler wrote what his coach has meant to him.

“Somehow, through the 22-second hurdle races, you still believed in me, pushed me to be better than I was before, instilling in me that hard work would pay off,” Cunningham wrote. “The first time I realized you truly believed in me was freshman year, when I placed third in the 60-meter hurdles at the AHSAA state meet. … I saw the look on your face … That race was the catalyst for the rest of my high school career. It led to state championships, state records, national records and a world record. But I took for granted how supportive you were. How your  subtle affirmations and prodding pushed me to keep striving with my head held high.”

“You helped the small town boy, who desperately wanted the big city, get recruited by a majority of the universities in the country. Now, in this next phase of becoming a professional, I still feel the love and support I had as a freshman trying to prove myself. For that, I am thankful and lucky to have you in my life.”

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Affectionately known as “Coach Jaz,” Jazmine Mitchell is a native of Sumter County, graduating from the Sumter County High School in 1998 where he was an standout student-athlete. He helped Sumter County win the Class 4A state basketball championship as a senior, was named first-team Class 4A All-State and was named the 1998 Class 4A Player of the Year by  the Alabama Sportswriters Association.

After college he returned to Sumter County where he has served in various positions including coaching boys’ basketball for the last 18 years. He is noted as one of the most outstanding coaches in West Alabama and is revered for his leadership and mentoring to other coaches, according to his nominator.  Most recently, Mitchell was awarded the United Service Award at the 2021-2022 West Alabama Young Leaders Awards Banquet.

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 have the opportunity to be 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.

“Education needs more leaders willing to roll up their sleeves like Mr. Mitchell has done for the past 18 years for his school and community,” wrote his nominator.

Mitchell has spent his adult life giving back to his community and advocating for the young and the elderly. He is the creator of a non-profit group called “Mitchell Blessing Others.” During the Covid Pandemic, Mitchell led the movement to bring vaccination sites to the Community of York.

His nominator adds, “His compassion for his people is continuously visible as he works in the community, the school and in surrounding areas. Over the last year alone, Mitchell has written grants, evaluated road and park conditions, met with politicians, visited elderly, secured scholarships, sponsored college tours, established tutoring programs, organized health fairs and blood drives, all while teaching, and serving the city. For such a young man, Coach Mitchell is building a legacy by example for everyone he touches.”

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Van Phillips has literally grown up in the AHSAA and has spent his entire adult life helping others grow up as well. Recognized as the Alabama Principal of the Year in 2017, he served Center Point (Erwin) High School from 2005 until his recent retirement. He has also been a primary sounding board and mentor for other principals in Jefferson County and across the state.

Named principal at Minor in 1998, for a brief period in 2004 and 2005, the ordained minister served as principal at both schools at the same time.

His leadership abilities led him to the Fifth District Legislative Council and to the AHSAA Central Board of Control – where he served as president the last two years.

An outstanding athlete in high school, be began his career in education as an English and science teacher in 1983. He moved to Fairfield High School as a teacher and coach where he coached wrestling, track and field and was an assistant football coach. He also served as the school’s sponsor for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA).

In 1987, he was named assistant principal and interim head coach of the varsity football team. Mr. Phillips’ leadership growth at Fairfield resulted in his promotion to interim principal at Fairfield from December 1990 to May 1991.

He has served in some administrative capacity the remainder of his career . While at Minor, he led the development of many innovative programs that are now utilized throughout the state of Alabama and the Southeast region.

Under Mr. Phillips’ leadership, Erwin’s graduation rate rose quickly from 49% to 87%, its dropout rate lowered from 25% to 6%, senior scholarship awards rose from $380,000 to over $4 million and enrollment increased from 880 to 1,300 students. Additionally, it was along this journey that Erwin High School became Center Point High School.

His nominator wrote, “At Center Point, Mr. Phillips created the atmosphere that everybody is somebody.”
Phillips has spent his entire adult life drilling the importance of education and making the right decisions into the minds of thousands of students. He still serves in a mentoring capacity for teachers, coaches and administrators in Jefferson County and across  the state.

As Central Board president, he has helped guide the AHSAA as it moves forward in the 21st Century.

He sums his own career up simply. “The tens of thousands of students that I came into contact with over my years are the reason why I worked in education for nearly 40 years.”

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Moore has served in various capacities throughout her career in education. Those who have benefited from her leadership point out that she has always been humble and kind.

Moore currently serves as the Athletic Director at Athens High School and Athens Middle School. Certified as an Athletic Administrator by the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association, she is currently pursuing her Certified Master Athletic Administrator and Registered International Athletic Administrator Certifications.

Prior to her tenure in the Athens City Schools, she worked at Dallas County High School and Bibb County Junior High School where she served as a classroom teacher, graduation coach, dropout prevention specialist, assistant athletic director, athletic director, basketball and volleyball coach.

She says she is most proud to serve as the  Athens City Schools athletic director. Working with students has been her lifelong dream. “Seeing students excel academically, athletically and in life, brings me great joy,” she said. “I believe all students can learn in their own capacity, and that it takes a community to ensure success for students.”

A nominator described Moore with the following description. “I have been coaching and teaching for over 25 years,” the nominator wrote. “I can honestly say Mrs. Linda Moore is one of the most compassionate and humble people I have ever worked with or worked for. One of her best qualities is how she counsels our student-athletes. She is a great listener and is patient in making as decision or giving advice. She treats each individual as if they are family.”

He added, “Mrs. Moore brings a calm presence to work through any situation that may arise. The coaches know the expectations and do their best to meet them.”

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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. A graduate of Grand Canyon University in Phoenix AZ, she has spent most of her teaching time in elementary or middle school physical education. In her year working in the Jefferson County School system she also assisted the special education teacher in her daily duties.

As a coach, she has been a leader Vestavia Hills High School could turn to no matter the sport. She has coached, at one time or another, recreational softball and basketball, middle school basketball and volleyball, high school volleyball, basketball, softball, golf, bowling and girls’ flag football. She currently serves VHHS as girls’ golf coach, girls’ bowling coach and girls’ flag football coach. She served as assistant basketball coach for former Lady Rebels head coach Fran Braasch for many years.

Her nominator describes Broome aptly. “Coach Broome fits the description of what a difference maker should be.  On a daily basis she makes sure that all her players are taken care of and she has the day-to-day logistics organized to a tee.”

“You never have to worry about anything when Coach Broome is the coach  because she is so professional, organized, caring and always goes above and beyond for everyone.

“She is a true team player and 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.”