Longtime coach A.L. Williams dies at age 91

Former Academy of Richmond County baseball players remembered coach A.L. Williams for his strict, sweet and superstitious nature.

 

Williams, who died Wednesday afternoon at 91, led the Musketeers to seven consecutive Georgia High School Association state championships from 1951-57. It's a record no team since has matched.

He also worked as assistant principal at Richmond Academy in 1969 and served as principal from 1975-83.

Visitation will be from 5:30 to 7:30 tonight at Platt's Funeral Home on Crawford Avenue. The funeral will be at 2 p.m. Saturday at Crawford Avenue Baptist Church.

Williams is survived by his wife, Doris McClendon Williams; daughters Carolyn Williams and Janice Williams Whiting; four grandchildren; three stepgrandchildren and a great-granddaughter.

Because Williams didn't have a son, he called all his players "my boys." Even with many of his former athletes in their 70s, they remained his "boys" up to his death.

"He was like a second dad," said Cliff Channell, a second baseman for Richmond Academy from 1954-56. "He influenced me through the years."

"He wasn't just a great baseball coach -- that's a given," said former outfielder Duane Grice, who played from 1950-52. "He was a great individual who influenced a lot of peoples' lives."

Williams graduated from Richmond Academy, Augusta Junior College and Wake Forest. He completed graduate school at Vanderbilt, where he worked on his doctorate. While transferring from Augusta Junior College to Wake Forest, he was drafted into World War II.

He served in the Army Air Corps as a gunner in a Liberator bomber. Williams was shot down over Kiel, Germany, and served 16 months as a prisoner of war.

He returned to Augusta and took over as baseball coach in 1948, starting a prosperous 20-year run. From 1951-57, Richmond Academy dominated the state, won three consecutive Southeastern Regional Baseball Tournaments (which featured state champions from the Southeast) and compiled a 147-13 record.

Grice said the recipe for the Musketeers' success was simple. Williams, who never cursed or yelled at his players, focused on the fundamentals, things such as base running, bunting and even throwing the ball from the outfield to the correct infielder.

"We won because of the little things other teams didn't know were big," Grice said. "We just practiced and practiced and practiced till we got it right."

Channell said: "Everyone knew how to bunt. Everyone knew how to steal. Everyone knew the fundamentals of baseball."

With the winning came Williams' superstitions. Before every game, his teams sang The Lord's Prayer . He never wanted to see two bats crossed on the ground. And he didn't want to see his players change -- or clean -- their uniforms if they were on a hot streak.

During a nine-game winning spurt in 1951, Williams wouldn't allow his players to switch out their socks. With Richmond Academy becoming a coeducational institution that year, captain and second baseman Jack Poppell, who played from 1950-52, called a meeting and told his teammates they needed to lose a game.

"We couldn't even get a date because we smelled so bad," he said.

When his baseball teams won one championship after another in the 1950s, Williams was quick to give credit to the players.

"I never got a base hit and I never scored a run," Williams said in 2007. "I made a number of errors, but my boys took care of me when I did. ... Without them, I wouldn't have been a successful coach."

Williams left a legacy that will endure for many years. Richmond Academy named its baseball field after him in 2000. Two years later, Augusta dedicated A.L. Williams Park in Harrisburg.

Also in 2002, his "boys" finally got him elected into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame.

"We had a lot of good memories," Poppell said. "He'll never been forgotten."

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