A World War II prisoner of war. A successful baseball coach. A respected principal.
In his 82 years, A.L. Williams has been a hero to Augusta in many ways. On Friday, his city returned the favor.
At the corner of Eve and Broad streets, a crowd of more than 200 people watched as Augusta-Richmond County dedicated the A.L. Williams park in the Harrisburg section of the city.
"It's a great honor," Williams said. "I don't deserve such an honor, but I appreciate it. The good Lord has been good to me through the years. I appreciate this park being named after me."
Mayor Bob Young said the park has been in the works for a year. It took $30,000 to construct the park, which includes a picnic shelter, benches, tables and a grill.
"As coach Williams has given back to so many boys in this community in his own life, he's going to continue giving on through his memory here in this park," Young said.
Williams served in the U.S. Air Force during World War II as a gunner in a Liberator bomber. He was shot down over Kiel, Germany, and served 16 months as a prisoner of war.
He became the Musketeers baseball coach in 1948, and his teams won a record seven straight Georgia High School Association state titles from 1951-57. In the seven-year span, Williams compiled a 147-13 record.
"He told me in 1951, he didn't like the word 'runner-up,"' said Jack Poppell, who played for Williams from 1950-52. "He liked the word 'champion.' He said to let someone else be runner-up."
Williams retired as baseball coach in 1963 and began work as an administrator. He became assistant principal at Richmond Academy in 1969 and served as principal from 1975-1983.
Friday's dedication was not the first for Williams. In 2000, Richmond Academy named its baseball field for the legendary coach.
"It's long overdue," said Duane Grice, who played for Williams from 1951-53. "He's a person who has meant a lot for a lot of people in this community. He deserves this more than I can say."
The celebration was just an appetizer for Williams. On Feb. 23, he will be inducted in the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in Macon. That honor was the result of his former players' hard work.
"We kept pushing and pushing and pushing, because it looked like it was going to die out," said Cliff Channell, who played for Williams from 1954-56. "And we didn't know how long the coach was going to live. This needs to be done while he's living, not after he's gone."
The never-give-up attitude Williams taught "his boys" finally paid off. More than 25 former players wrote letters and made phone calls to the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame on Williams' behalf for more than two decades.
"Everybody was pulling the rope in the right direction, but we couldn't ever get the rope hooked to the right horse," Channell said. "We finally got hooked to it. And we still don't know who the horse was."
Reach Chris Gay at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 114.
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