Making an Impression

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 3, 2004

Georgiana High School’s assistant principal, athletic director and head football coach Keith York is a realist.

Growing up he knew that he wouldn’t make a living as a professional athlete.

He also realized that playing college sports was a long shot, so he set his goals even higher.

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He decided to pursue a career in education in hopes of making a lasting impression on the youths he comes in contact with on a daily basis.

&uot;If I come in contact with the children, I want to make a positive impression,&uot; York said. &uot;The older people that influenced me helps me influence the children I’m around today because of the person I became from the influences I had. I hope that one day one of the children can remember something I told him or her about how to act or how to respond and be as positive as they can.&uot;

York, 34, said he owes what he learned throughout his life to his understanding parents, friends, his friends parents and the coaches he learned his profession from first hand.

Early Days

York didn’t begin playing youth sports until he was 10-years-old when he began playing Little League Baseball and Pee-Wee football in his hometown of Florala.

Again, he credits his parents into not pressuring him into playing sports.

&uot;My fondest memory as a child would be just having parents that put me in situations where I benefited from the people I was around,&uot; York said. &uot;They encouraged me to play sports and I was fortunate enough to have good coaches that facilitated what my parents were telling me as far as how to act right. You look back later in life and all that stuff molded you as the man you’ve become. I try to convey a lot of that to the children I coach.&uot;

Besides playing recreation sports, York said growing up in Florala was like any other small town.

&uot;We had a lake there in Florala and we stayed in it a lot swimming and water skiing,&uot; he said. &uot;I grew up on the lake. We did what children do in small towns, we rode bikes and swam.&uot;

York later went on to play middle school basketball for Florala City School. It was then when he was first inspired to become a coach.

&uot;A big influence in my decision to become a coach came from my first middle school coach at Florala City School, Johnny Taylor, who was also my Little League Baseball coach,&uot; York said.

High School Days

York continued to play sports throughout high school while attending Florala High School.

Throughout his high school days on the gridiron, Florala’s football program underwent many coaching changes. As a result, York’s freshman year was the school’s best during his four-year stint.

&uot;That was a big problem with football down there, we ran coaches through there repeatedly,&uot; York said.

As a wide receiver and defensive end for the Wildcats, York helped his team to a 7-3 record and a first round appearance in the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s

(AHSAA) state playoffs his freshman year. Houston County eliminated Florala from the playoffs led by fullback Robert Stewart, who went on to play nose guard for the University of Alabama and was later drafted by the NFL.

&uot;He was much a man,&uot; York said. &uot;I can remember coach putting me in there as a freshman at linebacker and that big joker was running the football. He was tough.&uot;

The football program underwent its first of two coaching changes prior to York’s sophomore year and the second his senior season.

Florala made a name for itself on the hard court during the mid-80’s. As a forward and center on the Wildcats’ team, York helped lead his team to a Class 2A Elite Eight appearance his senior season. His basketball coach at the time also inspired him to pursue a coaching career.

&uot;We were probably more successful at basketball than anything else,&uot; York said. &uot;I attribute that to our coach, George Lancaster. He was somebody that we all respected. He’s another person that I learned a lot from as far as life lessons and coaching lessons. He was a big influence as far as me choosing to be a coach.&uot;

Florala City School and Lockhart School were both feeder programs for Florala High School when York attended. He said having two feeder schools helped give FHS more athletes to work with.

The Wildcats lost to J.F. Shields in the second round of sub-state during York’s junior season, but rebounded nicely his senior year finishing 20-4 and losing in the Elite Eight in Auburn. Clay County beat Flomaton by five points, which finished state runner-up by two points.

&uot;We cooked everybody my senior year,&uot; York said. &uot;We felt like we were pretty good. We had much better players on the team than me, but I knew my role.&uot;

York also played outfield for Flomaton’s baseball team. He graduated in 1988.

College Life

York attended Lurleen B. Wallace Community College for two years after high school before transferring to Auburn University. His first intentions were to pursue a business degree, but changed his major after a short time at Auburn.

&uot;You kind of get a little bit more serious about it when you get into a four-year institution, you’re thinking what do I want to do with the rest of my life,&uot; York said. &uot;I started thinking back to where you got influenced. I was influenced by my coaches.&uot;

As for sports, York didn’t attempt to play on the collegiate level. He stuck to intramural sports.

&uot;I was just like a lot of other children, I didn’t start growing until the day I graduated from high school and then boom, you gain 20 pounds and you grow three inches&uot; York said. &uot;I wasn’t that big. I was slender and didn’t know anything about the weight room.&uot;

York graduated with a bachelor’s degree in physical education in 1993.

Coaching Days

Following a summer graduation, York didn’t have much time to search for teaching jobs, so he took his first and only offer with Sparta Academy. He started work the next day.

&uot;That was the only job offer I got,&uot; York said. &uot;I was ready for a paycheck to start coming in, I was tired of being a starving college student. They offered me the job and I took it. A lot of coaching jobs had already been handed out,&uot; York said. &uot;Being fresh out of college you’re not necessarily sure about where you’re going to get that first job or how you’re going to get, so I took one at Sparta Academy in Evergreen.&uot;

York began his career at Sparta as the head basketball coach and junior varsity football coach. He was promoted to head varsity football coach after two years.

During his first season as head basketball coach, York led the Warriors to the semi-finals of the Alabama Independent School Association (AISA) state playoffs. Sparta was knocked out of the playoffs by eventual state champ Bullock Academy of Union Springs.

&uot;It was a big experience to come right out of college and to be given the head coaching job,&uot; York said. &uot;Whether it’s at a 1A private school or a 6A public school, you’ve still got 10-15 children you’re in charge of.&uot;

York led the Warriors to a 6-5 record and an appearance in the AISA state playoffs his first season as head coach of the varsity squad. The next season, Sparta finished 9-3 and were beat by eventual state champion Dixie Academy in the AISA state semifinals.

During York’s final season on the hard court, Sparta claimed the AISA Class A state championship on a three-pointer at the buzzer in overtime. He said that moment was his most memorable at the private school.

&uot;To me, the boys on that team, the parents and the people involved that day, it was huge,&uot; York said. &uot;It’s a great coaching memory I’ll always have. It’s something that can’t be taken away from you.&uot;

In 1997, York accepted the running back coaching position at Eufaula High School. He also coached ninth grade and B-team basketball during his one-year stint at the school.

During his time at Eufaula, York began working on his master’s degree from Troy University Phenix City. He also prepared for his marriage to his wife Becky.

After their marriage, both Keith and Becky accepted jobs with the Butler County School System in 1998. Keith took the job as Georgiana High School’s head basketball coaching and assistant head football coach. Becky took a job teaching at R.L. Austin Elementary School.

&uot;My wife and I made the decision to try to get closer to home and to our parents and family,&uot; York said.

York completed work on his master’s in 2000, while coaching at Georgiana. In 2001, he took the assistant principal job for Hillcrest-Evergreen High School.

&uot;I had finished my master’s degree and I was interested in going into administration and leaving the teaching side of it,&uot; York said. &uot;I was trying to move up the career ladder.&uot;

York’s time at Hillcrest was short lived. After one year, he accepted the assistant principal, athletic director and head football coach at Georgiana. In 2002, he returned to Butler County, the same year he finished his Education Specialist Degree.

&uot;I could have stayed at Hillcrest, but the assistant principal retired here (Georgiana) and the head football coaching job came back open and Mr. (Roland) Pettie offered me both of them, so I came back.&uot;

Panther Country

York will be entering his sixth year at Georgiana High School this fall, his fifth as head football coach. He said he is proud of the changes the school has undergone during his tenure.

&uot;My time I’ve spent at Georgiana, from my first year until now, I’ve seen some great changes and I’m proud of a lot of things we’ve accomplished,&uot; York said. &uot;It’s been a dream to have a field house and a weight room and we’re coming to the closing stages of that. We’ve made some upgrades to our facilities. Those things are visions that we had. We want to do everything we can to have first class facilities for these children to have.&uot;

York’s most memorable moment as the Panthers’ head coach came last year when his team beat No. 1 ranked Southern Choctaw, which was on an 18-game winning streak, on the road.

&uot;I can guarantee you that only about 27 folks gave us a chance when we went over there and that was us in the locker room,&uot; York said.

York said he enjoys working at Georgiana and understands the importance of stability in athletic programs after the experiences during his high school days.

&uot;Stability is very important,&uot; York said. &uot;When you’ve got a new coach, children are apprehensive. They’ve got to prove themselves and the coach has to prove himself. The coach doesn’t know the parents and the more you’re familiar with the community and the parents the better. It makes it a lot easier to work with children when you’ve got some stability and you’ve built a trust with them and a relationship with them. They feel more comfortable.&uot;

As for his future at Georgiana, York said only time would tell.

York and his wife have a two-year-old son, Luke.