After serving as an educator and administrator for almost four decades, Liberty County High School assistant principal and varsity boys’ basketball coach Willie Graham has decided to call it a day.
Graham has tendered his resignation and will leave Liberty County High School at the end of the school year.
Graham started his educational career teaching middle school in Statesboro in 1977. He moved to Hinesville in 1984 and taught health and physical education at Bradwell Institute and served as the boys’ basketball coach and assistant football coach under Clifford Johnson.
“He came to work for me when I was coaching football at Bradwell, and I’ve known him ever since,” Johnson said. “He coached with me until I retired in 1987. … He is an outstanding man. … He has great moral character.”
When the new Liberty County High School opened in the 1990-91 school year, Graham became and administrator and the school’s first principal.
“And I have been in administration ever since,” he said.
Graham said it took a lot of thought before he decided to tender his resignation.
“I’ve done my time, and the county is restructuring its administrative staff. … That in itself lends to the fact that it is a good time for me to go ahead and retire,” he said.
LCHS Principal Dr. Paula Scott said Graham is a true gentleman, looking out for the benefit of others.
“It has been my pleasure and privilege to work with him for the past 22 years,” she said. “I consider him to be a fair, loyal, hard-working and caring assistant principal and coach. He always has the best interest of our students and staff in mind when he takes action, and this is something that I really respect. Most people know that Mr. Graham is stepping down so that other young assistant principals will not lose their job as a result of our system’s budget cuts. That act alone speaks volumes about his integrity and concern for others. Sadly, it is the high school students of Liberty County who will miss the opportunity to work with, and learn from, an outstanding administrator, coach and man.”
Graham said he will miss his co-workers. He said he has come to respect and admire them for placing the best interests of children above all else.
“I’ve been fortunate enough to work with several individuals here in Liberty County over the years that I feel truly have that (philosophy) at heart …,” he said. “You can see it in every decision they make.”
Graham said most new educators enter the profession to help and inspire children, but later lose their focus.
“Sometimes, it is hard to stick to that philosophy, but again, I’ve been blessed in working with people who have been able to keep that up front, always, in the decisions they make,” he said.
“Coach Graham helped make my transition a smooth one,” LCHS athletic director Warnella Wilder said of joining the LCHS staff in 2005. “He has always been matter of fact, but very professional.”
Wilder said she has appreciated Graham’s honesty and integrity, along with his faith in her abilities, over the years.
“Whenever I needed a helping hand — whether it was with a student or parent at school, or simply needing help with my car — he never hesitated to offer assistance,” she said.
“He was very patient working with me,” she said of succeeding him as the school’s athletic director. “Mr. Graham is not only a co-worker, he is a role model, a gentleman and a friend. His presence will be sorely missed in the halls of Liberty County High School.”
Graham said he loves to golf and fish and plans to put in a few days here and there to do both. He said he has a grandson who currently attends LCHS and is looking forward to spending some time with him as well.
He added that he is looking to see if he can continue to stay on as a coach for the boys’ basketball team in some capacity.
According to the Georgia High School Association, retired or former educators and paraprofessionals can serve as a coach, except for head coach.
He added that former LCHS basketball and football player Julian Stokes might look to take the lead in coaching the varsity boys.
“That is always and educator’s dream and hope … that they see those lives that they’ve touched in some way, be it in a large part or small part, seeing how those individuals developed into productive citizens and young men and young women,” he said of Stokes and others who have finished high school, completed college degrees and decided to come back home to give back.
He said it is touching to see a former athlete wanting to fill his shoes.
“We spend a lot more time with our athletes than we do with our normal students,” he said. “It’s always good to see if you had some type of influence on them. … It is always good to see them mature.”
Graham said the school principal would have to make the recommendation. The recommendation would then be presented to Liberty County School System Superintendent Dr. Valya Lee. Lee would then present that to the Board of Education to be voted on by the members.
“I wish to thank Coach Graham for all of his years for service and for his dedication to Liberty County and our students,” school board Chairwoman Lily Baker said.
“I’m not sure they can replace him,” Johnson, the former BI head football coach, said upon learning Graham was stepping down. “He is more than fair with the kids, but he is also firm with them and I think the world of him. … He is not just a coach, he is a friend.”
Graham coached for 37 of his 38 years in education. His athletic career will be featured in the sports section in an upcoming edition of the Courier.