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Hessenthaler returns to Southern for players’ ceremony

Ex-coach says he still covets coaching

By Bob Sutton

Special to The Alamance News

Former Southern Alamance football coach Fritz Hessenthaler made what he said was his first visit back to Southern Alamance in any sort of public setting since his November firing when he attended and spoke at a ceremony recognizing three players last week.

He still wants to be in his former position.

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“I certainly hope at some point I’m back,” he said. “That’s my goal. I love this place.”

Hessenthaler was suspended and then fired from the coaching position in early November during the week leading to the Central 3-A Conference champion Patriots’ first game in the Class 3-A state playoffs. The removal of Hessenthaler for what largely has been described as motivational coaching in a non-game setting because he made contact with a player created a large-scale controversy during the team’s postseason.

Team supporters, parents and players protested the coach’s firing, holding a rally outside the Alamance-Burlington School System’s headquarters. Weeks later, many of that same group flooded a school board meeting, with dozens of speakers expressing support for Hessenthaler and outrage that he was removed as coach.

Hessenthaler kept a teaching position, but was reassigned to ABSS virtual school.

“Best coach I could ask for,” senior running back Jackson Parrish said last week.

Interviews have taken place in the process to fill Southern’s vacant coaching position.

The ceremony involved signings for Parrish (to Barton) and Wesley Smith (to Dakota Wesleyan) and a commitment for Justin Dykes (to Greensboro College).

Hessenthaler, wearing a Southern Alamance football T-shirt and cap, acted as master of ceremony for the brief late-afternoon function in the school’s gym.

“First time I’ve been back at Southern since the incident,” he said during comments to the students, team, family and community members who gathered.

Hessenthaler praised the players for their accomplishments, both individually and as a team.

“The football program we ran is very demanding,” he said.

Southern finished the 2023 season with a 12-2 record. The Patriots won three games in the state playoffs, reaching the East Region semifinals, where they lost 32-27 at eventual state runner-up Fayetteville Seventy-First.

“I think unjustly I missed the last part of the ride,” Hessenthaler said during the ceremony.

He said he was paying attention and offering as much support as he could during November in what amounted to “coaching from the house.”

Players said they were pleased that Hessenthaler could be there for their signings.

“He was still our coach,” Parrish said. “He never should be gone.”

Smith said Hessenthaler was made aware of the ceremony with the hopes that he would attend.

“I wanted him to be here,” Smith said. “Always great to see him. We all miss him. We’re all thankful for him.”

Hessenthaler said he didn’t attend a similar pre-Christmas ceremony for standout Logan Foust, who’s a preferred walk-on and early enrollee at North Carolina State, because he was sick.

Hessenthaler, a former Southeast Guilford coach, was in his sixth season as head coach of the Patriots after an earlier stint as an assistant coach.

His goal is to be coaching high school football again.

“I don’t think I’m done yet,” he said after the ceremony. “I’ve got a little more in the tank.”

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