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Williams ceremony attracts alums, others to honor longtime basketball coach Tommy Cole

By Bob Sutton

Special to The Alamance News

Many came from nearby and others made a bit of a trip to play tribute to former Williams basketball coach Tommy Cole last week.

Cole was presented with a “787” jersey to recognize his high school basketball victory total across more than four decades.

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A halftime ceremony during a game between visiting River Mill and Williams drew the attention, with past players, assistant coaches, and support staff gathering on the court.

“Great coach, fun to play for,” said Brian Fields, a member of the 1996 Class 3-A state championship team. “Worked us hard.”

Cole coached Williams boys for 28 seasons and Williams girls for 13 years, overlapping during one season when he coached them both.

Past Graham teams were represented as well at the ceremony because Cole’s coaching career began with four seasons with the Red Devils, who won the 1983 state championship in Class 3-A under his guidance.

But most of his coaching took place at Williams, his alma mater.

“This is my home and my dream job,” he said. “A lot of memories, and most of them good. I’ve been blessed.”

Cole, 73, said he appreciated the support and turnout for the presentation.

“Seeing familiar faces,” he said. “Past athletes and coaches, and even referees.”

Former Williams girls’ player Adele Henderson Hogan, a 2009 graduate, came from Charlotte for the ceremony. She said she wanted to be part of the event.

“I still hear some of his phrases in my ear when I try to take the easy way out,” she said of Cole’s impact.

Cole, who also had a state runner-up boys’ team and girls’ team at Williams, announced his retirement in the autumn after agonizing for months with the decision. He had been a standout college player at Elon, where he’s one of two players to have his jersey retired.

There was a wide collection of past Williams coaches, principals and administrators on hand last week as well as a smaller group with similar backgrounds from Graham. Board of Education members for the Alamance-Burlington School System and central office personnel were also in attendance.

One of the game officials for the River Mill / Williams game was Mike Ward, who played on Cole’s title team at Graham.

The Cole-related festivities drew Fields, an accountant in Raleigh, back to the Williams gym for a game for just the fourth or fifth time since he graduated.

“It’s the same,” he said, looking around the venue. “Nothing has changed.”

Except Cole wasn’t on the Williams bench.

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