LaFayette’s John Woody named to the Class of 2023 Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame
Published 1:36 pm Wednesday, March 8, 2023
BY: BILL PLOTT | Alabama High School Athletic Association
MONTGOMERY – Basketball Coach John T. Woody had a special gift for teaching. He not only taught his student-athletes how to win basketball games at LaFayette High School, he also taught them how to dream big.
That’s how Morris Finley describes the coach.
“I was a good athlete in a small town with dreams of being a college basketball player, said Finley, who became one of top players in the University of Alabama-Birmingham’s history. “At the beginning of my senior year, I hadn’t garnered any interest from any university or college at any level. I was frustrated by what I deemed to be a lack of respect for my ability.
“But Coach Woody encouraged me. He never allowed me to wallow in self-pity. Instead, he used the situation to teach me about the power of perseverance.”
Woody’s ability to help students reach for the sky is just one of the many reasons he will be among 13 individuals who will be inducted as the Class of 2023 in the Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame. The induction banquet will be Monday, March 13, at the Montgomery Renaissance Hotel and Convention Center. The banquet will begin at 6 p.m.
A press conference will be held at the Renaissance at 1:15 p.m., on Monday introducing the Class of 2023 to the media. The Hall of Fame is a program developed and managed by the AHSAA’s Alabama High School High School Athletic Directors & Coaches Association (AHSADCA). This year’s class will be the 23rd class inducted since the HOF inception in 1991.
A native of Chambers County, Woody graduated from Lafayette’s Lanier High School in 1969. He played quarterback on the football team and guard in basketball. He then attended Southern Union Jr. College as the first black basketball player in the JUCO’s history and also played baseball. He continued his education at Jacksonville State University on a basketball scholarship, serving as team captain and winning defensive player-of-the-year honors. He graduated with a degree in sociology and later earned his teacher certification at Auburn University.
Woody moved back to Chambers County in 1975 and would spend his entire teaching and coaching career at Lafayette High School. The physical education teacher’s first coaching duties were serving as girls’ softball coach and B-team basketball coach. His JV teams compiled a record of 147-25 over 10 years – including three undefeated seasons and a 53-game winning streak. In 1985-86, he was assistant to Cornelius Reese on the varsity boys’ basketball team that won the Class 4A state championship.
In 1987, he moved up to become the varsity boys’ basketball coach. Over the next 24 seasons, he would have 22 teams that made the state playoffs. The Bulldogs were Class 3A state champions in 1989 and 2002, and his 1999 team was runner-up. His teams won 14 Area championships and finished runner-up eight times. He closed his coaching career with a 435-236 varsity record. His school and city honored him by naming the basketball court at LaFayette High School in his honor.
Well respected among his peers, Woody was named State Coach of the Year in 2002 and received several regional coaching honors. He was selected to coach in the 2002 Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Game. He also coached baseball from 1987-98.
Woody’s commitment to the students didn’t stop with the school’s program. When a lack of summer activities in the area resulted in tragic drowning death of one of his players, he set out to change the situation. He gained permission to open the gym and use other facilities for summer activities.
“He taught me how to use the chip on my shoulder to become a better player and teammate,” said Finley. “By the end of my senior year, I had secured a basketball scholarship at the University of Alabama-Birmingham. As I look back as an adult, I realize that it was in the aforementioned moments that Coach Woody’s Hall of Fame credentials were on full display.
“It wasn’t the wins and losses and the state championships. It was his ability to prepare all of his students and players for life.”
Finley added, “Coach Woody gave us all a crash course in adulthood by wrapping life lessons up in the game of basketball. For those who were fortunate enough to play for him, there’s no doubt that we are better men, better fathers, and better husbands because of that experience.”
After Finley graduated from UAB, he spent 10 years as a professional basketball player in Europe. “I’ve been very fortunate and blessed to have had an opportunity to play for and against some of the best basketball coaches in the world,” he said. “And while the list of basketball men I’ve learned from over the years is long, John T. Woody sits alone at the top. After my retirement from basketball, I started my own business teaching and coaching the game that has given me such joy. I hope I am able to inspire my players in the way Coach Woody inspired all of us who played for him.”
Chambers County District School Board member Jeffrey Finch said Woody’s positive attitude is topped only by his own desire to do the best he can with each task he takes on.
“While his teams may not always have won, I never saw Coach Woody get down on himself or gripe when things didn’t go his way,” said Finch. “To the contrary, Coach Woody remained a strong leader and taught others by his example. Traits such as hard work, dedication, enthusiasm, and loyalty are incredible qualities displayed by Coach Woody on and off the basketball court.”
Lafayette Police Chief George E. Rampy praised Woody’s contributions to the LaFayette community.
“I had the opportunity, as well as my sons, to play for Coach Woody,” Rampy said. “The impact that he made on our lives is very valuable and greatly appreciated. The administration, faculty, staff, students, athletes of Lafayette High School, and the City of Lafayette have been very fortunate to have Coach Woody and his family as part of our families.
“No other coach at any other level has ever had a deeper connection with or made a greater contribution to this community.”