It is a good thing we do not get what we may want as children. I would have easily traded half of my IQ points to be a sports star in high school. Simply because that meant more than an “A” in Geometry in the court of popularity… or getting the girl. If I could only play football like Red Eye, or shoot hoops like Abe Harrison or just run as fast around the bases as Robert Lee Brown. Of course over the past years I have been happy with the abilities given me, but not as a kid. As you know we lost a few of these gridiron heroes and their leader recently. So I asked my sports experts and friends…the Castleberry guys to write this tribute. This is not intended as a historically accurate documentation, but personal recollections of sports in our youth to honor “Coach”, Cecil Young, Ellis Cantrell, James Roger Smith and all the others who gave us joy and made us proud of our school and community.
Recently I attended the final services for Mr. E.L. Cabbell, former football, boy’s and girls’ basketball, as well as track and field coach. Coach Cabbell and his wife have resided in Lexington, North Carolina since leaving Gainesville in the late 1960s. During his tenure as a teacher and coach at both Fair Street and E.E. Butler High Schools, Coach Cabbell compiled an impressive record. He is the only coach in the public school system of Gainesville, Georgia to win 2 State Football Championships. Until 2012, Coach Cabbell was the only coach to win a State Championship in that school system. He is affectionately known as Coach, the only one most of us ever knew.
Mr. & Mrs. Cabbell came to Gainesville in 1951 and both taught at Fair Street High. Mr. Cabbell taught Health and Physical Education in addition to coaching. Mrs. Cabbell was well known for her highly active Biology Classes, and even more for her Biology tests!
In his first year as coach, Coach guided Fair Street to an impressive 6-1 record. In eleven seasons as head coach at Fair Street, he never had a losing season. According to the Georgia High School Football Historian Association’s website, Coach Cabbell posted a 74-22-6 record at Fair Street. This included 1 undefeated season and five seasons with only 1 or 2 losses. Amazing! Coach Cabbell’s Tigers of 1956 and 1957 won back-to-back State Championships including a stretch 20 consecutive wins, dating from 1956-1958.
In addition to his 2 State Football Championships, Coach Cabbell also won a Girls State Basketball Championship at Fair Street in 1953.
Coach Cabbell’s Tigers posted an 8-2 record and won the Regional Championship over arch enemies Lemon Street of Marietta in the first year of Butler High. For the 3 seasons prior to 1962, these teams battled to a tie each year. In 1962, Lemon Street broke the string of ties, defeating Butler High by a score of 32-6. Having won their respective conferences these teams met for the Regional Championship the night after Thanksgiving. Butler won in Marietta 19-18 to have the last word and confirm Coach as a prophet. At the start of the season he told the team this would be the conclusion of the season.
As great a coach as he was, Jerry Castleberry said it best in an article in the Times in August: “Mr. Cabbell was an outstanding coach, but a much better person”. I am sure we all agree with this having had so many positive interactions and experiences with our Coach.
Larry left Gainesville to serve his country in the military after graduation and lost contact with the Cabbell’s. Fortunately, they reconnected at the CIAA Basketball Tournament in Norfolk, Virginia in 1974, and continued the relationship to the present. Larry says that he always looked forward to the CIAA Tournament to spend time with Coach Cabbell. He recounts: On my first visit to their home in Lexington, I was surprised as I sat and watched Mr. Cabbell take phone calls from people I knew from Gainesville, still seeking his advice and assistance on tax preparation. I also noticed that people in his Lexington Community admired him & cherished his friendship and community support. On the day of his funeral, a neighbor stopped at his home and told me,” I’m so sorry to hear about Elbert’s passing; I’m going to miss my buddy”.
Larry said it is no mystery why he admired Coach Cabbell as a young student football player in Gainesville until his death. His life demanded respect and admiration. I will miss my Coach!
*Information used in this message was extracted from Georgia High School Football Historian Association’s website