Hank Kennedy was part of a lot of firsts during his athletic endeavors, but what stands out first and foremost to David Money is the type teammate he was when the two played together on the first Wallace College baseball team in 1967 under coach Johnny Oppert.
“That first year, we would clean cow droppings and rocks off that field at Wallace and he’d be the first one out there picking up,” Money remembers. “Those times we got on losing streaks, and there were a few of those that first year, you could count on Hank to always be the one to say, ‘We’re going to get there.’
“He was an easy-going guy who always had a word of encouragement for people and was a great athlete who led by example. I never heard him use bad language. Just a solid guy and a leader.”
Kennedy, a 2011 inductee into the Wiregrass Sports Hall of Fame, died on Sunday at the age of 72 following an extended illness.
Besides being on the first Wallace baseball team, Kennedy was the first one to throw a touchdown pass in Rip Hewes Stadium as a quarterback for Dothan High in 1964 and the first head football coach at New Brockton.
A 1965 graduate of Dothan High, Kennedy was a three- sport star in high school in football, baseball and basketball. He played both baseball and basketball at Wallace.
Critt Snellgrove was a teammate and classmate with Kennedy at both schools.
“We didn’t have all the training that they have now,” Snellgrove said. “We didn’t even have a weight room. But Hank Kennedy was one of the best athletes to come out of Dothan High School. He could play it all.
“I always thought Hank didn’t get the recognition he should. He was special. I’m sure going to miss ol’ Hank. We played a lot of ball together from Little League on up. He was a good athlete and a good friend.”
Playing for one year at Wallace would lead to a scholarship offer to Union University in Jackson, Tenn., and Kennedy accepted to play both sports there.
After college, Kennedy would pursue his coaching career.
Kennedy grew up around two Dothan coaching legends — N.K. Jenkins at Young Junior High and Rip Hewes, who was the recreation director in town.
“I wanted to be like coach Jenkins,” Kennedy said in a 2011 interview with the Dothan Eagle. “Then as I got older I was around coach Hewes. I learned a lot from them.”
He landed his first job as head basketball coach and assistant football coach at Daleville. He stayed there for three years and then spent one year at Austin in Decatur as an assistant before returning to the Wiregrass to become New Brockton’s first football coach.
New Brockton, a longtime small-school basketball power, added football in 1974. Though Kennedy was originally hired just as the head football coach, he was also asked to pull double-duty as the school’s head basketball coach.
After two years at New Brockton, Kennedy would leave for Opp as head basketball coach and assistant football coach. After five seasons at Opp, Kennedy settled in as the head basketball coach and assistant football coach at Elba from 1982-1991.
The Tigers thrived under Kennedy’s leadership in basketball during that time, which included a 22-4 season in 1991, and had strong football teams as Kennedy coached the quarterbacks and receivers.
Jim Golden competed against Kennedy as a player and as a coach. The two would later become great friends.
“I call Hank the Highway 84 coach,” Golden said, referring to Kennedy’s coaching stops up and down that stretch of road in the Wiregrass. “Hank and I go way back. We’ve known each other forever.”
When Golden was a star basketball player at Carroll High, Kennedy was the star guard at Dothan High. When Golden was head basketball coach at Dothan, he squared off against Kennedy’s Elba and Enterprise teams a handful of times.
“He was a good court coach,” Golden said. “What I mean by that is he did things to adjust well. He was the kind of coach who could take three average players and one real good player and then one that was a little above average, and play with teams that possibly had four good players.”
Kennedy coached Golden’s younger brother, Kenny, during his time at Daleville as head basketball coach. Golden recalls a story his brother told him about a game during that time in the early 1970s when Daleville traveled to Headland and ran up against some full-court pressure they couldn’t handle.
“They had practice against the press, but when they got there and the press was put on, they got just killed,” Golden said. “When they got back to the gym that night, they practiced for another two hours before they left on breaking the press. From that point on that year, they could handle the press.”
Kennedy came back to his alma mater of Dothan High in 1991 as an assistant football coach, staying there until 1997. He coached the Enterprise basketball team for one year after that before retiring from coaching and becoming a salesman for ScreenTech in Dothan.
During their time as assistant football coaches at Dothan High, Golden and Kennedy became close.
“We played golf together, we fished together and always stayed in contact with one another,” Golden said. “We talked a lot. We would critique football, we would critique basketball and sometimes we would get in an argument,” Golden added with a chuckle.
Graveside services for Kennedy will be held Tuesday at 11 a.m. at Memory Hill Cemetery. There will be no public visitation.