Many of Columbia County's best and most dedicated coaches won honors Monday night.
The Columbia County Recreation and Leisure Services Department Ninth Annual Volunteer Coaches Banquet, at Patriots Park, honored nine coaches in six different sports.
The Coach of the Year award went to 18-year coaching veteran Steve Thibodeau of Grovetown.
A former soccer and all-star baseball coach, Thibodeau said he prefers coaching tee-ball and enjoys the game as much the children he works with.
"There's not a lot less pressure on the kids in tee-ball and sometimes it can be mass confusion on the field, but it's always fun," he said. "I've been coaching tee-ball for 16 years. I wouldn't keep doing it if I wasn't having a good time."
Other coaching winners were Gary Davis for boys soccer; Jim Leiper for girls soccer; Mike Crawford for football; Mary Jo Cooper for cheerleading; Ralph Pearson for softball; Sam Smith for boys basketball; Jeff Davidson for girls basketball; and Angel Torres, coach of the Dixie Boys World Series champs, for baseball.
"I want to thank all of you coaches for doing what you do," said county Recreation Director Charlie Beale to the banquet attendees. "We have over 4,000 kids playing on 325 teams in the recreation department and without you volunteering your time none of it would be possible."
Beale also came away a winner from the banquet. He was honored with the Richard Butler Award, which is given to a recreation department employee who regularly goes above and beyond the call of duty.
"I wasn't expecting this, but I want to say thank you and it means a lot to me to receive this award on the same night a good friend of mine is being honored," he said.
Beale was referring to the late Lonnie Morris Sr., who was inducted into the department's hall of fame Monday night.
Morris was the fourth person to be inducted into the hall of fame. A long-time children's sports advocate, Morris was one of the first members of the Columbia County Recreation Advisory Board. The Columbia County Board of Commissioners recently approved the renaming of Appling Park, which Morris founded, after him.
Accepting the award on his behalf was his widow, Shirley.
"He was very dedicated, especially to the sport of baseball, and he was so excited when a recreation department was started," she said. "I remember we could never take a vacation (in the summer) until ball season was over."
The recreation department was first founded in 1972 and started off with 35 acres and four baseball fields. Now, the department owns 1,340 acres with 28 baseball/softball fields, six soccer fields, 15 tennis courts, 61 campsites, nine boat ramps, a disc golf course and horse trails, which were officially opened on Wednesday. They also have played host to four Dixie Baseball and Softball World Series events, and 11 different county teams have won a Dixie World Series title.
The latest World Series winners from Columbia County were honored at the banquet, as championship rings were presented to the Dixie Boys all-star players and coaches. The team won the 13-14 Dixie age division last summer.
County Commissioner Tom Mercer, a guest speaker at the banquet, said much of the department's success can be attributed to volunteer coaches. But the bigger success, he said, is in what they teach the children they coach.
"Winning and losing is not as important as the positive input you can have on a kid's life," he said. "You teach them fundamentals of the game and how to play by the rules. You teach them how to be good sportsmen and women."
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