How does a coach win 12 state Track titles in 18 years, 18 consecutive region titles and be undefeated in duals-quads? One single word... Sacrifice. Tommy Taylor was an incredibly fascinating human being until he passed after a fierce battle with melanoma for 5 years (his final days he coached from a golf cart and oxygen tank at Godby HS in Tallahassee) still incredibly sharp at the age of 75.
30 Overall 'State Championships'
2 Full Time Jobs
Job #1 as Cairo Recreation Director (1953-1973)
'16' State Recreation Department Championships
'6' Fast Pitch Softball State Championships'
'4' Midget Football State Championships'
'3' Midget Track and Field State Championships'
'2' Swimming State Championships'
'1' Midget Basketball State Championship'
Cairo Recreation Director for 20 years (full-time yearly beginning salary $2600)
Job #2 Cairo HS Coach (1957-1974)
'14' State Championships
'12' Track and Field State Championships
'2' Basketball State Championships
'5' Consecutive Track and Field State Championships
'2' Consecutive Basketball State Championships
'18' Consecutive Track and Field Region Championships
Track and Field (Duals/Quad Meets): 118 Wins 0 losses
HS Basketball Record: 361-73
'9' Region Basketball Titles
90's Cobb MS Basketball (Tallahassee) 5 Consecutive Undefeated Seasons and City Titles
Coached numerous Individual Track and Field Champs at Godby HS
HS/MS Athletic Director from 1969-1974
32 Coach of the Year Awards
'6' Basketball Region 1A/1AA Coach of the Year
'2' Basketball State Coach of the Year
'16' Track Region 1A/1AA Coach of the Year
'6' Track State Coach of the Year
'2' Track and Field Southeast United States Coach of the Year
Track and Cross Country Coaches Association 'Hall of Fame'
Track 3 Year Varsity Letterman at University of Florida (UF)
Member of UF Debate Team
Graduated with Honors UF. BS Degrees in Physical Education, Health, Recreation and Athletics. Speech Minor, graduated with Honors. (1946-1949)
Master's Degree at FSU, Administration and Supervision. Graduated with Honors (1950-1952)
Served as Jr. Davis Cup coach for State of Florida while a Graduate Asst.
Pitched at Gainesville (FL) and Cairo (GA) to 6 State Championships in N.S.C. and A.S.A. fast pitch softball
MVP in 1949 N.S.C. World fast pitch softball tourney
All-American 1949 N.S.C. World Tourney
MVP 1957 A.S.A. Southeastern Tourney
Grady County 'Man of the Year' 1963
Hall of Fame Charter Member State of GA Amateur Softball Association 1987
Coach for 'South' All Star Basketball Team 1966 in old North vs South game
Cairo GA: Tommy Taylor Day Declared 1993
Taylor Males 1967
But, there was a catch. If you wanted to spend time around/with him, you'd better love sports, fortunately for me I did. Be it at the Cairo HS gym for basketball, the track of course where I played in the sand/sawdust pits from the age of 4, across the street from the old pickle plant, where one could smell the cukes' becoming pickles in the huge wooden vats. Or the Football fields for HS/Rec ball, scouting for the HS football team on Friday nights out of town, on the Swim Team/working at the City Pool for the Rec Dept. (at age 12) and ball fields in the Summer (Azalea Park/Jackie Robinson Field-HS)
Also, not many people know, that Cairo were the World Champions in men's fast pitch softball in the 1950's beating the infamous Clearwater Fla. Bombers. He was the only pitcher who ever beat them. Occasionally, on the handball courts at the City Pool he would display his talent, and it was something to witness, rising fastballs, sinking curves all unhittable (guess that's where my fastball came from in HS). The Cairo team went on to win multiple state championships in the 50's in a popular sport back then.
I can't tell you how many times the HS team bus was diverted to our house to pick me up for every away game on school nights and weekends for basketball, football and track. And, how many 10-year-olds are sitting at the 'official' scorer's table keeping the scorebook for the boys varsity basketball squad and compiling track results for the local media (Cairo Messenger and Thomasville Times) in addition to running the clock/scoreboard at B-team/Junior HS games? As soon as the last game was over, I was out shooting baskets while he talked with the opponents coaches sharing wisdom (even at away games) until we were the last to leave and get on the bus. Things changed drastically in 1973 as our parents divorced and shortly after a school system takeover occurred, which would fatefully begin the end of a great era for Cairo.
1957 Cairo Track team
The Band Director (a cartoon caricature of a man) ran for Super of Schools and defeated a good man whom my dad endorsed and then later bought our house to add insult to injury! This was the turning point for Cairo, as it had been since 1953. In turn, Coach Taylor (also AD since 1969) and nearly all his loyal coaches under him resigned or were summarily fired. Cairo would never be the same after this. Sadly, youths in the recreation programs from an early age (9-10), both black and white, stopped playing sports, turned to drugs, alcohol and crime becoming juvenile delinquents helping form the future of Cairo for many years until Scott Starr (of Early County HS fame) came in taking over the Track program. Fortunately, my dad put me in the dorms over at Georgia Christian, south of Valdosta in 1975, where I rekindled my love of sports and basketball. He even had an impact on GCS Basketball, coming over one day pre-season 1976 and teaching Coaches Pleasant and Mike Roller the 1-3-1 zone defense, 'Kentucky Traps', 1/2, 3/4 and full-court presses.
Let's take look at Tommy Taylor's journey in life, beginning as a 'street kid' in San Diego, Flight Officer, Bombardier-Navigator in the US Army Air Corps, three-year letterman at the University of Florida (vaulter/sprinter), getting his master's degree at FSU, Cairo HS from 1957-1974 and his business career afterwards. One fact is how many lives Coach Taylor had a great influence on. He was best known for being a master coach of the field events, especially the most technical events. Cairo HS often clinched State titles early before the running finals, amassing huge points out on the field. The Syrupmakers also were strong in the 440y, 880y, Mile Run and 'High Hurdles' But, his greatest skill was as a mentor, helping mold boys into strong, confident successful men.
Tommy Taylor was born on Friday the 13th 1925 in San Diego, California (El Coronado). Not much is known of this time except that he was a 'street tough kid' (in the pic above he was 17 years old)
He was recruited into the US Army Air Corps during World War II becoming a Flight Officer, Bombardier/Navigator from 1943-1945. A little-known fact is that his pilot was none other than Gene Rayborn (the TV host of The Match Game). Afterward, he did something to get recruited by UF as an athlete, lettering three years, excelling in the pole vault clearing 12-0 with a steel pole. Coach Tommy finished his undergrad studies at UF and then began post-graduate master's studies at FSU (mostly a women's college back then)
UF Track Team (rear center) what a character!
In 1953, Tommy Taylor accepted a job in Cairo as Super of Recreation for Grady County. He began coaching the HS Track team in 1957 and the rest is history. Little did the community know the drive and passion this man had to succeed and win. Lives began to be influenced, disciples were being produced that achieved incredible successes in lifelike Arthur Williams, and the town began to change in a very positive way. First it was the state titles in track, state recreation dept. titles, followed by basketball state titles. But, there was a price. I recall high stacks of papers next to dad's green vinyl recliner on Sundays where he would fall asleep after lunch for maybe an hour or two, then hit the door again... and away he went. His 'study' at home was much of the same, his offices at the high school gym, city pool, building behind the city pool, all full of stacks of paper. Having Soviet and East German training techniques translated by FSU professors, especially concerning plyometrics. Winning was the goal... and he achieved it.
Once schools desegregated back in 1969, Cairo began to improve in the sprints as well. One note here, Cairo was a very racially divided city before 1969. The 'white side' of town was like Mayberry in the Andy Griffith show, the 'black side' of town was labeled as the 'hotbed' (no clue why, don't get offended). 4th street, which ran north to south, effectively divided the two communities. Coach Taylor was way ahead of the curve, running both 'sides' of the City Rec. Dept. (black and white). He recruited the top African American athletes west of 4th Street from the Rec. Dept. and Washington High School (which serves as the middle school to this day) to attend/compete for Cairo before desegregation occurred. Getting up at 6 a.m., picking those young men up at their homes, driving them to school (making sure they had breakfast/lunch and completed their studies) and after practice/games dropping them off near the doorsteps of their homes. I was often in that green city van after many games/practices, sitting on the engine cover upfront (often after bedtime). I fondly recall many of those guys who often teased me: Marvin Gore (football/track), Melvin Ray (Detroit Tigers signee, basketball star and three-time TJ State champ), Larry Arbeary, Mitchell Glenn, Sammy Daniels, Scotty Akins and Pike Willis just to name a few. Coach Taylor rarely slept six hours a night... SACRIFICE.
Bill Stanfill #8, 2 consecutive State Titles
Coach Taylor was constantly being offered head coaching positions at the collegiate level, including many SEC power schools and turned all of them down. He was very content being a high school coach and mentor (almost a God in Cairo) much like football coach Wright Bazemore at Valdosta winning all those state and mythical national titles (good friends). He used to drive to Valdosta, visit Bazemore and then go buy all his stopwatches from Buck Belue's father. Three of his top track and field prodigies later went on to become great coaches, including Coach Lewis Gainey at University of Georiga, Coach Bill Maxwell at Tennesee/LSU/Nebraska and Coach Max Mayo (Cedar Shoals HS/Hilton Head Prep SC) and former Foot Locker National Race Director, all of whom of course worked for the Rec. Dept. as well. His most famous athlete was two-time Superbowl Champ, All-Pro defensive lineman, Bill Stanfill of the Miami Dolphins. 'Big Bill' dominated the throws in the GHSA from 1964-1966 and played center on two Cairo state championship basketball teams, and went on to become an All-American defensive lineman at UGA. Taylor also coached former Denver Broncos tight end, Frank Richter, and the 'Big Toe from Cairo', Bobby Walden, who punted for the Pittsburgh Steelers and won a SuperBowl ring in the early 70's. He was friends with Vince Dooly, Bear Bryant, Shug Jordan and Bobby Bowden, but told me Steve Spurrier was an arrogant ass.
Coach and his grandson Bruce II 1988
I'm not sure what else can be said about the man. Coach Tommy Taylor (L) was truly one of a kind, and GOD broke the mold after him. I'm grateful to have been in his world during the '60s and early '70s when he was simply known as "Coach" at Cairo. Imagine, what Cairo would have been like if Tommy Taylor had not come to town in 1953. Bill Stanfill of the Miami Dolphins said it best in 1993, "If I had one last down to play in football, it would be for Coach Taylor."