E.A. Sports Today

Coaches accept the Challenge

County high school coaches battle on fundraising field to help raise money during UCP Telethon

Cleburne County coach Mark Hilburn (R) shares a moment with Mike Pruitt after winning last year's Coaches Challenge during the East Central Alabama UCP Telethon.

Cleburne County coach Mark Hilburn (R) shares a moment with Mike Pruitt after winning last year’s Coaches Challenge during the East Central Alabama UCP Telethon.

By Mike Pruitt
Special to East Alabama Sports Today

Those who have followed Calhoun County high school football for many years remember the great rivalries of the 60s, 70s and 80s. On any Friday night there was one being played out somewhere.

Due to the playoff concept and the need to get 64 teams in each classification, many of the rivalries are things of the past. No longer can Anniston and Oxford go head-to-head or the Yellow Jackets go to The Hill to determine who wins the area championship.

But in August 2010 many of these great rivalries were resumed — not on the gridiron at places like The Valley or The Hill or Chink Lott Field or Lamar Field, but at the Anniston Meeting Center with the UCP High School Coaches Challenge during the annual United Cerebral Palsy Telethon – and it resumes this weekend.

A new group of coaches have replaced the greats who roamed the sideline in the past like Bill Farrell, Jack Gizzard, Bill Burgess, Robert Herring, Lou Scales, Larry Gann, Jack Stewart and many others.

They have been followed by the likes of Anniston’s Eddie Bullock, Cleburne County’s Michael Shortt and Mark Hilburn, Faith Christian’s Bradley Dawson and Erik McDaniel, Sacred Heart’s Roland Houston, Oxford’s Ryan Herring, Piedmont’s Steve Smith, Weaver’s Andy Fulmer and Wellborn’s Jeff Smith – and they’ve all participated in the UCP Coaches Challenge.

The 2015 Challenge is scheduled from 1-4 p.m. Sunday. The telethon can be seen on Cable One channel 2 and heard live on WDNG-AM 1450.

Here is the schedule:

1-2 p.m. – Ryan Herring (Oxford), Robert Herring (Talladega), Jeff Smith (Wellborn).
2-3 p.m. – Eddie Bullock (Anniston), Erik McDaniel (Faith Christian), Roland Houston (Sacred Heart).
3-4 p.m. – Mark Hilburn (Cleburne County), Steve Smith (Piedmont), Andy Fulmer (Weaver).

“The UCP telethon is a great event,” said Fulmer, Weaver’s wrestling coach. “I told Christy Souder as long as I was coaching that wrestling team we’ll always be glad to take calls and raise money.”

In the inaugural year three coaches came to the venue. They worked the phones, taking and making calls, and raised $800.

It was a great start, but the vision was much bigger. Organizers added another hour, more coaches got involved and the event started gaining traction.

The coaches embraced the Challenge like a game and began to come up with their own game plans. One made a list of people to call and he brought his assistant coach to help. Coaches brought their players and cheerleaders to fill the Meeting Center.

Pledges grew to $2,000, then $5,000, then $8,000. Last year the event raised more than $15,000. The yearly winners include Shortt, Donoho’s Shannon Felder, Smith and Fulmer.

“As a competitor you always want to win in everything you do, but in the end, you as a group of coaches want to raise as much money as possible because it is such a great cause,” Fulmer said. “Two years ago when we won it was great and even last year when we didn’t win it still was great because we still raised over $1,300.

“I love winning and my kids and assistant coaches do as well, but at the end of the day we just want to raise enough money so we can help make a difference in those individuals’ lives because they are such sweet and awesome people.”

Cleburne County’s Hilburn won last year’s Challenge, raising more than $5,300. He was followed in the standings by Dawson ($2,143); Fulmer ($1,683), Donoho’s Michelle Bain ($1,606); Smith ($1,270); Anniston High ($1,132), Herring ($885) and White Plains’ Larry Strain ($575).

Hilburn said the competition is fierce because it involves the community and is for a great cause.

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