Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

It was quite a sight, the traveling rec center, whirling up and down the back roads of Brooks County, a tiny 1972 Volkswagen Beetle stuffed with balls, bats, volleyball nets and whatever else Johnny Seabrooks could cram into his car.

And there was Seabrooks, who looked as tall as a Georgia Pine, crawling out of that little car. It was quite a sight, indeed.

More recently, Seabrooks was sitting in his office at Hugh Mills Stadium, smiling and laughing at the memory, his eyes dark and deep as his mind drifts back to that bare bones beginning.

Who would have known that little bug of a car was starting out on a journey that would last a lifetime for Seabrooks? He delivered a one-man gym to the kids in Brooks County more than a generation ago -- and then just kept on delivering.

He's the newest member of the Hall of Fame -- the one they seem to have built just for Seabrooks, who was inducted into the Track and Cross Country Coaches of Georgia Hall of Fame on Wednesday in Atlanta.

Seabrooks said he was shocked, stunned and overwhelmed when he got the call, but those who know him best feel it was overdue for a man who has spent most of the last four decades teaching, mentoring and giving back to the kids of Georgia.

Not a bad legacy for a guy from Florida.

Hard to tell now.

Seabrooks has dug both of his feet -- and his heart -- into the Georgia clay, where he spent 28 years coaching in high schools and 37 years in one capacity or another overseeing high school athletes.

He has been the Dougherty County Director of Athletics since 2002 -- that's where that winding road led the young man who took a job as a roving physical education teacher in Quitman 38 years ago after graduating from Albany State.

"I had three elementary schools and I rotated between them,'' remembers Seabrooks. "They didn't have gyms. We played basketball on a dirt court. But just to see those kids. They were so excited to have a P.E. class. When I showed up it was like I was heaven-sent. I had plenty of energy, and I loved it. I really loved it.''

That hasn't changed.

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'It was a lot different back then'

Seabrooks is one of those guys who relishes his job, eats it up every day, devouring every chance he has to help the next kid who comes along. He's touched two generations, and is working on a third.

"He has a great rapport with coaches and the athletes,'' said Frank Orgel, a former Georgia great who was the Director of Athletics for Dougherty County from 1997 until 2001. "Deep down inside he relates to the kids, and has done a (great) job monitoring the coaches as the athletic director. It's a tough job, and Johnny has done a good job. There are always the big things that come along, and when there are big things to take care of every year, Johnny does an excellent job."

But that's not all, said Orgel.

"He's a hard worker, and it shows," he said. "Track is his deal. When I met him (in 1997) he was a high school track coach and we were running the girls state meet at Hugh Mills. I gave him the authority to run the state track meet. He knows track, knows every rule and everything there is to know about track. You have some coaches come to the state track meet and they want some funny things. I just put Johnny in charge, and said whatever he ruled, that's what we follow. He loved it, and he did a great job.''

Throughout the years, Seabrooks has become the face of the girls state track and field meet, which celebrated its 25th year at Albany back in May. That's his baby, and he runs it like nobody else.

"Anybody who has been to the girls state track meet in Albany and the boys state track meet in Jefferson will tell you that the girls meet in Albany is far better than the boys meet in Jefferson,'' Westover principal William Chunn said. "And that's because of the leadership of Johnny Seabrooks.''

Chunn has known Seabrooks since they met in 1986 when Chunn became the girls track coach at Monroe High, where Seabrooks was already the established boys track coach.

Seabrooks arrived at Monroe in 1979, leaving Brooks County to come home to The Good Life City. Seabrooks took the town motto literally. If ever a pilgrim landed in Albany to put down a stake, it was Seabrooks, who first arrived in Southwest Georgia green out of high school.

He had been a multi-star athlete at Howard Academy in Monticello, Fla., and sorted through offers from colleges to play linebacker in the fall and run track and long jump in the spring. His future was bright, he just didn't know where it would be. Then, his mother told him.

"I had numerous offers,'' Seabrooks said. "But Robert Cross, who was the track coach at Albany State, talked to my mother. His (pitch) was the best in the nation.''

It made sense to Seabrooks. Albany State wasn't that far from home, and he liked everything about the school and the city from the beginning.

"It was a lot different back then,'' said Seabrooks, who was a freshman in the fall of 1969. "We had a lot of guys from Florida and we all (hung out together). There wasn't a lot to do in town, and the school was much smaller. You would sit in a class with 25 to 30 students, so you had a lot more attention from the professors.''

Seabrooks earned his degree in health and physical education, and then eventually a masters in administration and supervision. He then married a young girl named Gwendolyn, whom he fell in love with at Albany State, and made a home here.

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'He was everything Robert Cross told me he was'

Even during those Brooks County days, Seabrooks had a home in Albany. He would bounce from one elementary school to the next all week, then point his Volkswagen back home for the 85-mile trip north to Albany for the weekends. When the Monroe job came open, the man who could triple jump better than anyone in Southwest Georgia leaped at the chance.

"I was really excited to get back to Albany,'' said Seabrooks, who became an assistant track coach and an assistant football coach in charge of linebackers for the Tornadoes.

He stayed at Monroe from 1979 through 1992, and even coached wrestling before being promoted to defensive coordinator in football. But his first love was track, and there was no one better to learn from than the legendary Lewis C. Smith, who was Monroe's track coach when Seabrooks arrived.

"I learned so much from him,'' Seabrooks said. "I will never forget him telling me, 'Don't ever bring the losses home with you. They will kill you.' I loved being around him. He was such a funny guy who loved to joke. There was never a dull moment. He was a legend.''

When the legend retired, Seabrooks replaced Smith as Monroe's head track coach, and then -- after Smith passed away -- it was Seabrooks who was the force behind renaming the Monroe Relays the Lewis C. Smith Relays. But before Seabrooks started the push to rename the Monroe meet, he went to Smith's widow to ask her permission.

That was typical Seabrooks.

Chunn, meanwhile, had started a girls track meet named for another former Monroe great, Winfred Benson, known as the Benson Relays, and the two meets were combined later to become the L.C. Smith and Winfred Benson Relays. That meet, of course, has become one of the most prestigious high school track events every year in Georgia.

Benson gets credit for bringing Seabrooks back to Albany. Benson was the football coach and athletic director at Monroe and hired Seabrooks in 1979.

"He was everything Robert Cross told me he was,'' Benson remembers. "He said Johnny was a jewel, and that's exactly what he is, a jewel. He's one of the hardest working, most dedicated men I have ever met in my life. He was a great track coach, but he was also a great football coach. And Johnny loves kids. He would help any kid, and it didn't matter if he was at Monroe or not. He helped anyone who he could help.''

Benson, who still lives in Albany, has followed Seabrooks' career.

"He has done a great job as the athletic director for the county,'' he said. "All the accolades and everything that he gets is well deserved, more than deserved. Johnny is a piece of gold.''

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'Nobody in that Hall of Fame could be more deserving than Johnny Seabrooks'

Seabrooks left Monroe in 1992 and moved to Dougherty High, where he was an assistant football coach and ran the track and the cross country programs until 1996, which is when he became the school's athletic director. He held that job until Orgel retired in 2001.

"I never thought about the county athletic director's job,'' Seabrooks said. "But I called Dr. John Culbreath, the county superintendent, and he told me that I should apply for the job. I had no idea if I could handle it. I didn't know everything the job entailed.''

It didn't take Seabrooks long to find out exactly what the job was about, though he has since redefined the position with his own brand and style of effectiveness.

You don't need to look very hard to see Seabrooks' fingerprints all over high school athletics in this part of the state.

"Nobody in that Hall of Fame could be more deserving than Johnny Seabrooks,'' said Bainbridge track coach Larry Clark, who has been coaching the sport for 33 years. "We have had a lot of battles over the years, and I have always admired him, and I've learned a lot from him.

"I was real excited when he was named the A.D. for Dougherty County. He's done an excellent job. He's done a lot of things to improve Dougherty County athletics. The county has a lot better facilities now and most of that is because of his administration. It's because he cares.''

Seabrooks' touch has been felt wherever he has been.

"He's a class guy,'' said Bob Fowler, president of the Albany Sports Hall of Fame who met Seabrooks years ago when Fowler was a member of the Dougherty County School Board. Fowler was a big part of bringing the girls state track meet to Albany a quarter of a century ago.

"He's been involved with the state meet since the very beginning,'' Fowler said of Seabrooks, who helped run the meet in the early days and later took over the meet in '97. "When he took it over, he continued to run it in a high fashion. He's a hard worker, and he makes good decisions (as the county A.D.). He's the kind of guy you want in that position.''

Seabrooks handles his hybrid balancing act, overseeing the county's athletic program while still managing to have that touch that is felt by the athletes themselves, the ones who need it the most.

"He's such an incredible person,'' said Sonya Spillers, the executive assistant of the Dougherty County School System's Public Relations department. "He gives it all he has. He really goes above and beyond to do what's best for the student-athletes in the system.''

That's the real legacy for Seabrooks, who was a wizard as a coach.

"He is a track guru,'' Chunn said. "Even as far back as the 1980s, his track knowledge and track ability far surpassed his colleagues. He was a true track coach. A lot of guys coach track because they have nowhere else to go, and some coach it for the extra money. Not Seabrooks. He coached track because he loved it, and because he was a true track coach. He has the ability to coach kids in all 16 events. Now you have teams of coaches, some coach sprints, some coach distance runners and some coach field events. Seabrooks can coach all of them.''

But it was always more than just teaching technique and training athletes to be their best for Seabrooks.

"He has a love and a passion for the sport,'' Chunn said. '"He has a special quality to motivate athletes. And even though he was a hard working coach, he placed more emphasis on academics than he did on athletics. He has a true love for the student-athlete.''

Seabrooks is a walking Wikipedia on track rules, and can recite every nuance and subtlety of the sport. He has been on the National Federation of High School Rules Committee since 1999, and has been the state rules interpreter for all Georgia high schools since 2002.

"I'll probably have that position as long as I'm in this business,'' said Seabrooks, who thought someone was playing a prank on him when he received the call about being inducted into the Hall of Fame late last month. "I really thought someone was pulling a joke on me. I kept asking them 'Are you talking about me?' It was stunning. I was in shock.''

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'This is one of the greatest accomplishments of anything I've done'

It's been a long and deserving road, and when Seabrooks looks back on it, he has one simple goal.

"My philosophy has always been that out of everything I do, I want people to look at me and say: 'He was fair and honest.' "

It's a fair assessment of a man who has given most of his life to help mold the youth of this county -- and an honest one, at that. Talk to Seabrooks about his job overseeing Dougherty athletics, and he'll answer the same way every day of the year.

"I've got the best staff,'' he said. "I don't have headaches because of my staff. Whatever we need to get done, we just get it done. The buck stops here, but I have a great staff and we have a great system. There's always going to be the Murphy's Law stuff. We can't deal with that, but we can work hard.''

There's a pride that comes with his job, but it has more to do with who he works for than what he does.

"We're trying to make a difference with the student-athletes and the coaches,'' he said. "I tell them, 'I work for you,' and I tell them, 'Call me about any issue, even the smallest issue. That's just as important as the big issue.'

"The thing that makes me so proud is that for a system this size, when I look around the county, our student-athletes do a pretty good job of staying out of trouble and going to school. Our coaches do a good job."

Seabrooks then added: "When our student-athletes go somewhere I hear all the time how well they act, how respectful they are. I hear those kinds of compliments all the time. That means so much to me.''

And now he has his own place in the Hall of Fame.

"This is one of the greatest accomplishments of anything I've done,'' he said. "I'm honored because I was selected by my peers.''

And it's those very peers that rave the most about Seabrooks.

"He has a natural concern for the kids, a real concern for their welfare,'' Chunn said. "And he has been a constant pillar of the Dougherty County School system -- a pillar for years.''