Catchin' Up...with Excell Hester

Excell Hester as a senior in 1948. Photo courtesy of Etowah High School.Excell Hester as a senior in 1948. Photo courtesy of Etowah High School.

By Joshua Price/Sports Editor

Legendary Etowah High School football coach Jim Glover said Excell Hester was the best athlete he ever coached. 

In fact, many people consider Hester to be one of the top athletes this county has ever produced. 

Hester graduated Etowah County High School in 1948.

Hester was a senior in high school when Glover arrived at Etowah in the fall of 1947. The senior halfback was a major piece in the Blue Devils’ undefeated football team, which finished 9-0-1.

Hester received many laurels for his contributions to the team that season, and was named to the All-County, All-State and All-Southern teams.

Hester was the key figure of Etowah’s lone varsity basketball state championship team of 1947-48. Glover coached the team that season, and the Blue Devils posted a 28-2 record. Hester was named the state’s Most Valuable Player after that season, which is known today as “Mr. Basketball.”

The Blue Devils defeated McGill High School of Mobile in the state championship match, which featured legendary SEC coach Vince Dooley and Boston Red Sox infielders Frank and Milt Bolling. 

“Dooley was pretty good, but was a freshman on the team,” Hester recalled. “The two Bolling brothers were real good. Both made All-State and All-Tournament.”

Hester graduated Etowah in the spring of 1948 and signed a football scholarship with Mississippi State University

Hester signed a football scholarship with Mississippi State University before graduating Etowah in the spring of 1948. Playing halfback for the Bulldogs, he suffered a knee injury in the freshman game against the University of Tennessee. 

“Back then if you had a knee injury you were pretty much finished,” Hester said of his decision to give up on football. “The coaches wanted me to stay and work out with the team, but I just didn’t have the same quickness. I just couldn’t move.”

Hester returned to Attalla in the spring of 1949. Later that year, he enrolled at Hinds Junior College near Jackson, Mississippi, where he played basketball. His team lost in the finals of the national tournament.

Hester enlisted in the United States Army National Guard and was placed on active duty in January 1951, but did not deploy overseas.

“I got married while I was in the army,” Hester said. “I decided I wasn’t making enough money and had to make a living, so I started working at Goodyear. After nearly 38 years, I retired from Goodyear on January 1, 1988.”

Hester was not retired long when he was asked to return to the sidelines. Hester’s former Etowah teammate Wyman Townsel returned to Etowah in the fall of 1989 to revive its struggling football program. Townsel sought Hester as an assistant coach.

“I helped Wyman as an assistant from 1989 to 1992,” Hester said. “It was fun getting back on the field and being around some of the players.”

Hester managed to stay active during all of those years working at Goodyear. He jogged many miles every day, and ran the bleachers at Jim Glover Field daily. 

Hester also managed to pick up golf as a hobby. During those years on the links, he also managed to pick up an accomplice.  

“I played golf for about 10 years,” Hester said. “My granddaughter started riding in the cart with me during the summer and she quickly gained an interest in the sport. I took her all over the south to play on the toughest golf courses against the best players.”

Ashleigh Whisenant, Hester’s granddaughter, turned out to be a pretty good golfer.

“She was one of the top female golfers in the county when she was in high school,” the proud grandfather said. “She was Etowah County champion and earned a scholarship to the University of Memphis.”

Hester, now 84 years old, is still very active in his community. 

“I am active in my church and I rarely miss a service,” Hester said. “I don’t just belong to it, I take a very active part in it.”

Despite his age, Hester still finds time for exercise.

“I walk or jog about six miles a day. I work around the house to keep it clean. I stay as busy as I can.”

Hester said it is imperative for people to stay physically fit.

“If a man sits down when he retires, he is in trouble. If he can find something to keep him busy, he will keep his health and live much longer.”

Hester is an ardent sports fan. His favorite sports topics are college football and, of course, the Etowah Blue Devils. Hester is very proud of his granddaughter, and keeps up with her progress on the links very closely.

Hester also keeps up with many of his Blue Devil teammates, and meets with them weekly for breakfast. Hester and his friends tell the most vivid, colorful stories of their greatest athletic moments. There is little doubt one of their favorite topics is Glover. 

Since I first met him last year during the football countdown, Hester has told me the story of Etowah’s 1948 basketball state championship a number of times. Each time he recalls something new and each time puts a wide smile on his face and a youthful spark in his eyes.

“Winning a championship is a wonderful feeling you will never forget and I am so proud to be a part of it.”

It was good to catch up with Excell Hester.

Joshua Price can be reached at jprice@gadsdenmessenger.com. 

 
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