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Pennington remembered for mentorship role in Gainesville High athletics

POSTED: March 5, 2013 4:25 p.m.

Durward Pennington never wavered in his passion for Gainesville High athletics and helping kids maximize their potential.

His association with the Red Elephants covered all sports seasons, even though he left the school as a faculty member nearly 40 years ago. He has helped with the football program since 1965, as recently as the 2012 season with the kickers.

On Monday, Pennington died suddenly while returning from his vacation home in Amelia Island, Fla., with his wife Betsy, according to Gainesville athletic director Wayne Vickery. He was 73.

"He touched so many lives here at Gainesville," Vickery said about his friend of 35 years. "When someone came to him for help, he was there for them. He never turned anyone away."

Pennington’s son, Todd Pennington, said his father’s hobby was lending a hand to student-athletes at Gainesville.

"My father didn’t hunt, he didn’t fish and he didn’t play golf," Todd Pennington said. "His hobby was mentoring kids at Gainesville High."

When Pennington taught Industrial Arts at Gainesville High from 1965-74, he coached girls basketball, track and field and was an assistant football coach with defensive backs and kickers. In 1974, he left the education field to pursue a career owning hotels in Gainesville and Gwinnett County, according to Vickery.

Pennington also had a standout athletic career of his own, serving as a kicker at the University of Georgia (1959-1961) and professionally with the Dallas Texans (now the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs) from 1962-64.

Pennington had a big impact on countless athletes at Gainesville. Avery Hall was one them.

Hall was a star defensive tackle at Gainesville High in the late 1980s. He credits Pennington for his success in football and in life.

Growing up in government housing and without a father in his life, Hall leaned on Pennington to be a mentor. And when Hall was forced to have back surgery during his senior year of high school, Pennington took it on himself to house Hall during his recovery for 60 days in Days Inn property he owned in Gainesville. He made sure Hall had all the physical therapy he needed and kept up with his schoolwork while on bed rest.

Hall went on to become a standout at Appalachian State University and is now a professional in the banking industry.

"He didn’t have to do any of that for me and he never charged me a dime," said Hall, who now resides in Kernersville, N.C. "Durward was a friend.

"When he helped someone, it wasn’t for show; he genuinely wanted to help."

Vickery remembers one story about how Pennington’s opinion was held in high regard.

During the 1982 football season, Gainesville had the ball deep in Dalton territory, trailing 9-7 with only seconds left. Legendary Gainesville coach Bobby Gruhn had a tough decision to make since it was a muddy field in the state semifinal game.

Gruhn didn’t hesitate. He wanted Pennington’s opinion from the press box about what the best move was, and Pennington said to kick the field goal. Gainesville’s kicker made the field goal to claim the 10-9 victory and the North Georgia Championship, sending the program to the state championship game the following week against Bainbridge.

Pennington also helped Vickery, the former Red Elephants baseball coach, by keeping the scorebook for 20 seasons.

Pennington is survived by his wife, three children and eight grandchildren, according to his son. Funeral services are planned for 4 p.m. Thursday at First United Methodist Church in Gainesville.


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