On New Year’s Day, we said farewell to one of the true coaching legends of the area and the state when Coach Jim Lofton passed from this life into the next after a long battle with congestive heart failure.
After some time in the Army and at Auburn, where he was former UGA coach Vince Dooley’s roommate, Coach Lofton was a winner everywhere he went, including winning a state championship in Alabama, as well as winning here locally at Jefferson, East Hall and North Hall. He finished his career at Greater Atlanta Christian, which he took to the semifinals of the state playoffs in the Georgia Dome.
He started in 1954 at North Fulton, then at Dykes in Atlanta before he came to Jefferson. I saw reports which said he finished with 255 wins, but he was about so much more than that. In fact, Coach Lofton himself was known to say that winning was an important thing, but not the MOST important thing. Values of faith, family, relationships and fellowship, love and life lessons learned trump even all those victories. He wanted us to be good people, not just good athletes and sought to pass on his decades of knowledge with a book and coaching clinics.
He coached a number of other sports, but football was his love and he used it as a microcosm of the triumphs and losses of life and how to handle both victory and defeat with grace. An intelligent and well-read man, he also taught English and during his long career as coach and educator, touched innumerable lives, including mine. He, in fact, was the one who got me started in sports journalism when he asked me to write up the stories of the Jefferson football games for the Jackson Herald, our local weekly newspaper, back in Jefferson when I was playing JV football.
Later, he was my varsity coach at Jefferson, where he led our Dragons to the first region football championship in school history in 1971. He also helped get the weight training program started at Jefferson, so I guess he deserves credit for that part of my life as well.
He still called us his “boys” no matter our ages. My friend Dick Hoard said that we have lost a great, great, great man and I concur that the world is a much poorer place without Jim Lofton in it. But those of us he touched are so much richer because of him. Hundreds of us, including his aforementioned old roommate, gathered last Sunday for a Memorial Service at the First Baptist Church of Gainesville. Kudos to all who helped put that on, but truth be told it was a service he pretty much laid out himself down to some of the speakers and how long they could talk. They all did a marvelous job.
Jim Lofton would have been 86 this year. My thoughts and prayers are offered for his family, his friends, and all his “boys and girls.” I would say may he rest in peace, but resting was never in his nature. In fact, somewhere he just may be teaching the heavenly hosts how to run “14 Blast.”
R. Garry Glenn