Victor Menocal can still remember one of the first people to welcome his family to Gainesville when he moved to the city in 1994. It was Wayne Vickery.
Menocal would go on to be a part of three Red Elephants baseball state championships in his four high school seasons with Vickery as his coach.
Learning that Vickery, now the athletic director at Gainesville High, won’t be back next season because of the school system’s restructuring of the position left Menocal “shocked.”
“I can’t say this enough. I’m in an industry where I meet a lot of high school coaches and athletic directors as a sports agent,” said Menocal, who represents multiple clients, including the Atlanta Braves’ Freddie Freeman. “Coach Vickery ranks up there at the top of just individuals that not only do the right thing for the school and the program, but he also does the right thing for the kids.”
Menocal led Georgia Tech to the College World Series in 2002.
Vickery won five state championships in almost 20 full seasons as Gainesville baseball coach and sent multiple players to the next level and higher. In his 14 years as athletic director, the Red Elephants have won 13 team state titles and 81 region championships.
He hired football coach Bruce Miller, who has won at least 10 games in 10 of his 13 seasons and led his 2012 team to a state title. That was one of Vickery’s favorite memories.
“That night that (our football team) beat Ware County in the (Georgia) Dome, I literally cried on the sidelines,” Vickery said. “That and my baseball state championships are probably my biggest enjoyments.”
Vickery also hired boys soccer coach Rick Howard, who won the 2010 state championship, boys basketball coach Benjie Wood and baseball coach Jeremy Kemp, among many others.
“I’ve always had the leeway to hire great coaches,” Vickery said. “Let’s face it, when I went out and hired Bruce Miller, our football was not on top. And, don’t get me wrong, the Blake Sims and Deshaun Watsons will help you get on top in a hurry, but I think Bruce Miller probably did his best coaching job this (past) year.”
But it was his human touch that stands out to his former players. Micah Owings, a third-round draft pick by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2005, recalls how Vickery helped him adjust to Gainesville High after coming in as a junior.
“You just couldn’t ask for more. I stepped right into a team that accepted me,” Owings said. “I was taking someone’s job. They embraced me, and we had a blast together.”
Vickery won two of his five state championships with Owings, who went on to lead Tulane to a College World Series appearance in 2005.
Walt Snelling, the school’s former longtime announcer for football and baseball, among other sports, said he hopes Vickery is remembered for all the good things he did for Gainesville High. Snelling said Vickery always worked hard with the school’s volunteers, who included Snelling for 30 years.
“He was one of the major reasons why I did it,” Snelling said.
Don Brewer, who was a former Gainesville baseball coach, remembers pushing for Vickery to get the job in 1989 when the Red Elephants’ head coach left in the middle of the season.
Brewer said he wasn’t sure how much baseball Vickery knew then, but Brewer knew Vickery “loved the kids and he loved Gainesville High School. And he always put the kids first.”
Brewer said Vickery ended up becoming one of the best baseball coaches in the state.
“He asked the right questions,” Brewer said. “He was not afraid to ask for help.”
Former player Rhett Roark, who was on Vickery’s first baseball team at Gainesville, noted that the school was one of the first in the county to get an indoor hitting facility.
“He tried to give his teams every advantage in the world,” Roark said.
Owings said what has made Vickery so successful with the Red Elephants is a focused approach.
“He was a very driven coach. He was a very driven athletic director,” Owings said. “He had a job to do, and he got it done.”
As much as the change hurts, Vickery insists “me and my wife are going to be a part of this community until the day we die.”
“I’m going to be a Red Elephant for life,” Vickery said. “I’m going to be up there trying to help (coach) Jeremy Kemp win a baseball state title this year.”
Owings still keeps in touch with Vickery and appreciates his former coach always being there for him.
“I know that there’s going to be some people in his corner and some people that are not,” Owings said. “I want to go on record as being in his corner.”
Sports Editor Jared Putnam contributed to this report.