There are many ways in which people can become heroes. While I consider George Drake a hero, I doubt that this quiet, modest gentleman would ever consider himself as such. Even though he spent much of his career in education as an administrator and he coached me only during one spring practice, he’s still coach to me. However, he’s been much more than that in our county, which has been his home since 1959.
Coach Drake is a native of Thomaston, Ga., where he was a star athlete. He lettered four times in football and basketball and once in baseball. His teams won back-to-back state championships in basketball in 1949 and ’50 and was state runner-up in football in 1950 under coach Ellis Conn. Drake took his athletic prowess to Tuskegee University, where he lettered four years in football as a halfback and outside linebacker and three in baseball as an outfielder. He was selected to the Tuskegee University Hall of Fame in 2006 and his hometown Thomaston-Upson Hall of Fame in 2007.
He began his coaching career in McDuffie County as an assistant to football coach Calvin Sampson, who is still like a brother to him. He helped R.L. Norris High reach the semifinals in football five times in the 1960s. As head boys basketball coach, he led his team to the state playoffs five times as region champions. In 1966, his team finished with a 25-1 record, losing in the state playoffs by one point. His boys track team won 10 district titles in the 1960s and took the state championship in 1965.
When McDuffie County fully integrated its schools in 1970, Drake moved to Thomson High School. As head boys basketball coach and assistant football coach, he was the first black to coach at Thomson High. He, along with coach Sampson and assistant principal Luther Wilson, played major roles in assuring that cool heads prevailed in what could have been very difficult days. Because of these men and their leadership, McDuffie County didn’t experience the difficulties many other communities suffered through in this challenging period of history. Coach Drake’s leadership ability was recognized and he was asked to enter administration, He agreed, although his first love was coaching. After two years as an assistant at Norris, he became the principal at Laura Jones Elementary. He was the first principal at J.A. Maxwell Elementary in 1977. He remained there until his “retirement” in 1987.
From 1987 until 2010, coach Drake administered school programs for the children of McDuffie County.
He is extremely active in Springfield Baptist Church, serving as deacon, trustee, and treasurer as well as in the choir and family ministry. That’s a pretty active retirement.
He and his devoted wife, Billie, who served our county as a guidance counselor both at Norris and Thomson Middle School, have two children and five grandchildren. However, for them it has never been just about their children. It’s been about all children. Furthermore, coach Drake is quick to credit those who helped him along the way. He lauds his first principal, R.L. Norris, for treating him like a son and getting his career off to a positive start. He credits Calvin Sampson for showing him dedication to a program and a community.
While coach Drake never planned to make Thomson his home when he came here in 1959, he turned down multiple offers to serve neighboring counties, He remained loyal to us. Aren’t you glad he did? He’s one of my heroes and a great member of our community.