As former Southwest DeKalb High School football coach William ‘Buck’ Godfrey walked on the field at the former Panthersville Stadium, a number of emotions went through him.
“It’s the first time I walked on this field and I wasn’t coaching,” he said. “So, I had a myriad of strange feelings.”
When he saw “William Buck Godfrey Stadium” on the scoreboard, it still had not sunk in that a stadium—where he won many games—is named after him.
“It’ll take a month, two months or maybe a year before it sinks in,” he said. “That’s just the way I react to things.”
The DeKalb County School District held a dedication ceremony Sept. 19 to officially rename Panthersville Stadium the William Buck Godfrey Stadium. The DeKalb County Board of Education voted April 1 to rename Panthersville Stadium after the legendary coach.
Family, friends, former players, coaches and colleagues of Godfrey gathered near the scoreboard to celebrate the Hall of Fame coach and this new honor.
Godfrey began his coaching career in DeKalb County in 1974 as a baseball coach. He was also a swim coach before he was hired to coach football at Southwest DeKalb in 1983. His first game as head coach at Southwest DeKalb was at Panthersville Stadium on Aug. 26, 1983. The Panthers defeated Redan 7-0.
“They were ranked No. 1 in the state,” Godfrey said.
During his 30 years at Southwest DeKalb, he won 273 games (the most wins of a football coach in DeKalb), won the 1995 Class AAAA Georgia High School Association state championship, 13 region titles, and helped hundreds of players earn scholarships to college. Godfrey never had a losing record at Southwest DeKalb and missed the postseason just three times.
The Hall of Fame coach has received many honors, including induction in the 2010 Atlanta Sports Hall of Fame class and in the 2014 class of the Georgia Athletic Coaches Association (GACA) Hall of Fame.
Godfrey said the best part about the dedication was seeing his former players.
“We had them on the field and in the classroom and to see them doing well, that’s all I really coached for,” he said. “I never expected all of this stuff here. This is something that happened because of fulfilling [my] purpose and doing it well.”
Hason Graham is one player who did well after high school. Graham, who played for Godfrey from 1987 to 1990, said playing for Godfrey was everything.
“Coach Godfrey was my first father figure,” he said. “He really showed me how to play the game. I was always a talented kid, but he showed me how to take it to the next level.”
Graham went on to play on the college level at the University of Georgia and on the professional level with the New England Patriots. He said he credits Godfrey for his football success after high school.
“He was the one who showed me how to be a man,” he said. “When I was in the 10th grade, he brought me into his home—I came from a single-parent home. He taught me how to study; he showed me how to be successful for the next level.”
Graham said it is amazing to see his beloved coach’s name on a stadium.
“It’s amazing that somebody in this decade can even see his name going up [on a stadium],” he said. “Usually they’re gone, but for them to do this while he’s here is just amazing.”
Although DeKalb County School District music coordinator Don Roberts did not play for or coach with Godfrey, he still had an impact on Roberts.
“Coach Godfrey is one of the reasons that I wanted to come to Southwest DeKalb High School,” Roberts said.
Roberts was the band director at Southwest DeKalb from 1990 to 2003.
“There is a culture that he helped create that exists today, and that culture is the band and the football teams are really close,” Roberts said. “You see in DeKalb County right now where the band and football teams all function as one and that started with Southwest DeKalb and coach Godfrey. He’s one of the greatest men I’ve ever met.”
Roberts said he hopes more is done to the stadium.
“Not only should it be a dedication of this stadium, I think [there] needs to be a renovation and a totally rebuilt stadium in his honor,” he said. “This is a great honor, but it should be just the beginning for Coach Godfrey.”
“Thank you,” he said. “Thank you for letting me coach you.”
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