Ronnie Garrett's impact still felt at ASB
It was a cool day at Benjamin Russell High School in Alexander City with temperatures estimated to be in the high 30s on February 19, 1963. On that day, Ronnie Garrett became the first state wrestling champion from the Alabama School for the Blind, winning the 127 pound classification and starting a proud tradition that continues still today.

Last year, ASB celebrated 50 years of having athletics at the school and only weeks ago marked the 50th anniversary of Garrett’s historic win. The win affected Garrett in a profound way that went well beyond his own personal wrestling career.

“I guess what did speak for me in a sense was the wrestling program was only two years old,” Garrett said. “At that time, Benjamin Russell High School in Alex City, I believe this article I was reading at that time said they were winning their fifth state team championship in a row. The fact that somebody from ASB won that individual weight class started the trend of the future for the program. In my life personally, I went on to Auburn and got a degree in Health, Physical Education and Recreation and came back to ASB and taught and coached there for 14 years prior to being principal for 14 years. It really dramatically impacted my life and it gave me a vocation that I might not have otherwise had.”

Garrett helped multiple wrestlers win multiple state titles when he returned as the wrestling program’s head coach.

“I coached a span of boys for a long period of time,” he said. “I always said after I became principal that coaching was by far the more enjoyable job. Aside from just the individual state champions that I had, I had a lot of boys who placed third and fourth. A lot of them work in the [Alabama] Industries [for the Deaf and Blind] and they’re scattered all over the state, so that was really a very enjoyable run in my life to be able to develop those young men and see them have success. I had a couple of individual three-time state championship winners that won in the 10th, 11th and 12th grades and several boys on different occasions that were voted the outstanding wrestler in the state. So, it was a pretty good feeling for the kids.”

One such three-time state champion is Talladega resident David Talley, who captured the state title from 1968-1970 and was named the state’s most outstanding wrestler in 1969. Talley said Garrett was an outstanding coach whose lessons have stayed with him to this day.

“He did not mind putting the time in on the weekend or any other time for his wrestling team,” Talley said. “He always thought of his boys first. After winning those many matches and the commitment that I made to be the best I could be in wrestling, I learned that in a lot of things what you put into life is what you expect to get out of life. I honestly believe that. If you’re determined to set a goal and committed to work towards that goal, you can accomplish anything you want to regardless of what your handicap is. You’ve got to make a realistic goal, but as long as you make a goal that you honestly feel like you can accomplish, you can accomplish that. It’s up to you and no one else. Wrestling—it’s the only individual sport that you fail or win because of what you do. You can’t blame your teammates, because you’re out there on the mat by yourself. Wrestling just teaches you so much about life.”

Vincent Armstrong won a state championship with Garrett as his coach and a subsequent championship with Garrett as his principal. He feels Garrett helped shape him as a young man.

“He really taught me how to stop being a quitter,” Armstrong explained. “You’ve got to hang in there if you want to make it in life. That was part of the sacrifice you did when you wrestled. It all was great for me. I feel like everything I accomplished during that time, I owe a lot to Mr. Garrett. He was more than just a coach. He took us in. He was more like a father. He was never too busy to listen to us.”

Armstrong was the 1980 state wrestling champion in the 138 pound classification, but it was not the state championship match that stood out as his proudest moment.

“I should be bragging about the state championship being one of my greatest moments, but I really cherish the moment at Alexander City,” Armstrong recounted. “We were in a tournament and Mr. Garrett was the coach and this guy was beating me. He was beating me 5-2. Mr. Garrett—he was on the sideline—he started hollering at me ‘Vincent, go hard, go hard. You’ve got thirty seconds.’ Some kind of way, I don’t know what happened, I wound up getting a reversal scoring two points, I got the guy over and scored three points and I let him roll over and I turned him back again and I got two more points, ending up beating the guy 9-5. It really was something.”

Garrett’s influence was felt on the mat, even when he was elevated to the role of principal at ASB. Armstrong said he still remembers Garrett standing on the sideline and helping calm him down in the state title his senior year when he began the match overly aggressive. Armstrong was an underdog, because of the size of his opponent, even though Armstrong was the defending state champion. He settled in and ended up winning the match 7-1 and earning the most outstanding wrestler award.

“I have a whole generation of kids that I was their principal,” Garrett said. “I do feel very strongly that wrestling in and of itself really changed my future. It’s a very important sport to ASB because it’s really the only sport that particularly low-vision and totally blind people can participate in on an equal basis. The high partials can run track, but totally blind kids can’t run a 100 meter dash.”

Earlier, in 1975, Garrett was the President of the committee that formulated the South Central Athletic Association of Schools for the Blind.

According to Garrett, the conference helped state schools for the blind have conference championships, develop friendships and helped instill individual pride by administering individual awards, such as most outstanding wrestler.

There was no such conference when Garrett wrestled. However, one of the best moments in his own wrestling career came during a friendly competition between Alabama and Georgia. At that time, individual state wrestling champions would compete in matches with the competition being held in Fairfield, Ala. the year Garrett won the state title.

“I remember the boy that I wrestled,” Garrett said. “The boy that I wrestled was from Radcliffe High School, which was a real wrestling school in Georgia and I barely beat him. I found out later that it’s the only match he ever lost in high school. Somebody smiled on me that night, because we were about even. I just happened to score the last point and win.”

© 2013