PILOT MOUNTAIN — For the second summer in a row, East Surry is losing a living legend to retirement.
Last year, Barry Hall stepped down as baseball coach after 40 seasons and 45 years since he was first hired as a teacher.
This year, it’s football coach David Diamont who is retiring — but just from teaching. Even though it’s been 46 years since he started at Mount Airy High School, Diamont still gets excited to watch his boys work out in the offseason, gearing up for training camp. He will continue to coach, but not patrol the halls of East.
A recurring joke the past couple of years, Diamont said, is “It’s easy to teach U.S. history — I’ve lived half of it.”
Want to talk about the Kennedy assassination? He remembers it. The Bay of Pigs, the Cuban missile crisis, the Vietnam war, the civil rights movement, the Watergate scandal or Iran Contra? He remembers those, too.
Not only that, he said, but a diverse life allowed him to draw on a wealth of personal experience as a history teacher.
“I spent 20 years in politics,” he said. Diamont became interested in politics as a young man in 1974. He went on to spend 20 years in the North Carolina House of Representatives. In 1989, Diamont was named chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, giving him a deep understanding of the state budget process.
The Charlotte Chamber of Commerce is discussing HB 2 with the Charlotte city board? Diamont has spoken to the Charlotte chamber before.
He has shaken hands with chancellors of universities, met with Lumbee Indians in Robeson County, been the starter at a race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway.
When Diamont was in public office, one political columnist noted that the representative was the only teacher actively working in a classroom in the entire House. That keen insight into education benefited his time as a lawmaker, but that time in politics also gave him insights to share with his students.
He said he has a strong understanding of how to run a campaign (he won 10 two-year terms after all) and how to handle finances on a large scale.
In fact, he said economics has become more and more of an interest to him and that he’s read several books on the subject. So many of the challenges Americans face today can be boiled down to the state of the economy, he notes.
“I’ve always mixed current events with my history, especially in the area of civics,” he said.
Back in the first semester of the most recent school year, he said he spent some time on Andrew Jackson, someone who was on the outside looking in at the existing political parties when he ran for and lost the presidency in 1824. In 1828, Jackson, with a newly formed Democratic Party won his second try.
Diamont had his students compare and contrast Jackson with current political candidate Donald Trump, another outside candidate.
“I think you miss the point if you don’t use current events.”
He said he caught grief sometimes from administrators for the practice, but he believed that if an important event were happening right then, he should roll a TV into the classroom and turn on the news so the students could witness history in the making for 10 or 15 minutes of class.
How does history relate to events going on today like issues with Social Security, banking, healthcare, economics or the gerrymandering of voting districts, he asked the teens.
Over the past four or five years, YouTube has been an important development as more and more historical footage is uploaded.
He said he referenced James Brown one day and a student didn’t know who that was. So, Diamont later came to class with a couple of YouTube clips to show the dazzling performer in his heyday, then mixed in some details about Brown’s cultural impact.
When it comes to sports, Diamont gets his love and competitive nature from his father, who also was a teacher and coach.
At one point when he was a kid, David lived in Statesville where his dad was head football coach.
Teaching only paid for nine months, so folks had to get summer jobs. Diamont said the idea of sports camps was just taking off in the 1950s, so his father began working those for extra pay. He recalls spending summers at High Point College where his dad worked with basketball players, and his mom worked in the cafeteria to feed everyone.
In 1954, Diamont’s father was working at Tavor City High School, about 30 miles north of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, when Hurricane Hazel roared through the coastal area.
After that, the family moved to Pilot Mountain with David’s dad working and coaching at the local high school. When the schools were consolidated into East Surry, David was a sophomore. He might have graduated as a Cardinal, but his dad didn’t get a position at the new school, so before his senior year, the family moved to Gastonia so his dad could work and coach at Frank L. Ashley High. That’s where he got his diploma in 1964.
Diamont said his dad moved back to Pilot Mountain and taught at the elementary school from 1964 until a fatal heart attack in 1977.
In the meantime, David went to Wake Forest University, originally intending to be a lawyer. His mother worked in an office for attorney Ed Swanson, and the line of work held some interest. However, he found himself drawn to his father’s line of work and focused on history instead of law — though that law knowledge would still be cultivated by 20 years as a legislator.
After graduation, Diamont took a job with the Pilot Mountain recreation department, earning $75 a week.
The-Mount Airy football coach Alex Gibbs and superintendent B.H. Tharrington approached the young man about coming to Mount Airy and being an assistant coach.
Diamont was the JV coach for football and basketball for three years, then when the head coaching position came open for varsity basketball, Diamont was eager to take the job.
When he didn’t get the spot, Diamont admitted he was disappointed and a little angry and decided to take a year off from teaching to go back to college. He worked on his master’s degree at Appalachian State while working construction.
As part of his graduate studies he did some classroom work at Watauga High in the afternoons.
After getting his master’s, Diamont was ready for a new start and was offered a coaching position in West Charlotte. However, Mount Airy wanted him back and talked him into returning.
For five years, Diamont was at Mount Airy until his father’s death, when he felt a pull back to Pilot. He moved to the town and went to work at East Surry, staying from 1977 to 1989.
“We didn’t have much, it was pitiful,” said Diamont. The athletic department didn’t even have a lawn mower, so he would load his own mower onto his pickup and drive it over to the school.
He only had one or two assistants each year back then. Because there weren’t enough coaches, Diamont said he would often take the linemen out as a group and hold practice, then bring out the skill players for their own practice.
Jimmy Upchurch, the head football coach at West Stokes, was on one of those early teams, he noted.
During this time, he met a young woman who would go on to some local notoriety as the weather lady on WXII. A few years later, Debbie Severs married Diamont in 1983. They have three children between the ages of 25 and 30.
Ashley, the eldest, was a standout softball player, while Davey and Hunter were all-conference football players.
Ashley now works for Novant Health in Kernersville. Davey teaches at Chestnut Grove and is an assistant coach at West Stokes.
Hunter wanted to go to Wake Forest, but David reminded him that he was pulling down a teacher’s pay and Wake is expensive.
Hunter earned an ROTC scholarship and went to Wake anyway. He is now a first lieutenant stationed at Fort Polk, Louisiana.
While it could have made for a storybook ending, Diamont didn’t stay at East Surry from then on.
In 1990, successful football coach Jerry Hollingsworth was resigning from Mount Airy, and Diamont was talked into returning to the Bears.
He coached a few years, but stepped away due to running for a state office (superintendent of public instruction) and undergoing quadruple bypass heart surgery.
Diamont didn’t win the election and wound up at Pilot Mountain Middle for three years until Athletic Director Barry Hall came calling in 1999.
Diamont rejoined the Cardinals and has had some great success in recent years.
He said he interviewed at one school in 1998 while he was at the middle school, and the administrators told him he was too old — 18 years ago.
“Isn’t that crazy?” he asked with a laugh.
Still, he is glad he didn’t get that position because he has been thrilled to be a part of the East Surry community for so long. He said the fans are great, the administration is supportive, and the players are hard workers.
While he still feels like he has something left to offer as a coach and teacher, Diamont admits that he has been a bit stubborn to change in recent years.
“I won’t miss staff development days with people trying to tell me how to teach,” he said.
What he will miss are the interactions with his fellow teachers and those wonderful moments when the lightbulb goes off in a student’s head.
“I have a problem with people who think public education isn’t doing its job,” said Diamont. East Surry has some great teachers who not only give children an education, but also teach them important social skills. Boys need to learn how to be a gentlemen, teens need to become accountable for their own actions.
People are quick to say that kids aren’t the same these days, but he believes that students still respond well to a teacher who likes what he or she is doing and engages the kids in class.
“If you push them harder, a lot of them will buckle down and do the work,” he said. Kids want direction and seek guidance.
Some folks say kids today are lazy, but Diamont counters that his athletes work their tails off to get better.
People talk about how bad the outlook is for this country, but Diamont, the history buff, knows the country has been through worse.
“The Civil War, two world wars, the Depression, Dust Bowl, union strikes, racial tensions,” he said. Things have been bad, but the nation has gotten through them because Americans will adapt.
“We’ll make it through this. We’ll adjust.”
Only now, Diamont will be watching the action from his rocking chair.
Reach Jeff at 415-4692.