In life, Coach Donald Price was unforgettable. In death, he will be irreplaceable.
Several hundred members of the Mount Airy community gathered at the Mount Airy High School gym on Tuesday afternoon to pay their final respects to the long-time MAHS coach and athletic director, who died Friday at age 52 after a seven-month battle with pancreatic cancer.
Price, the school’s AD since 2003, was eulogized by six friends and colleagues — Mount Airy baseball coach Dr. Jon Cawley, football coach Kelly Holder, Chad Beasley, MAHS Principal Dr. Sandy George, Ben Cooke and Tom Martin. Cawley delivered the opening and closing remarks of the service and the benediction.
During the service, the congregation performed the hymns “Amazing Grace” and “Victory In Jesus.” As the service came to an end, a group of past and present members of the Mount Airy High School chorus sang “Go Rest High On That Mountain,” an appropriate choice, as Price will be laid to rest at 1 p.m. Wednesday in his family cemetery, located in the mountains of Buntontown, Tenn.
After Cawley opened the service, the first speaker was Holder, who has been the head football coach for most of Price’s time at the school. The two have collaborated for years on the success of the school’s football program, with Price serving both as AD and as Holder’s offensive line coach.
Holder stated that he had no words to quantify the loss of Price to the MAHS community, and credited him with much of the success that the football team has had during the 23 seasons in which Price was part of the program.
“We could stand up here a long time and not come up with the words for Coach,” Holder said, citing the names of several highly successful football coaches in the long history of the school. “How amazing that the coach who had the most influence wasn’t even a head coach…223 wins, eight conference championships, one state championship, one state runner-up, and none of that is going to go by his name.”
But, Holder said, that didn’t matter to him. He stressed the team concept to the players he coached, and also applied it to himself.
“He wanted all players to look the same, we not me,” said Holder.
He also stressed that Price lived by his words in another way. On those rare occasions when the Bears were struggling on the field, he insisted the team never give up. The coach lived by his own credo to the very end. Not long before his death, Holder said he asked Price why he continued to fight.
“He said, ‘Kelly, are you out of your mind?’ I told him he didn’t have to fight anymore. He didn’t want to listen to me.
“Even when it looks like you can’t win, you keep fighting.”
More than one of the speakers talked about how Price always made sure everything was done right, both on and off the field.
“For the last 23 years, Donald has been the backbone of Mount Airy High School,” said George. “He always made sure things were done and that they were done right.”
“Coach Price embodied the true meaning of being a Bear,” said Cooke, who hailed Price as a father figure to the players and students, although he never had any children of his own. “If he saw you doing something…that could be done better, he would say something, like a father would.
Merritt said that the love he offered his players inspired them.
“He showed them the unconditional love that made them not want to disappoint him,” he said.
Cawley, a father of three, said that only one of his children played four years for Price as a member of the football team, but that he was grateful that “all three had a chance to learn from him.”
Price, who continued to work through the end of the school year and whose dedication was praised by Principal George, is survived by a brother, three sisters, a brother-in-law, two nieces, and a nephew.
Memorials can be made to the Mount Airy Youth Foundation, Shelton Church of the Brethren in Mount Airy, or the Joan & Howard Woltz Hospice Home of Dobson.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.