Class of 2009
Max Kelley's athletic achievements reached from one end of the state to the other. From Athens to Dothan with many stops in between, Kelley excelled at playing, coaching and officiating. His talents have earned him a place in the 2009 Limestone County Sports Hall of Fame induction class.
Kelley began his athletic career at Athens High School. He earned All County and All TVC (Tennessee Valley Conference) honors while playing for the Golden Eagles and legendary football coach Ferman Elmore. Kelley said he enjoyed his time at AHS. "I had a good time at Athens High playing for Coach Elmore. The people in Athens take their sports very seriously. If you have heartbeat, they expect you to play some sport and I had the honor of playing for Athens," said Kelley.
Coach Elmore's son Jimmy Elmore said that Kelley was one of his dad's favorite players. "Max is such a good person. Dad loved him and thought he was as tough a player as he ever coached. Max was a hardnosed football player that would really hit you," said Elmore.
As fate would have it, Kelley wouldn't finish his high school career at Athens but at one of the Golden Eagles fiercest rivals. Kelley's father worked for the L&N Railroad and was transferred to Cullman County during the middle of his junior year and Kelley finished his high school career at Cullman High. "There was a funny story about me transferring to Cullman," said Kelley. "I played my last basketball game with Athens on Friday night against Russellville before we moved that weekend. Well, the following Tuesday I played my first game with Cullman against whom else, Russellville. They had a player by the name of Don Smith and he kept staring at me during warm-ups. Well, before the game started, he came up to me asked if I had a twin brother because they had just played Athens and they had a player who looked just like me."
Kelley would go on and earn All State and All TVC honors with Cullman. His football talents would earn him a football scholarship to the University of Alabama. He was a three-year starter for the Crimson Tide playing offensive guard and fullback. He also played catcher on the Tide's baseball team. Alabama won the SEC Football Championship his freshmen season but would fall on tough times during Kelley's remaining years at the Capstone. "We had some lean years and I really wasn't that good of a football player," said the modest Kelley.
However, his teammates thought otherwise as they voted him Team MVP in 1956. Following his senior season, Kelley was awarded with one of the most hallowed honors for Crimson Tide football players as his hand and footprints were enshrined at the Denny Chimes Walk of Fame. "Max Kelley was just a good football player," said former UA teammate Harry Lee. "Max could play for any team in any era."
Kelley's first job out of college landed him as an assistant coach at Dothan High School where he was reunited with Elmore who had recently taken the head football coach job. He served as Coach Elmore's assistant coach in football and was head coach of the school's baseball team. If that wasn't enough to keep him busy, Kelley found time to play a little minor league baseball in the summer. He played with the St. Louis Cardinals Class D team in Dothan. He began his officiating career there as well serving as an umpire in the old Alabama- Florida State Class D baseball league. One of his former baseball players at Dothan Billy Gamble says that Kelley was more than just a coach. "Max Kelley was like a second father to me," said Gamble, who is a long time coach at UNA. "He took care of me. He was a tough individual but had a heart of gold. I deeply appreciate all that he did for me."
Eventually, Kelley's coaching career would lead him back to north Alabama. He was hired as Head football coach at Huntsville High School. He stayed there a few seasons before moving over to Butler High School as the Head baseball coach and assistant football coach. He officiated many years of high school basketball in north Alabama as well and was considered one of the best.
Former Athens High Football coach Larry McCoy probably sums it best about Kelley. "Max was just good at everything," said McCoy.