Class of 2010
The year was 1961 and East Limestone was one of only two schools in Limestone County without a football team. That was about to change however. The county school board voted to hire a young Ardmore assistant coach by the name of Paul Hargrove to begin the Indians football program.
"We absolutely started the program from scratch," said Hargrove, a 2010 Limestone County Sports Hall of Fame inductee. "There was no football field; no lights and the kids had no knowledge about football. Most didn't know how to put a uniform on. But, what we did have was a great group of young men. They knew how to work hard because they were from hard working families. That first group built a strong foundation for our program."
Former Limestone County Commission Chairman Stanley Menefee was part of the first Indians football team and says Hargrove implemented a winning attitude. "Paul was a good coach. He came in and said we were going to work hard and we did. He was real strict and paid attention to detail. All of this football stuff was new to us but his strong leadership guided us through the transition," said Menefee.
Hargrove's road to becoming a head coach shouldn't have been surprising considering the mentorship he received from two of the greatest football coaches in Limestone County history, Ferman Elmore and Eugene Cooper. He played for Elmore at Athens High School where he earned four letters as a halfback and defensive back and was an assistant coach under Cooper at Ardmore High School.
While Hargrove excelled as a football player (he would earn a football scholarship to Memphis State), he also lettered four years in baseball, basketball and track at Athens High School. As a senior, Hargrove helped lead the Golden Eagles basketball team to the Limestone County championship, Tennessee Valley Championship and fourth place finish in the state tournament.
Former high school teammate David Martin says Hargrove was resilient. "Paul was just a great all-around athlete. He always gave his best effort and excelled in all sports," said Martin, a 2008 LCSHOF inductee. Hargrove recalls nothing but fond memories as an Athens High School athlete. "I had some great teammates at Athens. We were all good friends and bonded well together. We worked and played hard. It was just a great time to be an athlete at Athens High School," said Hargrove.
After high school, Hargrove headed to Memphis State to begin his college career. "I found out real quick that there wasn't any room for 140 pound halfbacks in college," joked Hargrove. He would play one season for the Tigers before transferring back home to Athens College (now Athens State University) where he played basketball and baseball. Hargrove served as co-captain of the Bears 1958 basketball team and helped the baseball team win their league championship the same year.
Upon graduation from Athens College, Hargrove would begin his coaching career at Ardmore High School under Cooper. The Tigers would record an undefeated season and earn the first Wheeler Basin Conference championship while Hargrove was there.
Then the opportunity at East Limestone arrived. "We didn't even have a spring practice that first year," recalled Hargrove. "We beat West Limestone 21-0 for our first win and finished the season 4-3. A great achievement for a first-year program."
The program would continually improve and by the fourth year, the Indians were about to make headlines. In 1964, Ardmore would enter their game with East Limestone carrying a long winning streak. The Tigers were the measuring stick for all other teams. "Playing Ardmore was like playing Alabama and Coach Cooper was like Coach (Bear) Bryant," said the team's starting quarterback Jackie Burgreen. "Nobody wanted to play Ardmore. We all respected Ardmore but we were determined to win that game and we did."
East Limestone would end Ardmore's winning streak that night as they defeated the Tigers 21-6. "That was probably my fondest memory as a football coach," said Hargrove. The Indians would qualify for the playoffs for the first time in school history that season.
The 1965 season would be one for the record books at East Limestone. Led by All-State players Jerry Sandlin and Mike Hargrove, the Indians finished the season with an 8-0 record. To this day, the 1965 team is the only undefeated football team in school history. Sandlin said that is was Paul Hargrove's leadership that paved the way for the Indians success. "I don't believe that I would have finished high school if it hadn't been for Paul. He was a strict disciplinarian. Nobody knew a thing about football until he arrived. He did a tremendous job of building the football program at East Limestone," said Sandlin.
"The 1965 team was my best team," said Hargrove. "We won just about everything that year."
Hargrove would coach three more years at East Limestone before accepting the principal's job at Belle Mina. He would soon return to East Limestone High School as principal and work another 10 years at the school.
Hargrove would touch many lives during his 18 years at East Limestone High School. "Paul was a good man and one heckuva football coach," added Burgreen.