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Redskins get Hall of Fame advice
Former Bryan County High School coach Albert Lodge shows current Redskin players the state championship ring he won while head coach at Savannah in 1976. Lodge, who won eight straight region titles in Bryan County from 1980-1987, stopped by practice on Monday to talk a little baseball with the Redskins and current coach Mark Wilson. - photo by Jeff Whitte

Bryan County High School baseball coach Mark Wilson already knew a thing or two about the program’s strong history.

His players got a living, breathing, first-hand introduction to it on Monday, when Hall of Fame coach Albert Lodge stopped by to give the players a pep talk.

"We’re trying to get a little of the tradition here back," said Wilson, who is also the school’s athletic director and head football coach. "This program has a rich tradition and it’s great to get coach Lodge back here to get them motivated a little bit."

Under Wilson, the Redskins are off to a 3-1 start in 2013 and have already exceeded last seasons’ win total.

"The kids have played hard for us so far," Wilson said. "There’s still a lot to do and a lot to work on but they’re playing hard and they’re playing together right now."

Lodge, 66, was a master at getting the most out of players. He led the Redskins to eight straight region titles from 1980-1987 and coached the softball team to six region titles and three state championships. In all, he won 422 games as a coach at Savannah, Windsor Forest, Bryan County, Benedictine and Long County — and coached Savannah to the 1976 state title.

But Lodge, who also has a law degree, makes it clear Bryan County remains special to him.

"When I was inducted into the Greater Savannah Athletic Hall of Fame (in 2001), I wore my Bryan County uniform," he said. "This place was like my first love, really. If I could go back all those years and start over again, I’d do it right here (in Pembroke)."

Lodge’s name is practically synonymous with high school baseball in Georgia. He is a member of the Georgia Dugout Club Hall of Fame, where he was inducted alongside Georgia Southern coach Jack Stallings and Georgia Tech coach Danny Hall. He’s also on the Benedictine Wall of Fame for his exploits as a baseball player there before he went on to play at Armstrong State College and then a stint in the Navy before he got back to civilian life and, eventually, coaching baseball.

But Lodge is respected more in Pembroke than perhaps anywhere else, perhaps because the feeling seems so mutual.

"I coached just about everybody in this town at one point," he said, rattling off name after name.

Now fully retired – "If I tried to coach again my wife would kill me," he said – Lodge lives on Colonel’s Island in Liberty County with Janet, a teacher and his wife of 16 years. But he’s always going to be invested in baseball.

"I’ve still got it in me," he said, watching as the Redskins went through fielding drills under the tutelage of Wilson and assistant Steven Jarrell, who played for Lodge.

Lodge will be giving a free baseball clinic in Long County in April, and after getting a glimpse of the Redskins in a recent win he said Wilson has the program headed in the right direction.

"I liked what I saw," Lodge said. "They’re pretty young but they’ve got the right leader and they’ve got enthusiasm and hustle."

He offered to come to Pembroke to speak to the team and Wilson, knowing a good deal when he saw one, agreed.

"(Wilson) could’ve said no but he’s willing to do what he can to help light the spark," Lodge said, noting baseball is as much about a willingness to work as it is talent.

"It’s a game where, with the right instruction, you can get better," he said. "We didn’t always have the greatest athletes where I’ve coached, but they were willing to work hard and develop what talent they had."

He has had talented players, including star Redskins pitcher Russell Williams, who was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds. But Lodge, a proponent of small ball, believed in coaching up those who weren’t the most talented.

"Your star players are going to be star players," he said. "The secret of success is bringing your other players up to another level and to understand their roles and where they can contribute. Once you get them better, you’re going to be successful."

But being a high school baseball coach is also about helping kids grow up to be responsible adults who play a positive role in their community, and Lodge said he sees that quality in Wilson.

"I know parents who are glad he’s here," Lodge said. "He’s doing a good job not only on the athletic fields, but also in the life lessons he’s teaching outside of that. When you get a coach like that, you need to encourage him and do what you can to hang on to him."

Q&A with Lodge:

Q: What’s changed the most since you began coaching in 1970?

A: "The facilities are so much better now. That and so many of the kids are playing travel ball year round. They also have three of their own personal bats that cost $300 each and they carry them in bat bags that have a pocket for cell phones. Can you believe that?’ There were no pockets for cell phones in bat bags when I grew up. And kids have private lessons now. I understand parents do anything to give their kids an edge, so baseball has become a full time gig now, but kids are getting burned out. I’m a big advocate of kids playing all three sports. Football teaches mental toughness and basketball teaches agility."

Q: What was the best piece of coaching advice you ever got?

A: "Art Hobbins, who coached in the Savannah River League, once told me ‘always try to score the first run because then they’ll have to get two to beat you.’ That’s so simple, but so profound."

Q: What advice would you give to a young coach?

A: "Be yourself. Coach with your own personality. And get all your kids involved. Let them do something meaningful so they’ll have a sense that they’re a part of it."

Q: Who’s your hero?

A: "My dad, Albert H. Lodge Jr. He was more of a man than anyone I know. He was in the 82nd Airborne in World War II and won the Silver Star for gallantry and was decorated by the Queen of Holland for what he did. He was a humble man and a gentle man who never said anything about what he did in the war. What good parents I had. That’s what I’ve always tried to impress on my players. Love your parents."

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