2014 INDUCTEE - CHARLES MAPLES
By Calvin Cooley
For the Decatur Daily
It's been a few years since Carl Penn stepped on the floor of the Ryan, Penn, Myers Gymnasium on the campus of Priceville High School.
Still, 52 years removed from the state basketball championship run that shaped the early part of his coaching career, he insists his namesake venue has never changed.
"It's a gym," Penn said with a laugh. "There's a floor and two hoops and you play the game right there on the floor. It's a special place for me, though. It always has been and it always will be."
Penn's successes in that facility during his time as the Bulldogs' head coach are fondly etched in his memory and have landed the Montgomery-based retiree a spot in the 2013 induction class of the Morgan County Sports Hall of Fame.
"It's a great honor to be included in such a group," Penn said. "Not with just the others from this specific class, but everyone who has come before us. There is a rich tradition in this area and to be included in that history is very humbling."
A 1955 graduate of Danville High School, Penn led that Hawks to consecutive Morgan County championships in 1953 and 1954 as the team's starting point guard.
However, it was five years later, at a county rival nonetheless, that Penn really started to cement his place in Morgan County basketball history.
Fresh out of college at the University of Alabama, Penn accepted a teaching position and the head coaching job at Priceville, taking the reigns of an already established program at the age of 21 in 1959.
"I wouldn't use the term traitor, but I'm sure some others would have," Penn said. "We're not talking Alabama-Auburn here, but Danville and Priceville have a pretty healthy rivalry. It was a great opportunity for me, though. One I just couldn't let get away."
It was an opportunity that came with great expectations.
Penn was tapped to replace former coach Robert Ryan. Under Ryan's direction the Bulldogs captured Class A state championships in 1951 and 1955 and finished as state runner-ups in 1952.
"Those were no small shoes to fill," Penn said. "People around Alabama knew Priceville to be a basketball power and I wanted to carry that tradition forward."
In 1961, at the ripe, old age of 23, Penn led the Bulldogs to the Class A championship, cementing his place among the county's elite.
"It was an amazing run," he said. "We played good ball all year but it takes a while for it to settle in on you and your guys when you win a championship like that. I remember our guys looking around saying, 'We won, we won'. It was a surreal moment, one I'll never forget."
Penn accepted a new coaching position at Holly Pond High School in Cullman before the 1965 school year, rounding out his time at Priceville with a record of 102-53.
Under Penn Holly Pond went 153-98 from 1965-1975, claiming the Cullman County championship in 1968.
While on staff he also assisted with the football program and one of the school's first girls basketball teams.
"My career in coaching was very fulfilling," he said. "Like everyone else I had ups and downs, but when I look back at it the highs were so much higher than the lows ever were low."
Penn's success was never limited to just the hardwood, though.
A longstanding member of Holly Pond United Methodist Church, Penn served as Sunday school superintendent for many years while working with church youth groups. He was also a charter member of the Holly Pond Lions Club, where he was key in securing land and funding for a public swimming pool and senior citizen's senior.
"Carl has always been a leader in the community," his brother-in-law and former county rival John Thompson said. "I've known him for 60 years now and can tell you that he's a guy that cares. He's a really good man."
Penn's daughter, Leigh Ann Moore echoed the sentiment.
"He really is a humble man when it comes to his coaching career," she said. "Growing up I never really heard him mention the fact that he was a championship coach. He was always very active at school and in the community but never did anything to bring the spotlight to himself. He's always been that way. He's always been very selfless."
Now retired, Penn spends his time in the Montgomery area staying active in his church and enjoying time with his family.
"There are a lot of great memories from my coaching days and there are a lot of people responsible for helping me achieve what I was able to achieve," he said. "For those people, and this honor, I will forever be grateful. But these days I'm just worried about loafing with my grandkids, and that's just as nice as any championship ever could have been.