By Calvin Cooley
For the Decatur Daily

The consensus among those who know him is that Johnny Atkins' days as a standout guard for Robert Ryan's Priceville Bulldogs have landed him a much-deserved spot in the 2013 Morgan County Sports Hall of Fame induction class.

Transcending his athletic achievements, however, is the one quality that really makes Atkins stand out.

"Johnny's middle name should have been Give Back," longtime acquaintance Lonnie Williams said. "My days with him go way back to the 70s, back when he helped me get a job at 3M to help pay my way through college. He was helping people involved with athletics then and he's never stopped. He's a man who has always given to his community."

During his junior season, Atkins, a standout guard, averaged more than eight points per game for the 1955 team that captured the Class A state championship. The championship came on the heels of a third-place finish in 1954 and preceded a senior season that came to an end in the second round of the district tournament in 1956.
"I was lucky to be a part of a few good teams during high school," Atkins said. "We didn't have very many players to choose from in those years, so all of the guys who played were all close friends."

The 1955 championship team finished the season 35-1, with the lone loss coming at Ardmore. Priceville defeated defending champion Corner to capture the state title.

"That state tournament was the most exciting sporting event I've ever been a part of," Atkins said. "Corner had a standout player named Rex Frederick, who of course went on to play at Auburn. During that championship game I was tapped by Coach Ryan to guard him. It was one of the most difficult games I can remember."

Upon graduation, Atkins held an offer to continue playing basketball at Athens State. He instead chose to accept a job at 3M, where he retired after 30-plus years.

A lifelong resident of Morgan County, Atkins became well-known in the community for his services to local organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club.

"I've known Johnny for about 15 years and he's always been very active in our organization," Decatur Boys and Girls Club Director David Varner said. "Sports gave him a solid foundation and his past has really probably helped shape him into the man he is today. His contributions to what we do and have done here are invaluable."

In addition to coaching at the Boys and Girls Club, Atkins has coached for the Decatur Dixie Youth and played and coached for the 3M City Parks and Recreation softball and basketball teams while an employee.

"I had some experience playing so people looked to me for guidance at times," he said. "It was an enjoyable experience. We always had good times."

On top of coaching, Atkins is a charter member of the Priceville Booster Club, a lifetime member of the Elks Lodge and has served on the Morgan County Hall of Fame selection committee for nine years. He has also served the community as a volunteer at Meals On Wheels for a number of years.

"Johnny is a man who has shown time and time again that he will go above and beyond to help those around him," Williams said. "He is as high-class as you can get. You'd be hard-pressed to find a better man than Johnny Atkins."

Varner echoed the sentiment.

"His service speaks for itself," he said. "Of course he has an outstanding past as an athlete but what he's done since then is what really sets him apart."

A humble man, Atkins took the entire nomination process in stride. "Of course I'm very excited to be involved with this process," he said. "I've always enjoyed my time on the committee and I know what goes into selecting members for the Hall of Fame.

To get that support from my fellow committee members really means a lot to me. Having your name and what you've done put in comparison to the others who have been inducted into the Hall of Fame before our class is very humbling. It really is a special time for me."

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