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Breaking the Barriers: 1970's E.C. Glass Football Coaches Honored

Lynchburg, VA - A number of compassionate residents in Lynchburg were recognized for their humanitarian efforts.

It was apart of the 48th annual Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities Humanitarian Awards for the Lynchburg Chapter. A group of local coaches won for bridging a big racial divide.

Sometimes movies imitate real life.

Before there was the 2014 version of the E.C. Glass Hilltoppers football team, more than 40 years earlier the Lynchburg area high school was going through historic changes.

"In 1970 they put the schools together and truthfully, we didn't want to be together," said Tulane Patterson, a former Hilltoppers player. "We didn't like each other. We had our traditions. They forced us to change all of that in one year. So there was a sense of rivalry and frustration and anger."

But desegregation made it so. E.C. Glass and Dunbar High Schools were combined. It wasn't smooth. Patterson remembers the team's first year on the field at City Stadium.

"It ended up the season was 2 and 8, there was no camaraderie. There was no school spirit," said Patterson.

Then, says former assistant coach James 'Jimmy' Green says the moment came.

"They hired the exact right person for the job, Johnny Palmer," said Green.

Green and Otis Tucker Jr. coached with Palmer during that time.

"When they saw what our utmost goal was to win, so the coaches were together and eventually the kids were together," said Tucker, the offensive coordinator for the 1971-1976 team.

The Hilltoppers started winning. They won districts several times between the years of 1971 - 1976. The team went to the Virginia High School State Championship Playoffs in 1972, 1974 and 1976. One year, they almost played the mighty, mighty Titans of T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria. The school featured in that blockbuster movie.

"If we would have won one more game it would have been 'Remember the Hilltoppers' and not 'Remember the Titans,'" said Green with a smile.

One team. Changing the Hill City. One play at a time.

"The biggest thing is to lead by example," said Tucker.

"You can remember championships. And you can remember coaches. But more so I think the most important thing is to remember what goes on in the background," said Green.

"Johnny Palmer talked out of the side of his mouth. He said, 'boys, we are going to win here at E.C. Glass. But there's not going to be any color,'" remembers Patterson. "There's only one color and it's E.C. Glass Blue."

The coaches were awarded the Distinguished Merit Citation Wednesday night by the VCIC.

Tucker says that he doesn't think the coaches should be getting all the credit.

"The kids we had came a long way and had a lot to do with the transition," said the coach.

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