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George Cottrell, 46, a longtime figure in the community and at Shelby County High School, died Tuesday afternoon at his home in Shelbyville.
Diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) – commonly called Lou Gehrig’s Disease – in February of 2011, Cottrell never let the disease slow him down.
“His spirit was just tremendous,” said Todd Shipley, who worked with Cottrell at Shelby County High School and on the staff for the football team for whom Cottrell was the defensive coordinator up until the 2011 season.
“You’d get a random text from him, ‘How’re you doing?’ or ‘Have a great day.’ From him, there was never a why. He was always upbeat and positive.”
He leaves behind his wife, Andrea, and two sons, Jehren and Quinten.
As news about Cottrell’s passing spread on Tuesday afternoon, Twitter and Facebook exploded with thoughts of a long-time friend, coach and mentor for probably thousands that have passed through the county.
Within minutes of the news hitting The Sentinel-News’Facebook page, more than a dozen had posted memories of their classmate and friend.
“George was a schoolmate of mine he was such a cutup and the biggest flirt around with a heart as big as his smile…Prayers to his family…No more pain George rest in Jesus,” wrote Karen Beach.
Several remembered him from coaching and from school, others for his unmatched singing voice.
“And man could he sing! Heaven has another Angel in their choir!” wrote Michelle McClain.
Several current and former athletes and students of Cottrell’s went to Twitter to express their sorrow.
“I feel so crushed about the news I just received,” said former SCHS and Collins football player Tavis Elzy, who know plays at Lindsey Wilson College. “Wished I would have heard it when I got off work, so I didn’t have to cry in front of everybody.”
The fact that former and current Collins players were tweeting their thoughts on Cottrell just shows what kind of affect he had on his former students.
“RIP COACH COTTRELL you will never be forgotten! Loved you like a father,” wrote recent Collins grad and football standout Michael Brooks.
“It’s a great loss,” said Superintendent James Neihof, who also taught with Cottrell at Shelby County High School. “He was a great friend and a great friend to the kids.”
Although many recognize Cottrell for his work on Friday nights and at track meets, those that knew him wouldn’t pigeonhole him in those roles.
“People that didn’t know him, that just saw him on the sidelines, they would think that it was all about football or track,” Neihof said. “But what I’ll remember is the kids that were struggling and in need that he had a heart for. My memory of George will be him working to meet the needs of so many children that he thought might have been missed. His ministerial approach to kids and reaching out to them will certainly be missed.”
Collins football coach Jerry Lucas, who worked with Cottrell at SCHS for 10 years, echoed that sentiment.
“There is no way to put into works the number of lives he touched in his time on earth,” he said. “I was fortunate enough to coach ten years with him at Shelby County, and, first and foremost, George was just a fantastic human being, always full of life. He was just one of those guys who made you feel better about life. To me it was a blessing to have him in my life personally and in the lives of the people of Shelby County.”
And he impacted lives in the county for a long, long time.
“He was All-State here in, what, 1983 and he’s been around this school and this football program up until last year,” Shipley said. “That’s a long time to be involved with one school.”
Shipley said he was happy to know that Cottrell got to read the pamphlet for this year’s SCHS Youth Football Camp a few weeks ago – it’s now the George Cottrell Youth Football Camp.
And it’s not likely that this will be final remembrance of Cottrell at the school he called home for the longest time.
“We’ve lost the truest form for a Rocket that you will ever see in our day,” SCHS Athletics Director Sally Zimmerman said.
As comments continued to flood Facebook and Twitter throughout the afternoon, Michelle Hershey summed up several of the thoughts.
“Coach Cottrell will always be a HUGE part of Shelby Cty. [sic] Such a strong wonderful man who will be missed forever.”
The visitation will be from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Shannon's Funeral Home with the family being in attendance to receive visitors at 4 p.m., and the funeral will be at 1 p.m. Saturday in the SCHS gymnasium.
Sentinel-NewsSports Writer Josh Cook contributed to this story.