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My first impression of George Cottrell will also be my lasting memory of him.
It was early October of 2010 – my first full week on the job here – and Collins had just beaten Shelby County, 49-7, in the first football game between the two. As I spoke with Rockets Coach Todd Shipley, I glanced over and noticed a man hugging Shelby County’s No. 6 (Quinten Cottrell). Only later would I learn that the exchange was more than just an assistant coach consoling a player after a tough loss. It was a father offering his son solace.
That’s all I needed to see to know what kind of man George Cottrell was.
The first time I actually spoke to him was about a month-and-half later at an all-star football game, in which Quinten was playing in Louisville. He was as nice, if not nicer, than what I had been told he was. He was getting around slowly that day, but I had heard that he had had, or was going to have, knee surgery.
After that I would run into him at basketball games. He had his own seat, a folding chair, by the door at the rear of Mike Casey Gymnasium, near where I usually sat to take pictures. He would always acknowledge me.
Then came spring.
Our interactions became more frequent then, given his responsibilities as Shelby County’s track & field coach. They were responsibilities that he continued to carry out despite his diagnosis of ALS, which only recently had become public knowledge. But he carried on. By that time he was relying on his motorized wheelchair to get around.
After meets we would often correspond via E-mails – his typing, I now realize, must have been a very difficult task for him. However he never asked me to call him instead, and he always responded. As I would come to find out, he wanted no special treatment.
This past fall I would see and speak to him at Shelby County football games as he was parked in his new spot on the field – in the end zone.
“To not be out there, he hides it well, but I’m sure he misses it,” Quinten Cottrell told me of his father, a long-time football player and coach for the Rockets.
That was the night before the younger Cottrell left to start his freshman year at Centre College. He told me that night he hoped to make the Colonels’ traveling team so his father could see him play as often as possible because no one knew how much time he had left.
And although Cottrell’s time on earth ran out Tuesday, when he succumbed to this silent killer of a disease, his spirit will live on forever in the hearts and minds of people throughout Shelby County.
"Coach Cottrell touched countless lives of young people and will forever be remembered in the community and the Shelby County Rocket family," Shelby County Athletic Director Sally Zimmerman texted me Tuesday night.
We’ll each carry with us our own favorite memory of him. I already have mine. What’s yours?