Coach Lonnie Williams held all of his players to high standards and was quick to punish those who didn't meet them and praise those who did. [Courtesy of the Forrestville-King Alumni Association]
KENWOOD — King College Prep is renaming its gymnasium in honor of the school’s patriarch on Friday.
Coach Lonnie Williams, 72, has served as a father figure at the school for more than 50 years, and the school will honor his counseling and mentorship as a physical education teacher and football coach with a mural and a rededication of the gym in his honor.
During a ceremony at 6 p.m. Friday, the design for a new mural will be unveiled with Williams in the center with his trademark goatee that generations of students have fought to see turn upward in a proud smile.
“We used to spend hours in his office talking about life,” said Landry Reeves, who was coached by Williams as a football player from 1973-77.
Reeves said he still goes to visit Williams, who can usually be found after school in the weight room bench-pressing 225 pounds. He said sometimes feels like Williams was more of a father figure than his own dad.
It's a compliment Williams accepted gratefully as he finished lifting weights Wednesday.
“I’m just thankful that they think that,” he said. “I was never trying to be a father figure.”
Coach Lonnie Williams still works out with his players and can bench press an impressive 225 pounds at 72. [DNAinfo/Justin Breen]
He said he was just doing what he thought was the right thing for kids having a hard time in high school growing up in a tough neighborhood.
“I was just trying to make good people out of them,” Williams said. “Not all of them went to college or went to the pros, but most of them became good people.”
For Reeves and a lot of young men from Forrestville High School, later renamed for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. with the help of Williams and others, Williams was the first truly successful man who many of them had met who set high standards of them and demanded the discipline to reach them.
“We would have to line up and show him our grades,” Reeves said.
If Williams was happy, Reeves said, he would hold you out as an example to others. If not, well, Reeves said every football player got a speech about what would happen at the beginning of the year.
“I know a lot of you guys don’t have daddies at home, but I’m going to be your daddy and your mommy too,” Reeves remembers Williams saying. “If you mess up around here, I’m going to put my foot knee-deep in you’re a**.”
Coach Lonnie Williams has coached the King football team for 50 years. [Courtesy of the Forrestville-King Alumni Association]
Williams laughed hearing the old speech and admitted it sounded like him.
“It’s just like raising children at home, you just have to stay on them,” he said.
It may sound harsh, but alumni said it worked for five decades because he was just as quick to praise as punish.
“I’ve seen grown men cry when they speak of him,” said Valoris Wood, a board member of the Forrestville-King Alumni Association and who started at King the same year Williams started as a teacher.
Wood has been out collecting memories of Williams to present him at the ceremony on Friday and has found he’s shaped the lives of countless young men from Kenwood, including people like actor Michael Clarke Duncan, who starred in “The Green Mile” with Tom Hanks and graduated from King in 1974.
Williams will be heaped with praise on Friday night, but he doesn’t want to hear it and isn’t particularly thrilled about his face being painted on a wall.
“People can put monuments up of men, put their face on a wall,” Williams said. “But to me, to live on in the hearts of men, that’s how you truly live forever.”
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