Gene Crawford is a multi-faceted man with many talents. He displayed one of those talents, namely his ability to block and tackle other young men, on football fields in and around Fannin County for six years and then for another couple of seasons at Tennessee Tech College in Cookeville, Tennessee. The Fannin County Sports Hall of Fame will pay homage to Crawford’s athletic talents by issuing him a lifetime membership card, with all rights and privileges, at the Hall’s induction ceremony in April of 2014.
Gene was one of nine children born to Nona Cobb and Carl Crawford and grew up on the family farm in Epworth, Georgia. The timing of his arrival on the scene was fortuitous because there had been no opportunities for young men in Fannin County to participate in organized football prior to 1955. It was then that West and East Fannin High Schools opened and offered football programs, along with several of the elementary schools in the county, including Epworth. Gene was in the 7th grade in the autumn of 1955 and became a starter on the Epworth football teams, as well as the school basketball teams, for the next two seasons.
At West Fannin, Crawford was an important part of the school’s football fortunes from the day he arrived on campus. He earned four varsity letters in the sport and started at either center or tackle during his sophomore, junior and senior seasons. He had good size, tipping the scales at around 200 pounds, was very strong and had developed exemplary work habits and a solid sense of responsibility from his early days on the family farm. He was also a team leader and was elected as the co-captain of the Yellow Jacket team in his senior season of 1960.
Statistics for linemen, particularly during Crawford’s playing days, are virtually non-existent, so honors to the men in the trenches are essentially based on the observations of fellow competitors, coaches, opponents and knowledgeable onlookers. During his career at West Fannin, Gene was honored as local lineman of the week for his performances against Polk County and Copper Basin during the 1959 season. Following his senior season, Gene was honored by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution who named him to the Class AA Honorable Mention All-State squad and was selected as the West Fannin MVP for the 1960 season. He was also instrumental in leading the Yellow Jackets to 6-3-1 records in 1957, 1958 and 1960. This was the best record in the history of the school and was attained only 5 times during the 21 years of football participation at West Fannin.
Crawford also competed in track and field during his high school years, specializing in the discus and shot put events. He finished third in both events at the Region 3AA North Track and Field Meet held at North Whitfield High School in May, 1961.
After graduation from West Fannin, Gene decided to become a ‘walk on’ candidate at Tennessee Tech in the spring of 1962. He was a back-up center for the Golden Eagles in 1962 and 1963. Gene earned a BS degree in Education in December, 1965.
With his college degree in hand, Crawford wanted to coach and teach at the high school level, but jobs in his chosen field were hard to find in the middle of the school year. Powell Hoover, one of Gene’s teachers at West Fannin who was the principal at Morganton Elementary School in 1965, called and offered Gene a job as a teacher and basketball coach at Morganton. Gene took the job and finished the school year there.
Another former mentor at West Fannin, Coach Charlie Earnest called Gene before the 1966-67 school year and offered him a job on his coaching staff at Oglethorpe County High School. Gene coached under Earnest for one season before being called home to join the coaching staff at West Fannin.
Crawford stayed at his alma mater for three seasons, serving as the Head Coach for the 1968 season. The 1968 Yellow Jacket team suffered from a dearth of talent and did not win a game. He resigned the head coaching position following that season but remained on the staff as defensive coordinator for another season, a season in which the Fannin boys won only one game. Gene recollects that his ‘confidence was at its lowest point’ after the 1969 season.
A man with the intellect and resilience of Gene Crawford does not dwell on adversity, however. Gene again joined forces with Coach Earnest, this time at Winder-Barrow High School. The location of that school was very important to Gene because it afforded him the opportunity to work on his Master’s Degree at the nearby University of Georgia. He made significant strides toward that goal (he earned his MS in School Administration from UGA in 1973) and was again called home to teach and coach at Blue Ridge Elementary School in 1971. Another old contact, Blue Ridge principal Buck Arp, was instrumental in this career move.
Gene stayed at Blue Ridge Elementary School from 1971-1973 although his preference at the time was to teach and coach high school kids. The Blue Ridge job was a blessing in disguise and Gene says that ‘after the first month there, I never wanted to coach in high school again—I loved this age group and never wanted to leave‘.
Upon returning to Fannin County in 1971, Gene Crawford enjoyed a steady, upswing of career success that included stints as Epworth School Principal from 1973-80, Superintendent of Fannin County schools for some eight years and finally Regional Director of the Georgia Department of Education. He retired in 1995 at the age of 53. His career in education spanned 30 years, 7 in teaching and coaching and 23 years in school administration.
The word ‘retirement’, however is a misnomer in looking at Gene’s life since he left education. This man of many talents has and is living life to the fullest in so many arenas. He and his wife Tressie have visited 15 European countries and one African country. He raised Black Angus cattle on his farm in Epworth for many years. He enjoys working in genealogy, picture restoration and enhancement, photography, music and finds time to stay physically fit and healthy. He does 1,000 belly crunches every week.
Gene has written two books and is working on a third. His second book titled ‘Thoughts from My Life’s Experiences’ includes a passage that sums up Gene Crawford’s approach to life in one sentence: “If you never push yourself to be better than you are, you will never be any better than you are”.
Gene and wife Tressie Turner Crawford make their home in Morganton, Georgia. They have two grown children, Kevin and Gina, and five grandchildren.
Bio Video at FCHS HOF Game