Orange County High School Principal Kelly Guempel figured he better brush up on his Hornet history in advance of the dedication of the new Sizemore Fitness Center at the school Sunday afternoon.
“One thing I found—everywhere I looked—was everything referred to him as ‘legendary coach Paul Sizemore,’ ” Guempel said.
Sunday afternoon, more than 100 OCHS alumni and Hornet fans gathered in the old gym at the high school to dedicate the school’s new Sizemore Fitness Center and honor longtime school board member Judy Carter who helped champion the project.
Both were advocates of OCHS student-athletes and admired as local legends at Sunday’s ceremony.
“In this county, people say, ‘what do you need to be successful?’ ” Guempel said. “That’s the question that Judy [Carter] asked and Bill Hager answered. Now, we have a great place to work out for all our athletes, our physical education students and our JROTC cadets. If you’re not working out, you’re probably not winning. Probably 200 students a day come through here. There’s no time during the day that this room is not packed.”
Orange County School Board Chair Sherrie Page said Carter brought the idea to the rest of the board years ago after her grandson—Carter Rickett—told her, “Granny, we need a weight room.”
Carter worked to upgrade the school’s weight room facilities, but as her health waned, so did progress on the project.
“We were struggling a bit when Mom got ill and Bill Hager really picked it up and got it going,” said Jack Rickett, Carter’s son.
Hager—who had successfully raised more than $50,000 for new high school band uniforms, and who played football for Coach Sizemore—accepted the challenge. Since then, he’s raised more than $50,000, which, coupled with donations made following Carter’s death in August, have totaled more than $65,000 for the top-of-the-line facility.
“Mom wouldn’t want it about her,” Rickett said Sunday. “She’d tell you it wasn’t her idea. She’d say all she did was listen to what people wanted. She had a great sense of the pulse of the community by listening to what people had to say.
“She’d be happy and proud of all the people here today and I thank you for continuing to remember my mother,” Rickett concluded, before turning over the podium to Hager.
Hager said he went to visit Carter in the hospital before she died and she confided she needed help with the project.
“If you told Judy you were going to do something, you better do it,” Hager said.
That didn’t mean it was easy. Hager said it was tough-going early on. Struggling to solicit funds after his band-uniform success, Hager issued a plaintive prayer for help. The answer came in the form of the legendary Hornet football, basketball, baseball and wrestling coach.
“I woke up and the name Paul Sizemore was on my mind,” he said. “Coach Sizemore was a giant to us and his influence is still in my blood. When I get knocked down, I get back up again. Thank you, Paul Sizemore. That ‘get-up’ is still in me because of him.”
Hager felt he could parlay the respect and admiration for the longtime Orange coach from among his demographic—retired OCHS alumni who revered Sizemore—into a successful campaign. He was right.
While Hager cited a number of key donors and contributors, he wasn’t kidding when he credited Facebook as a key cog in his fundraising campaign. Hager joked he tried to find a “Facebook for Dummies” title but instead settled for “Facebook for Seniors.” Thus informed, he started reaching out to alumni for donations and said the new fitness center behind him was a combination of big and small donations.
For his efforts, Page and Guempel presented Hager with a new “Judy Carter Advocacy Award,” before Carter’s husband—Henry Lee Carter joined Hager for the ribbon-cutting ceremony, officially dedicating the new fitness center, which comprises approximately half of the former OCHS gym.
“I think this is great,” Sizemore’s daughter Celia Sizemore White said after Sunday’s dedication. “It’s a great opportunity for the kids. Dad probably wouldn’t want it named after him, but he’d be happy about what’s inside and the opportunity it provides the children.”
Sizemore was raised in southwest Virginia and had a successful career as a football, baseball and track athlete, first at Coeburn High School and then at Furman University in Greenville, S.C. After completing college and serving for four years in the Army, Sizemore was recruited by his former high school principal, C. J. M. Kyle, who had since become superintendent of schools in Orange County, to teach math and coach at OCHS.
Carter, who was born and raised in Covington, served as District 3 representative on the Orange County School Board for more than two decades, from 1988 to 1999 and from 2008 until her death in August 2018. She was known as a tireless advocate for students’ education and extracurricular activities.