Harris County High School athletics director Danny Durham has died.
Durham, 54, who also was one of the school’s four assistant principals, collapsed while jogging on the HCHS track Thursday afternoon, Harris County coroner Joe Weldon said Friday.
A student found Durham lying face down on the track and called 911 at 5:42 p.m., Weldon said. Emergency responders arrived within 5 minutes, and an ambulance took Durham to St. Francis Hospital in Columbus, where an emergency room doctor pronounced him dead, Weldon said.
After leaving his home, which is directly behind the school, Durham jogged through his subdivision and was approximately 30 minutes into his run when he collapsed on the track, Weldon said. He had “some type of a cardiac event” but no history of heart trouble, Weldon said.
Durham’s unexpected death has shocked the community, said Harris County School District spokeswoman Rachel Crumbley.
“There’s been just a huge outpouring of love and support for the family and his friends and the students and athletes and people he’s touched,” she said.
Crumbley and her two children, who graduated from HCHS in 2017 and 2018, are among them.
“His encouraging words helped guide them in decisions,” she said. “He wrote letters of recommendations for them.”
Durham came to Harris County as defensive coordinator for the football team in 2012. He was promoted to athletics director and assistant principal in 2014. He previously spent a combined 12 years as head football coach at three Georgia high schools: Gordon Central, Franklin County and Rabun County. He was defensive line coach in 1990-91 at Georgia Southern, where he was a four-year letterman and a starting linebacker on the 1985 and 1986 national championship teams.
A celebration of Durham’s life will be Sunday, starting at 2 p.m., in Evangel Temple Assembly of God Church, 5350 Veterans Parkway, in Columbus. The family will receive friends following the service at the church, according to McMullen Funeral Home and Crematory.
Survivors include Durham’s wife and three children, two in college and one in the ninth grade, Crumbley said.
Crumbley called Durham “a great man.”
“He always had a simile on his face,” she said. “He was hardworking, buzzing around and working all the time. He was so busy trying to make events happen. . . . He was always making sure things were taken care of.”
HCHS principal Todd Stanfill, who has worked for more than 25 years in education, called Durham “maybe the most genuine person that I’ve ever met in this profession.”
“He just had a gift for making everyone feel good, feel important,” Stanfill said. “He always was willing to help. He was just a hard worker, just a good family person. They just don’t make them like that every day.”
Stanfill said he wasn’t aware of any health problems that Durham may have had. Durham ran the same loop nearly every day and “looked healthy as a horse at 4 o’clock when I saw him leave the school,” Stanfill said.
Word of Durham’s death spread so fast, Stanfill said, he started receiving condolences before he could inform HCHS parents with an automated recorded phone call Thursday night.
“He was just one of those kinds of people that had an effect on everyone,” Stanfill said, “and he didn’t even know it.”
That effect wasn’t in big, showy ways but in the small, everyday ways he conducted himself and put others first, the principal said.
“It was just his overall nature when he dealt with people,” he said. “He had something you can’t teach. You can’t train somebody to be like that.”
Stanfill especially saw that impact on students.
“When you can give kids that grew up in tough situations hope, that makes a difference,” he said. “He treated the kids all the same, just good to them and good with them.”
HCHS students and staff are having a “tough time here today,” Stanfill said, but are taking advantage of the counseling provided by school district personnel, ministers and the Pastoral Institute.
In lieu of flowers, Crumbley said, Durham’s family requests donations to the school in his name. Checks should be made payable to the Coach Danny Durham Scholarship and mailed to the school district’s office at 132 Barnes Mill Road, Hamilton, GA 31811. Donors also can use this email address at Paypal to donate electronically: DannyDurhamScholarship@Gmail.com.
A bank account called “The Durham Family Fund” has been established at Synovus. “This will be to help the family with any unexpected expenses or, perhaps, to help send their ninth-grader to college,” Crumbley said.