Hardaway's first principal turns 80

Keys didn't work. The telephone system was a constant bad connection. Supplies were short. Students wandered the halls lost. Teachers, too.

"It was wonderful," says Dewey Renfroe.

Renfroe, who turns 80 today, was the principal of Hardaway High School for its first 21 years. "The great thing was nobody could say, ‘We didn't do that last year,’ ” he said of the initial year. "I put a great staff together and we began putting together the kind of school we wanted."

It began with choosing the school colors, red and gold. Those just happened to be the colors Renfroe knew well from his days as a Marine.

Renfroe came to Hardaway in 1965 after spending two years as principal of Richards Junior High School. He had served as head basketball and tennis coach at Columbus High School.

The Montgomery, Ala., native was guided by philosophies he preached to students and faculty members. One was, "There's no such thing as a good excuse," and the other was, "Think good thoughts and good things will happen as long as you work hard while you are thinking."

It was a time of unrest in the 1960s with desegregation. "We had a few fights, but our faculty and staff kept things under control," he said. "Black or white, we were all Hawks."

One of his teachers in the beginning was Durwood Fincher, a now-renowned comedian who recently spoke at a luncheon in Renfroe's honor.

"He recalled that I had so many job applicants that I wrote a note on his resumé, 'chubby white man' to distinguish him from others," Renfroe says, laughing.

A mentor was Columbus High coach Ralph Pyburn. Renfroe says he learned to learn from his mistakes and not to be afraid to make decisions. "Some leaders want to do everything by committee," he says. Renfroe listened to others but made the call.

The result: Hardaway got recognition from President Ronald Reagan as a "School of Excellence."

After Renfroe, a retired major in the Army reserves, retired from Hardaway, he was headmaster at Glenwood but left in the first year. He ran for Columbus City Council and lost. "Probably a good thing," he says, smiling.

Asked his thoughts on magnet schools, he says, "They're for the birds." Home schooling is OK with Renfroe, "but I don't see how the parents have enough time," he says.

Of the Muscogee County School District's search for a new superintendent, Renfroe says, "I hope it's somebody who wants to be involved with the families. Dr. William Henry Shaw was like that. It has to be someone who can unite."

His career as an educator was outstanding, but so was his career as an athlete. He was a dazzling fast-pitch softball pitcher who traveled the country with different teams. He once threw 11 consecutive no-hitters. "The sport used to be big here," he says. He was on the Columbus Seniors slow-pitch team that won a national title.

Renfroe attended Troy, where he was the first quarterback to play in the new stadium and was an All-American selection. It was there he met his wife, Alice, then a cheerleader. They have three daughters.

Asked his favorite sports moment, he replies it was at a softball game. "Alice had come to see me play," he says. "She had on this pretty sundress."