Local Coach Honored

Dresden Middle School Names Court in Honor of Leigh Avery Hart
Posted on 12/14/2020
This is the image for the news article titled Dresden Middle School Names Court in Honor of Leigh Avery HartDaughter, wife, mother, stepmother, grandmother, sister, student, teacher, coach, director, coordinator, sponsor, co-founder, torch-bearer, volunteer, child advocate, person of the year – Assistant School Director and former co-worker and principal Jeff Kelley reviewed a list of descriptors for Leigh Avery Hart as part of a dedication ceremony Sunday at Dresden Middle School. “In all ways, Leigh tries to be, and in many ways is, the best,” he said.

revealing new courtFollowing a recounting of the variety and depth of investments Hart has made in family, school and community, he then presented the retired teacher and coach with a plaque designating that the basketball court in the DMS gymnasium would soon bear her name.

In light of continuing treatment for Hart’s 22-month battle with cancer and COVID-19 restrictions, the private ceremony was brief but included this recap of her accomplishments, reflections from those she admires and who admire her, an unveiling of the soon-to-be installed graphic design of the court, and an announcement by Dresden Mayor Jeff Washburn that December 13 had been deemed Leigh Avery Hart Day by the city.

Principal David Lewellen welcomed the socially-distanced crowd of at least 100 and the online audience who were joining by livestream on Facebook. He offered thanks to the Weakley County School Board for allowing the naming of the court and to event organizers Pam Copeland, Sheryl Alford, Lynn Brasfield and Kelly McGuire.

Director Randy Frazier served as emcee for the event and shared the recap of Hart’s days at the University of Tennessee at Martin which former coach and mentor Betty Giles had been scheduled to present. The Tennessee Sports Hall of Famer could not attend due to illness.

From Giles and Kelley, the crowd learned that Hart was born in Minnesota and graduated high school in Bartlett, Tennessee before making her way to UTM where she eventually earned both a BS and Master’s in Education. She proved herself in both the classroom and in sports, recruited by Giles for tennis.

“She showed great potential as a leader early in her freshman year – academics, student activities and as a student athlete,” Giles recalled in her written comments. “And in 1981 was recognized on Student Awards Day as Outstanding Female Student in the Department of Health and physical Education and School of Education.”

A student teaching assignment at the middle school and a summer job as director of the girls’ softball program introduced her to Dresden and became the foundation for a long and ongoing commitment to the children of the community. She spent 38 years as teacher and 37 years as coach collecting five Weakley County girls’ basketball championships. She was the first coach from Weakley to win the TNT state championship. She also coached softball at the school as well as part of the city’s summer program. She was the Jump Rope for Heart Coordinator, and the Beta Club, yearbook, and cheerleader sponsor at various points of her tenure. She co-founded the Lions’ Den Student Reward Program which will once again transform the school gymnasium into a shopping center for students to purchase Christmas items this week.

Prior recognitions of Hart include the 2002 Olympic Torch Bearer at the Salt Lake City Games, Tennessee Iris Festival Volunteer of the Year and Citizen of the Year, Northwest Tennessee Child Advocate of the Year, Weakley County Neighbors Magazine’s Weakley County Person of the Year and honorary chair for the 2020 Weakley County Relay for Life.

As the new court’s design was revealed, those in attendance rose to their feet to offer an extended standing ovation.

Mayor Washburn began his remarks noting that if every student who had received her guidance for “growth and understanding of what life was all about” had been able to attend, the gymnasium would have been filled and “they would have been waiting in line to get into this school; it’s been thousands upon thousands.” He then read from the city proclamation noting her “eternal impact” on the lives of those from the school and community and proclaiming December 13 as Leigh Avery Hart Day.

Hart wavingHart prepared a written statement, read by former player and fellow coach Jennifer Schlicht, in which she thanked the organizers of the event and those who helped make the honors possible. She acknowledged, “I truly loved being in the classroom but my passion was basketball and spending many hours on the court pushing and pushing and having a little fun in hopes of helping young women to know their worth and being mentally tough, to be equipped to go out in the world and tackle any obstacle to fulfill their dreams.

“The last 22 months have been tough but by the grace of God and all who have been a part of my journey lifting me up in prayer, I’m still here, considering every day a gift.”

She concluded with a quote from her mentor Pat Summit, “You win in life with people” and then added, “Boy, did I hit the jackpot.”