County saddened by death of Coach Joel Hicks

hicks joel leeBy MIKE WILLIAMS

The Patriot

Word spread quickly last Saturday throughout the community and beyond.

Pulaski County’s beloved “Coach” – Joel Hicks – had passed away.

Hicks was 81 and had been in poor health for some time before passing last Saturday morning at his home in Fairlawn.

A community memorial service is set for next Saturday, March 18 at 3 p.m. The outdoor service will be held on Joel Hicks Field inside Kenneth J. Dobson Stadium.  Pastor Larry Meadors will officiate.

The Hicks family suggests in lieu of flowers, donations be sent to the Pulaski County Animal Shelter in Dublin.

Bower Funeral Home in Pulaski is handling arrangements for the family, and those who wish may visit to sign Hicks’ online guestbook.

His full obituary is inside this week’s edition.

Hicks was born in Richwood, W.Va. on April 14, 1941. As a teenager he drove a coal truck in southern West Virginia, and attended Richwood High School.

While at Richwood, Hicks played three sports for the Lumberjacks – football, basketball and baseball – being named All-state Honorable Mention in each.

His personal success in football earned him a scholarship to West Virginia University where he played running back and defensive back for the Mountaineers from 1960 to 1964.

After receiving his Bachelor’s Degree in Physical Education, Hicks began his legendary coaching career starting out at Big Creek High School in War, W.Va.

At War, Hicks went 34-15-1 and after five years at the school, he moved up to the head football coaching job in Beckley at Woodrow Wilson High School.

He spent seven years coaching the Flying Eagles to a 57-13 record.

His high school successes helped earn him a spot on the WVU coaching staff where he served as an assistant coach for three years under head coach Frank Cignetti.

That Mountaineer coaching staff included several legendary football players known to many in West Virginia and beyond, including Nick Saban, head coach at Alabama.

Hicks, however, longed to return to the high school coaching ranks and away from the endless days on the college football recruiting trails.

At the same time, Pulaski County High School needed a football coach.

The Cougars – in existence for only five years after the consolidation of Dublin and Pulaski high schools – had compiled a disappointing record of 14-33-3.

Football fans in Pulaski County weren’t used to such results on the football field.

Dublin had for years been a powerhouse football program, and Pulaski had seen its share of success as well.

Local sports writer Dan Callahan had covered the glory days of football in Pulaski County prior to the consolidation of the two high schools, as well as the dry period of the mid- to late-70’s.

When the time came to make a change in the leadership of the football program here, you could say Callahan “knew a guy.”

Callahan, who had known Hicks from their Big Creek days, knew Hicks was looking for a change and put him in touch with School Superintendent Ken Dobson.

Hicks’ first season at PCHS saw the Cougars finish with a 9-3 season, including an almost unheard of victory in the season opener against arch rival Radford, 13-0.

During that first season, “Cougar Fever” swept through the community. Friday night meant Cougar Football and you were at the game. Either in the stadium at PCHS or traveling with the team wherever they went. Every team that hosted Pulaski County in those days knew they’d better get ready. Cougar fans were coming! By the thousands.

If a fan couldn’t get to the game, they’d be huddled around the radio listening to their Cougars.

Local businesses would shut down early on Fridays so employees and management could get to the game.

As Callahan would mention throughout the years afterward, those weren’t the best of economic times in Pulaski County. Cougar football was really about the only thing the community had to enjoy and rally around in those days.

“Cougar Fever” couldn’t have happened at a better time.

Under Hicks, the Cougars would win 210 games and lose only 68. His Cougars won 15 district titles, 6 regional championships, were state runners-up three times and were Division 6 State Champions in 1992.

Overall, including his coaching days in West Virginia, Hicks compiled a 301-96-1 record.

He was inducted into the Virginia High School League’s Hall of Fame in 2016.

In this week’s print edition, we’ve got more on the life of Joel Hicks. His official obituary, a look at his football years in Pulaski County, how his Cougars faired against teams in Virginia, and a special reprint of an article I had the privilege of doing on Coach back in 2011.