The AFCA is celebrating its 50th anniversary this fall, and for the first time in 35 years, Stan Halbrooks will not be coaching one of the league’s teams.
After 41 years of coaching youth football in Cobb County, his job has taken him to Tuscaloosa, Ala., for a year-long construction project on the campus of the University of Alabama. In those four decades, Halbrooks has not only brought his wife and two sons into the program but has recruited the families of two other long-time coaches, Jim Hourigan and Jeff Albright, to help foster a culture that he believes makes Acworth football unique.
“Everybody cares about each other, and it’s just a family atmosphere,” Halbrooks said. “Most of the time, when the kids come through, they get involved, too. There’s probably a dozen or so coaches I coached when they were small kids, and now they’re coaching at Acworth and through the league.”
Halbrooks’ two sons, Stan and Nathan, both played and went on to coach teams of their own. While Nathan continues to volunteer as the first vice president of the AFCA and coach of a 10 year-old team, Stan moved on to the high school ranks and currently works as the defensive line coach at Hiram.
“It’s meant a lot to me, it’s where I learned to be a football coach and fell in love with being a football coach and working with kids,” the younger Stan Halbrooks said. “It’s the place I decided to go into coaching, and it’s because of the people I worked with at Acworth.”
Also absent this season will be Jim Hourigan, Halbrooks’ assistant coach of 25 years and a volunteer for the association since he signed up his four children. The three Hourigan boys all played through the system and returned as coaches, and Jim’s daughter LeighAnn served as the program’s cheer director for nearly a decade. Jim and his wife Sandy retired from their duties with the association this year, to let the younger generations take control.
“Those two, they didn’t need to talk,” said current AFCA president Brian Balthuis, who served as assistant coach on Halbrooks and Hourigan’s team last season. “They could look at each other and know what the other one wanted to do. They just had this great relationship and knew what to do to get the best out of the kids.”
Some AFCA alumni have gone on to play on stages much larger than Halbrooks Field, including former North Cobb standout running back Calvin Middleton, who just concluded his career at Jacksonville State, and Steve Johnson, who played on Tennessee’s 1998 national championship team before being drafted by the Seattle Seahawks. If the Warriors’ recent on-field performance across age groups is to be trusted, there could be more players bound for the next level a few years away.
“Since 2004 we’ve lost one game, and we’ve won seven straight super bowls,” said Jeff Albright, who has coached Acworth’s six year-old team since 1988. “The stuff I do with the kids is repetitive. We don’t do a lot of stuff, but what we teach these kids we do every single night.”
Albright’s son James, the association’s athletic director and a former player for the teams of the elder Halbrooks and Hourigan, is the city’s Director of Parks and Recreation. With the Halbrookses and Hourigans out of the spotlight this season, the Albrights have assumed the title of the program’s longest tenured volunteers — Jeff began coaching when his sons began playing in 1988, and his wife Kathy has served a myriad of roles within the organization since then: secretary, homecoming director, picture director, vice president and fundraising coordinator, to name a few.
“The thing that makes the program unique is the volunteers,” James Albright said. “They inspired me to get into the field that I’m in today, seeing them out there running the programs and everything out there.”
One of Kathy Albright’s favorite stories about the league epitomizes the AFCA’s volunteer spirit, a spirit that has been so loyally nurtured by the three families over decades of youth football.
“We were all at the field one night, and I said, ‘Where is everybody else’s families on a Friday night? Shouldn’t they be out doing family things?’” Kathy Albright remembers. “My son looked at me and said, ‘Mom, this is our family thing.’ It’s great to know that your kids are doing this too and knowing that their kids will probably do the same thing.”