The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Local News 2

June 12, 2014

LIMESTONE COUNTY SPORTS HALL OF FAME: “Bubble Gum Man” familiar to all

— If you mention “Bubble Gum Man” around anyone who’s attended an Athens athletic event over the past 40 years, chances are, they’ll know who you mean.

Hugo Bates, the man behind that iconic nickname, will be inducted into the Limestone County Sports Hall of Fame Saturday for more than four decades of service to the Athens athletic and band programs.

“He’s followed Athens athletics around everywhere,” said Janet Latham, former Athens golf and volleyball coach. “When we see a team, we see Hugo. He’s always around supporting us.”

Latham has been around Athens athletic programs longer than almost anyone at the school. Everyone except Bates, who began helping as a band booster when his children were in school.

“When my sisters and brother were in school, he was always active in what we were doing,” said Suzanne Sims, one of Bates’ daughters. “He was always there. He does the little things that people will notice more after he’s gone. Getting the refreshments and doing the laundry and everything else that goes into the game.”

Unlike others in the 2014 class, Bates won’t be remembered for winning championships, setting athletic records or coaching accolades. His legacy transcends numbers in a book.

“He deserves it as much it anybody,” said Jerry Todd, who coached basketball at Athens in the 1980s. “I’ve always said they should name the gym after him as long as he’d been there.”

More than anything, Bates will be remembered for the positive influence he had on countless individuals over the past 40 years.

“The one thing I love about it, he doesn’t work for just the players and just the coaches, he helps the gatekeeper or the scorekeeper and everyone else,” said Latham. “He understands the importance of everything that goes into the game. It’s just a feel good story.”

What he is most famously known for, of course, is the gum he hands out to every fan, coach, sports writer or referee he encounters. What started as a way to cheer up children who may be having a bad day at his church in the 1950s has morphed into an athletic tradition at AHS.

The gum often comes with words of encouragement when handed out at Athens sporting events.

“The kids and the coaches are so good to him,” said Sims. “He reaches out to them, but they also reach out to him. They receive him so precious, everyone from the fans to the coaches and players. And that means so much to us.”

Bates has been honored by the Athens community in various ways over the years. He received the 1991 Outstanding Service Award from the Athens Booster Club, was the grand marshal of the Athens homecoming parade one year and had yearbooks at Athens High School and Julian Newman Elementary dedicated to him.

“He’s the best daddy and granddaddy in the world I know we take him for granted because he’s always been there,” said Sims. “When I think of daddy, he could be in a crowd with anybody. He has a story to tell and hear.”

As long as there are Athens athletic events, you can bet the positive influence of Hugo Bates and his bubble gum will be there.


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