Ron and Leah Oakley are moving on from Ron’s coaching and teaching career after close to 50 years supporting Athens City Schools, as he decides to retire.
To be exact, Ron has had a career of 46 years in the school system teaching and coaching, while Leah has spent 24 years with Athens.
Additionally, she was a member of a historic cheerleading squad during her time as a student at Athens High.
“I was a cheerleader back in 1975 when we won the state championship,” Leah said. “My veins bleed black and gold.”
She remarks on Ron’s journey through multiple sports on multiple levels of Athens City Schools, saying “He was coaching basketball. He coached middle school basketball, coached freshman basketball, high school and then soccer after that.”
Ron added to looking back on the stops in his career.
“I did 25 years of basketball, most at the middle school, every once in a while I would slide over and help with the freshman team, and then Venard Hendrix and I would assist Coach (Jerry) Todd,” Ron said. “Then, in 2001, I was doing basketball, we were pretty much in the middle of our season, and this head coach of soccer came open. It stayed open for a while, we talked about it, and our son loved soccer. When nobody took the job ... in 2001 soccer was (still on the upswing), so I took it. We enjoyed it so much that first year I resigned from basketball and just devoted (full time to soccer).”
According to the Oakleys, they made it to the state Final Four their first year of Ron coaching boys soccer, which would lead to a total of 4 Final Four appearances.
“We had some early success and it’s grown from there,” Ron said.
During their time involved in Athens athletics, the Oakleys have seen AHS jump up to a Class 6A school, but the community still looks out for each other in as if they were a small town.
This includes their top-notch turf football field that they share with the football team.
Though football is the biggest sport in Alabama, both of the Oakleys say they have never felt like soccer is second-fiddle. They give a shoutout to head football coach Cody Gross for making sure something as simple as the soccer lines being drawn on the turf field to make things easier for the soccer team.
According to Leah, “Not all football coaches would do that. Cody has been tremendous.”
The path along the way has not been without its challenges.
“The soccer budget was $2,000 negative. (Principal Chris) Bolin told Ron ‘you can not even buy a pair of socks until you get them out of the hole.’ The parents and this community rallied around this program. This program has never lacked for anything because of the parents.”
Ron came to Athens by way of The University of Alabama and West End High School, formerly out of Birmingham.
“Leah’s dad was the only name in Athens that I knew,” Ron said.
It would be Athens College who would give him his certificate in education in order to help his coaching career as well,
“I would teach math at the middle school, coach basketball and then go to Athens College at night to get certified.”
He would get his Masters in counseling from UNA and would become a school counselor for the final 20 years of his teaching career.
After 40 years of teaching, in 2016, he retired to become part-time and focus on six additional years of coaching.
However, this is not a good-bye, but simply a change in roles. Both Ron and Leah have every intention of continuing their support of Athens athletics and academics.
“I can’t imagine not being a part of the soccer program,” Leah said. “The last game (of Ron’s career) nearly killed me. I thought I might be emotional, but I did not know I was going to sob, like the ugly cry.”
While plenty of people have come and gone during his career, the current athletic director for Athens High School, Linda Moore, understands the impact someone like Ron has had on their sports programs for the better.
“We are so grateful to Coach Ron Oakley for his dedication to Athens soccer, which spans decades. Coach Oakley is one of the most genuine people I have ever met,” Moore said. "He cares about his players both on and off the field.”