East Limestone football pioneer Paul Hargrove dies

Paul Hargrove served as East Limestone's first football coach, starting the program in 1961. He later served as the school's principal and spent a total of 18 years at the school.

If East Limestone football had a name or a face, that name and face most likely would belong to Paul Hargrove.

Hargrove, who started the football program from scratch after being hired as its first football coach and later spent many years as the school's principal, died Wednesday at age 84 after a brief illness.

The success the East Limestone football team enjoys on Friday nights in 2019 can be traced back to the decision to hire Hargrove, then an Ardmore assistant, as the team's head coach in 1961.

“We absolutely started the program from scratch,” said Hargrove upon induction into the Limestone County Sports Hall of Fame in 2010. “There was no football field; no lights and the kids had no knowledge about football. Most didn't know how to put a uniform on. But, what we did have was a great group of young men. They knew how to work hard because they were from hard-working families. That first group built a strong foundation for our program.”

It didn't take long for Hargrove to start winning. In 1964, East Limestone upset Ardmore 21-6, ending the Tiger's 16-game unbeaten streak. In 1965, Hargrove would lead the Indians to its only undefeated season, finishing 8-0.

Hargrove coached for eight years at East Limestone before taking the principal's job at Belle Mina. He then returned to East Limestone and was principal there for 10 more years, spending a total of 18 years at the school.

He never lost his love for East Limestone football. Current coach Jeff Pugh said Hargrove would visit with him regularly to talk or watch film.

“Before he got sick, one or two times every week he'd come to visit and talk to me about how things were going,” Pugh said. “I always kept the film for him, pull it up on my computer and he'd sit with me and watch it.”

Pugh, who has known Hargrove since he was a youth, said he was one of the big reasons he wanted to take the East Limestone head coaching job.

“One of the big reasons I wanted to come here is because he started the football program here and I wanted to continue that,” Pugh said. “After my dad passed away, he was kind of the guy who took over, came in and stood behind me like my father would have. He would always talk to me about what was going on.”

Hargrove's daughter, DeAnna McNeill, said her father was one who never met a stranger.

“He always wanted to get to know you and know where you went to school, to see if he knew anybody who coached there or played there,” McNeill said. “That was one of the first things he'd ask people, 'Where'd you go to school?'”

Hargrove played football for legendary coach Ferman Elmore at Athens High School, where he earned four letters as a halfback and defensive back.

While Hargrove excelled as a football player, earning a football scholarship to Memphis State University, he also lettered four years in baseball, basketball and track at Athens High. As a senior, Hargrove helped lead the Golden Eagles basketball team to the Limestone County championship, Tennessee Valley Championship and fourth place finish in the state tournament.

Hargrove's playing and coaching ability earned him a spot in the Limestone County Sports Hall of Fame's 2010 class, but Hall of Fame board member Jimmy Woodroof said Hargrove's warm personality trumped any of his coaching or playing accolades.

“I just can't say enough good things about Paul Hargrove,” Woodroof said. “If he believed in you, he would do whatever he could to help you. I remember in 2004 when I was running for election (as circuit judge), he came to me and said there were a lot of people I didn't know that he did. So he went door to door with me introducing me to people. He was a community man and a wonderful person. He is going to be missed.”

Hargrove died the day before East Limestone opened its 2019 season with a game at West Limestone. Pugh said Hargrove's spirit will be with him and everyone at the Indians' football program this season.

“We are going to dedicate this season to him, and dedicate (Thursday's) game to him,” Pugh said. “I'm really hoping we get a win, because I would love to present the game ball to the family Saturday at the funeral.”

Funeral services will take place in the Jimmy Drake Gymnasium at East Limestone High School, Saturday, Aug. 31 at 2 p.m. Visitation will take place prior to the service from 11 a.m.-2 p.m.

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