The following is the fifth in an 11-part series featuring members of the 2019 class of the Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame.
Carolyn Mae Wright’s induction into the Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame carries an historical distinction. She joins her husband, Bobby Wright, to become the second husband-wife members of the prestigious group of individuals enshrined. They follow Tom and Lenette Calvin who were inducted in 1991 and 1992, respectively.
Wright is being inducted as a member of the Class of 2019 into the Sports HOF on March 18 at the Montgomery Renaissance Hotel and Convention Center. The AHSAA and AHSADCA founded the Hall of Fame in 1991.
On Dec. 8, the Central-Phenix City Lady Red Devils presented Carolyn Wright with her 500th win. She finished the season reaching the Southeast Regional finals and now has a career 517-294 career record, Bobby Wright’s career slate is 645-202 – making the duo the winningest husband-wife basketball coaching tandem in state history with a combined 1,162 victories.
A native of Tuskegee, Wright graduated from Tuskegee Institute High School in 1974 and from Alabama State University in1978. She also holds a master’s degree in specific learning disability. She was first a teacher and later decided to also go into coaching. She began her career at St. Jude Home for Children in Montgomery. She also taught special education students in Georgia and at Stanhope Elmore High School. She spent her summers working with the Upward Bound Program and the National Sports Youth Program at Alabama State.
In 1986 she accepted a position at McIntyre Junior High School, where she added coaching basketball, softball, track, volleyball and bowling to her teaching duties. She held that position until 1991 when she moved to Phenix City as chair of the Central High School Department of Health and Physical Education.
At Central, she has coached girls track and basketball and was an assistant in boys track. She added volleyball to her duties in 2002. She gave up track in 2011 but continues to coach basketball and volleyball.
She coached more than 30 individual boys’ and girls’ state track champions. In 16 years of volleyball, she has won more than 200 games. But it is basketball that she has had her greatest impact. In addition to her 517 wins, she has guided the Lady Red Devils to area championships and 15 state and sub-state tournament appearances. Three teams advanced to the state tournament semifinals. She has averaged 18 wins per season, won numerous Coach of the Year honors and has also coached the South team in All-Star Week.
Former player Stephanie Pedersen wrote about her relationship with Coach Wright in the Columbus (Georgia) Ledger-Enquirer. In part, she said: “When I was in the 8th grade, I was scared to death to go to Central High School, and it wasn’t because the school scared me. The ladies’ basketball coach was my fear. I remember going to games in the late ‘90s and seeing coach Carolyn Wright stomp around in her coach’s box with her fancy heels and nice outfits. She scared me to death. When she became agitated, she would take off her jewelry. You didn’t want to be the referee if she had to take of her suit jacket. Someone was getting chewed out if that happened.”
“I played for coach Wright for three years,” Pederson added. “She was strict when she needed to be, but she also stood up for her players when we needed it. During one lunch break, a boy at my table hit me with his folder. It tore my top lip open. When I went to her office to get some ice, she did what any good coach would do. She forced me to tell her his name, went to the lunchroom and blessed him out. She had my back when I needed it.”
She said her coach always had the players’ best interest at heart.
“She showed tough love when I needed it as well,” she said. “If one of us twisted an ankle, coach Wright’s prescription always was a bucket of ice water. I’m certain that medicine hurt worse than the ankle rolling. And if we didn’t keep our foot in the bucket, she’d sit in our laps until it went numb. As you can imagine, we rarely complained about ankles after a few frozen buckets.”
Pedersen explained that her beloved coach teaches the lessons the students need.
“She taught me discipline, and she showed me how to be a leader. She made us better people.”
Another former player, Jimecheia Banks, shared a letter she wrote to coach Wright.
“It has been four years of play with you as my coach,” she wrote. “The years have been a great learning experience, not only from your coaching and guidance but also from the different players and assistant coaches that you’ve mentored along the way. Your positive coaching, guidance, and convincing encouragement have made a larger and more sentimental impact on my life than any other teacher or administrator I know. You’ve disciplined me with love and coached me with passion. At times you’ve had more faith in me on the floor than I’ve had in myself. You’ve always told me that God is the way to everything.
“I want to thank you for allowing me to fulfill the role as the conductor and captain on the floor as a sophomore to a senior. It was one of the most influential acts that I could ever experience growing up. I want to say thank you for molding me into a confident, God-fearing, passionate young black woman. I love you and value your life in mine. The value of the influence you’ve given me is priceless. I plan to take it into the world ahead of me to go above and beyond my limitations and exceed abundantly through Christ.”
This story originally appeared on the Alabama High School Athletic Association website.