Albertville High School Principal Paul McAbee was following his normal pregame routine before Friday night’s home finale against Arab when AHS Assistant Principal Caleb Pinyan interrupted him.
“Especially on game nights, I have a one-track mind of making sure everything’s ran correctly, and Caleb Pinyan, one of my assistant principals, came up to me right after senior night and said we’ve got to get on the field,” McAbee said.
“So I turned and went with him, and I said, ‘Is there a problem,’ and he said we’ve got to get down there in a hurry. I thought somebody had passed out. So we get on the field and then I realized something’s not right, and I look down and I see my daughter (Danza May) standing down there and my wife (Karen) and my son-in-law (David May).”
Pinyan and his fellow assistant principals, Deidra Tidwell and Tyler Reeves, along with Albertville Superintendent of Education Ric Ayer and others helped deliver a terrific surprise for McAbee by retiring his No. 66 Aggie football jersey.
It was a stirring tribute to McAbee, a 1974 AHS graduate who has served his alma mater as teacher, assistant football coach, head football coach, assistant principal and principal since coming home from Douglas in 1988.
McAbee is retiring in December after spending the last 13 years as principal.
John Hannah and the late Charley Pell are the only other Aggies who have had their jerseys retired.
“I was caught totally offguard,” McAbee said. “I’ve had people say, ‘Well, I heard about something (before Friday),' but I didn’t hear about anything.
“I come to work every day and do what I do up here and usually go to some sporting event or go home. I didn’t know anything.
“Obviously, I was taken aback by my daughter showing up. I had talked to her an hour before and she told me she was in Jacksonville, Florida, where she lives. My wife and I both were shocked over that. The whole night was a shock.
“I feel very blessed and honored. I’m not sure I deserved all that, but I do feel very blessed to have had opportunities to work here.”
Tyler May, who serves as Aggie Stadium’s public address announcer, arranged another surprise for McAbee by inviting Casey Motter to serve as guest announcer. Motter is the Atlanta Braves’ PA man at Turner Field.
“I’m a huge Braves fan, and I got to meet Casey at halftime,” McAbee said. “I told him the only thing I really wished they would’ve done different is play ‘Crazy Train’ at the introduction. Chipper Jones might’ve shown up.”
McAbee is the second-winningest football coach in Aggie history behind his coach, the late Vernon Wells.
McAbee’s 1992 Aggie team was the first from Marshall County to win a state playoff game. His 1994 squad enjoyed a 7-0 start, and his 1996, 1997 and 1998 teams won the Marshall County championship. He posted an 8-1 record against archrival Boaz from 1990-98.
“I’ve been extremely, extremely blessed,” McAbee said. “I have been blessed with tons of opportunities in my life.
“Wayne Trimble hired me at Arab and didn’t know me from Adam’s housecat. He was a tremendous, tremendous influence on my coaching career and how you treat people.
“Butch Ferguson gave me a job at Douglas. James Tidmore gave me the head-coaching job here when probably there might have been better prospects at that time than me, but he believed in me and I won’t ever forget that, and then Rob Sparkman gave me the principal’s job.
“I just feel really blessed and blessed to have a good family. Lord knows, my wife, having been a coach’s wife … you know, having to sit in the stands year after year through the good and the bad.
“I’m not sure why I’ve been so blessed but I have been.”