FARMINGTON, W.Va. — Over 40 years after the passing of Nick Saban Sr., communities of northern Marion County still feel the impact and lessons of the legacy that he left behind.
That legacy was commemorated Wednesday when North Marion High School dedicated its new Husky Weight Room in honor of the late Nick Saban Sr.
“My dad was a Pop Warner coach in Marion County for a long time, and I think the reason that he coached was that he was a teacher and he wanted to inspire learning and help people be more successful in life,” Nick Saban Jr. said in a video presented during the dedication ceremony. “I think he would be very proud of the fact that the weight room at North Marion High School would be named in his honor, and we’re very pleased and proud to be able to create an opportunity for other young people to be able to use these resources to have a better chance to be successful for their team.”
Nick Saban Jr. and his wife, Terry, donated $11,000 to North Marion High School for equipment and construction of the new weight room.
His sister, Dianna Thompson, was particularly touched to see so many come out and honor her father’s memory, over 40 years since his death.
“It’s wonderful. I mean, we lived it, so we know it and we remember it, but when you see other people that remember it, it just magnifies everything,” Thompson said. “It makes me sad that some of the young kids didn’t get to know him.”
Thompson’s children are a few of those who never got to personally witness Nick Saban Sr.’s coaching and life lessons before his passing in 1973.
One of Thompson’s daughters would ride the bus with Nick Sr. when he would pick up student athletes in Four States, Hutchinson and Worthington, but to this day says her memories exist because of what others have told her.
“That’s the one thing that’s really sad for me is that none of my children really got to know my dad, but a little bit of him lives on in the rest of us, so we just try to do the best we can to help others,” she said.
Both of the elder Saban’s children have been helping others for the past 36 years, Thompson through teaching and Saban following in his father’s footsteps as a coach.
“He’s just an extension of what dad was, and hopefully I’m a little bit of an extension, too,” she said.
The younger Saban, a well-known and well-respected coach of his own right at the University of Alabama, said he and his wife are proud to be able to give back to the community where they both grew up.
“A lot of the lessons that we learned, the principles and values that helped us be successful in life, are things that we learned growing up in Marion County,” he said. “Things like hard work, discipline, commitment to a standard of excellence, being able to overcome adversity. All these things came from our involvement in team sports.”
Giving back to the area Saban hasn’t called home for nearly 40 years is another way Thompson feels her brother is carrying their father’s legacy on.
“I think he’s just rooted here. It’s where we learned everything that made us what we are today, and you can’t ever get away from that,” she said. “His roots are still here, and it’s still very important to him that he help the people here … I think his purpose is just to help young people, wherever they are, but to him, it’s special here because that’s where his roots are.”
Head football coach Daran Hays said the new facility will significantly improve efficiency for not only his team, but all athletic teams at North Marion High School.
“When I started here in 2009, we’d have eight to 10, sometimes 12 kids in the weight room in the spring,” Hays said. :Now, we’re in the 30s in the winter, 40s in the spring and then when we’re in the season, we’re in the 60s, so the efficiency is just through the roof.”
Hays said teams are able to get twice the amount of work done in only half the time.
“I think that’s the key to things,” he said. “We can be in and out in less than 60 minutes and still have time for speed and agility.”
Having the facility named for an area icon who gave so much to the community’s athletics is a huge added bonus, Hays said.
“Obviously the kids know a lot about Nick Jr. because he’s all over the media,” he said. “Doing some research, reading some of Coach Saban’s books, watching a lot of his interviews and what not, I know what Nick Sr. meant to the community, how he got football started in the area, especially youth football.
“We started to see a huge growth, not only from Monongah High School with those state championships in the late 60s, early 70s, but then also Mannington kind of took off following that because it became an arm’s race,” he said.
Hays said North Marion’s football program can also give credit to the elder Saban for their successes.
“Our early state championships here at North Marion probably stem from the early successes of our youth football organizations at Idamay and also at Mannington,” he said. “We’ve really been fortunate to really run two awesome programs.”
With many of today’s current athletes being former Black Diamonds from Idamay and Mannington, Hays said it’s even more special for those students.
“To commemorate him and the time and effort that he put into getting that program up and started is really cool for our kids. Their roots run deep a little bit too,” he said. “You hope to teach them a little work ethic, hard work and that grittiness that those teams possessed.”
As many shared their own personal stories of Nick Saban Sr. as a coach, a friend or simply someone they admired, Thompson said it’s almost as if she has a community of siblings, all taught the same life lessons from the same man.
“When we worked with the Black Diamonds, that was the thing that was so enjoyable is that there were so many parents of the children playing for the Black Diamonds who had actually played for my dad,” she said. “They knew what it was like when he was there, and they helped us raise money, they helped us work hard and they helped us make sure that those children had that same kind of experience even though dad wasn’t there any longer.
“It was easy to draw from what they had learned from him and what we had learned from him, and we all worked together then to try to instill those things in that new generation of children.”