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David Diamont had just graduated from Wake Forest, when Alex Gibbs picked him up in a driver education car.

The pair drove to Mount Airy, where Gibbs, entering his final season leading the Granite Bears' football program, took him to watch the team's workouts that summer in 1968. Diamont would join the staff as an assistant in charge of offensive and defensive ends and lead the JV program that year. 

And that's when he crossed paths with a young Jerry Hollingsworth, then the offensive line coach, who took the reins of the Granite Bears the next year and etched himself into high school football lore in Surry County. Diamont remained as an assistant through 1976, leaving to become head coach at East Surry, the first of two, long stints in his 38 seasons as a head coach.

"Jerry … he never berated anybody," said Diamont, whose coached for five seasons at Mount Airy after Hollingsworth resigned in 1990. "He always was a teacher. He always was a positive influence. I learned a lot of football under Jerry — he was calm.

"He pushed 'em, but he didn't belittle them. And he didn't want any credit for anything. He just went about doing what he thought was the right thing to do."

According to Diamont, now the South Stokes coach, he learned how to block in a fullback trap from Hollingsworth — a scheme he still keeps in his playbook.

Hollingsworth, who began a coaching and teaching career in Mount Airy in 1966, died March 25 at age 76. He amassed a 177-70-1 record as the football program's second-winningest coach.

A coach. An athletics director. A drivers education instructor. Hollingsworth did it all at Mount Airy, and left an impression in that town according to his son, John.

John Hollingsworth, 49, is a Mount Airy grad and was the quarterback under his father in the 1986 and 1987 seasons. His younger brother, Joel, followed  — his senior year being Hollingsworth's last leading the Granite Bears before Diamont took over.

"We're a small community in Mount Airy, but we're a proud community" said John Hollingsworth, who said he thinks his father died of heart failure. "And part of that, I think, was resembled in the teams that the high school had, the school itself, and the success of the program that dad built.

"There wasn't anybody at any time that we couldn't go out in town and run into someone that either knew dad from school or played for dad. And they all had a story to tell."

Kelly Holder noted Hollingsworth was "legendary" at Mount Airy even during those seasons he played quarterback at North Surry from 1985 to 1987, before moving on to play at Elon.

He wasn't a head coach long, all of four seasons at Surry Central, when he got an unexpected phone call in spring 1999. Holder was a "North Surry boy," and Mount Airy was the one place he didn't look to venture in his career. If Hollingsworth were to call, however, he would listen.

It's story Holder, who stepped down at Mount Airy in 2018 having passed Hollingsworth in career wins by compiling a 195-61 record, repeatedly described. He admitted he was slightly intimidated during that initial conversation. Hollingsworth was a big figure at the time, he said.

Holder recalled those discussions over the years in Hollingsworth's office. That included advice on coaching Holder's sons, Logan and Ian, who, like Hollingsworth's sons, were quarterbacks.

He said his last conversation with Hollingsworth occurred at a girls basketball game at Mount Airy this season. Hollingsworth's granddaughter, Kylie, a sophomore, played on varsity with the Granite Bears.

"He also talked with me about, not our best players, but those players that didn't get to play a lot or players that were backups — or maybe weren't the stars," Holder recalled. "About how important that they were to the team and the program.

"That every kid had value. That always stuck with me."

Doug McDaniel, a 1973 graduate from Mount Airy who began work more than a decade ago as the Granite Bears' athletics historian, said Hollingsworth was unaware of his career record. McDaniel had to tell him, adding those details weren't pertinent to the longtime coach.

And McDaniel remembered an exchange with Hollingsworth in 2008 near the field house at Wallace Shelton Stadium, named for Mount Airy's five-time state championship coach. Holder and the Granite Bears went on to claim the Class 1-A championship that season.

"After about three or four games into the season our paths crossed," McDaniel recalled. "He said, 'Hey Doug.' And I look up and see Coach Hollingsworth. He says, 'Have you seen this team play?'

"I said, 'Every game, Coach.' And he says, 'They're truly special.' … He knew, and he was so excited for Coach Holder and all the other coaches that went through Mount Airy."

Tommy Morrison, the Voice of the Granite Bears since 2005 on WPAQ, said Hollingsworth, who was an inaugural inductee to the Surry County Sports Hall of Fame in 2006 along with names like Shelton, continued a rich tradition of football at Mount Airy. According to Morrison, Hollingsworth even taught drivers education for his two sons, Eli, a sophomore at Mount Airy, and Kaleb, a senior. John Hollingsworth said his father finally retired from instructing months ago.

Hollingsworth left an imprint on a community and its gridiron. Diamont noted that the team's logo on its uniform hasn't changed. Its "MA" lettering remains synonymous.

"It may not be significant to many people but, when the helmet remains the same, over a period of 30 or 40 years, it's a signal to the community that all is well," Diamont said. "There have been so many people whose children and grandchildren have played at Mount Airy High School.

"And Jerry's program lives on."

pferlise@wsjournal.com

@PatrickFerlise

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