Former GHSA director Tommy Guillebeau passes away at 82

Tommy Guillebeau, the former executive director of the Georgia High School Association who was responsible for bringing high school football in the state to the Georgia Dome and putting the state football and basketball championships on television, passed away Friday night.

Guillebeau was 82.

“From my perspective of what I saw when I was a high school coach and principal, he moved the association leaps and bounds and took on some projects that were very innovative at the time’’ said Gary Phillips, the current director of the GHSA. “He significantly changed the association and brought it into the 20th century.’’

Guillebeau, who made his home in the town of Evans outside of Augusta, had been battling Alzheimer’s disease. He retired from the GHSA in 2001 after spending eight years as the association’s third executive director. Ralph Swearngin had been Gullebeau’s deputy director before taking over the top role.

“I think it all started with the fact turned the GHSA into a service organization as well as a regulatory association with Tommy,’’ said Swearngin. “Most of the state associations were there to enforce the rules and Tommy was all about rules but he always believed we need to served our people.

“He had a lot of vision with the first television contract and moving some of the football games to the Georgia Dome. He updated all of our championship events. He was also a tremendous visionary as far as the finances. He used the television money to build up a reserve so we wouldn’t have any problems or possibly have to shut if something happened.’’

Guillebeau signed the GHSA’s first television contract with WXIA-TV and in 1994 worked out a deal to bring the state football semifinals to the Georgia Dome. But he always said he felt his biggest accomplishment was bringing in a catastrophic accident insurance policy which still today covers every high school athlete in the state and is funded by the GHSA.

“In a time period when there was a huge growth and more schools, he brought in ball contracts and corporate partners,’’ added Philips, who was the principal at Forsyth High School for 15 years and also was Hershel Walker’s head coach at Wrightsville. “He really saw things from the long-range perspective.’’

Swearngin, who the organization also made tremendous strides under, remained close with Guillebeau and in 2011 was behind the idea to name the football championships after his mentor.

“I owe a tremendous depth of gratitude to him,’’ he said. “While I had officiated in the state for 20 years, a lot of people didn’t know me and he took a chance on me and mentored me. He prepared me for the working as the assistant and director.’’

Guillebeau is from Lincolnton where he played his high school football and is credited with being one of the players to begin Lincoln County’s now 50-year plus dynasty. He went on to play college ball at Presbyterian and his first coaching job came as an assistant at Warrenton High. He then went into the U.S. Army as an officer before coaching at Americus and then taking his first head coaching job at Ware County and then Tift County before going into administration and retiring from coaching and education in 1984. After spending three years in private business, he joined the GHSA under then director W.D. Fordham. The association was formed in 1946.

“Tommy was so innovative,’’ said Dave Hunter, former Brookwood head football coach and member of the GHSA executive committee. “In the old days we had to pay a hefty price to get the insurance. He used the media revenue to pay for the catastrophic insurance and I don’t know if the people in the schools today realize the tremendous accomplishment that was. It is an outstanding policy.’’

Check back for funeral arrangements.




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