Torrence helped build a solid bridge from the past to the future

Published 2:17 pm Thursday, March 21, 2024

By BILL PLOTT | For The AHSAA
MONTGOMERY – Escambia County Coach Cornell Torrence may have been selected to the Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame as an “old-timer,” but this forward thinking coach and teacher spent more than 40 years, changing moving the past to the present for a better future.

Cornell Torrence

A graduate from J.W. Darden High School in Opelika in 1950, Torrence, now deceased, received his bachelor’s degree from Alabama State University in 1954. He also earned a master’s degree from Troy University.

Torrence was inducted into the Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame in the Class of 2024 March 18 at the Hall of Fame induction banquet at the Montgomery Renaissance Hotel and Spa Convention Center. His son Jeff Torrence, an AHSAA Central Board member and current principal at Pike County High School, is one of 12 individuals who were inducted into 34th annual class. Also inducted were: football coaches Rick Rhoades, Phillip Lolley and Perry Swindall; football and track coach Eddie Brundidge; basketball coaches, Chucky Miller and Thomas “Mike” Boyd; baseball and football coach Ron Nelson; wrestling and football coach Dickey Wright; softball and baseball coach Chris Goodman; AHSAA administrator Kimberly Vickers; and selected from the “Old-Timers’ Division along with Torrence, was coach/administrator Frank “Swede” Kendall, who is also deceased.

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Torrence began his teaching and coaching career at Atmore’s Escambia County Training School, a member of the Alabama Interscholastic Athletic Association (AIAA), in 1956. He taught physical education and driver’s education and coached football and basketball until 1970 when integration consolidated Escambia County Training School with Escambia County High

Jeff Torrence

School. He then served Escambia County High School until 1995. In addition to his full-time teaching duties, he was an assistant football coach on the two teams that won Class 3A state championships. The 1974 team defeated Sheffield, 7-6, and the 1983 squad defeated Emma Sansom, 14-0. He also served as head basketball coach from 1974-96, winning 15 area and two regional titles. He carried two teams to the state tournament. His overall coaching record was 545-210.
Woody McCorvey, who played for Torrence at Escambia County Training School and is currently serving as Clemson University’s Chief of Football Administration, said, “He was a man of integrity and passed those traits on to his players. I have spent the past 52 years in the coaching profession, and one of the biggest reasons is because of the values I learned from Coach Torrence. He taught me the fundamentals of the game that allowed me to go on and play quarterback at Alabama State University. I could always call him to seek advice about situations in this profession. Coach Torrence transformed the lives of so many students and young athletes to become productive citizens for our country and especially the state of Alabama.”
Legendary Birmingham-Carver High School basketball coach Steve Jefferson, who was inducted into the Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame in 2015, said, “Coach Torrence’s exemplary teaching, humanitarian efforts and achievements are well known in the Atmore area. He taught and coached thousands of students while employed in Escambia County schools for 39 years. His passion for excellence was a motivating quality that inspired not only students and players but all who worked with him.  Coach Torrence possessed and often demonstrated numerous other positive attributes and traits.

“Along with his excellent interpersonal and leadership skills, I can speak personally to Coach Torrence’s influence upon his students,” Jefferson added. “As a youngster in high school, the future I envisioned for myself was limited to finishing high school and finding factory work in Mobile. Coach Torrence was an inspiring role model. It was Coach Torrence who encouraged me to become involved in sports and to continue my education at his alma mater, Alabama State University. Even as I began my own journey as a high school coach, Coach Torrence remained a wise mentor, always willing to offer support and guidance.”
After he retired from teaching in 1995, Torrence remained an active figure in the Atmore community. He took a leading role in establishing a health center in Atmore and served as director of the summer recreational program and Houston Avery Park. He advocated water safety as a lifeguard for more than 45 years. He was president of the Progressive Civic and Recreational Club and was a member of the Atmore City Council from 2009-16.

Always a teacher at heart, he taught health and physical education to inmates at Fountain Correctional Center and Holman Correctional Facility for a number of years – helping many of them prepare for and pass the GED to earn a high school diploma.

In 2010, he was named to the Atmore Area Hall of Fame. In February 2015, the Escambia County Board of Education named the Escambia County High School gymnasium in his honor. In 2018 Torrence and his wife, Mavis, were honored with the Atmore Chamber of Commerce Lifetime Achievement Award.
Their son Jeff, currently the principal at Pike County High School, was a linebacker on the University of Alabama’s 1992 national championship team.

Torrence’s granddaughter, Jaala, is a pitcher for the University of Alabama Crimson Tide women’s softball team.
Bill Plott is a veteran journalist and one of the state’s most prominent high school sports historians.