REMEMBERING ALBERT HARTWELL: Sharp-dressed man, former W-M coach known as class act
Longtime high school basketball coach Albert Hartwell, who led Washington-Marion to the Class 4A state championship in 2017, died Wednesday night of natural causes. He was 72.
Hartwell coached W-M from 2009-20. He also coached at Vinton, Bernice, Carroll, Jonesboro-Hodge and Arcadia compiling a career record of 765-403. He will be honored when W-M hosts Carroll tonight. Hartwell led each school to state championships.
“On behalf of the Washington-Marion Magnet High School administration, faculty and staff, we would like to send our sincere sympathy and condolences to the family, loved ones, and acquaintances of Coach Albert Hartwell,” W-M Principal Ronnie Harvey said.
“Coach Hartwell was a great ambassador for the brand of Washington-Marion and had a heart for everyone who wore the green and gold. Coach Hartwell will always be remembered for not only bringing a state championship to our athletic department but also for positively impacting the hundreds of lives of those who he taught and coached.
“I will always treasure our friendship as we had the opportunity to work together as coaches but also together when I became an administrator. When I became principal he would always say ‘Well, you are are the boss man now young man.’ He was always very supportive of any decision that I made. He was a very wise man; his stories were always genuine, authentic and relatable.
“I truly appreciate the time we got to spend at Washington-Marion moving students forward, onward and upward.”
Current W-M head coach Robert Palmer was an assistant under Hartwell.
“When I walked on campus, the first thing he said to me was ‘You are family and anything you need just let me know,'” Palmer said. “He was a great friend, father and mentor to me and many other people throughout the state. He showed me how to be a statesman in this game and life. I will truly miss him.”
Before entering the coaching ranks, Hartwell played at Grambling State under legendary Tigers head coach Fred Hobdy, who required players to wear suits on road trips and bought Hartwell his first suit. Soon after Hartwell began coaching, mentor Ray Earl Bradley told him looking good was important.
Hartwell became known for wearing flashy suits for big games, often in the colors of the opposing team. At W-M, students and fans often approached him near the team bench to take pictures.
Behind the scenes, Hartwell had an easy-going manner that garnered respect from players and fellow coaches. During the summer he opened the school gym to players from all schools.
“He had an honest approach,” said Rick Lebato, former head coach at St. Louis Catholic. “We never signed contracts when we played, he would just work it out.
“We spoke for about 45 minutes Wednesday, laughing and talking about how hard it was to win a state championship and some of our misses. He had confidence and was a great player when he was young. He would dress in our blue and orange. It was his way of acknowledging your school.”
Hamilton Christian Academy head coach Dexter Hamilton said Hartwell always had a sharp sense of humor, dating to their college days at Grambling. After beating Woodlawn-Shreveport in the state semifinals, Hartwell called former Grambling teammate Terry Sykes, the uncle of Woodlawn head coach Kenny Sykes, from Burton Coliseum.
“He told him ‘I beat your nephew, that was a youngster trying to beat an old veteran,'” Washington said. “He and Terry were best friends. He was the same jokester at Grambling, a big-time trash talker. And even back then he always dressed with style.”
Rick Hickman / American Press
Rick Hickman / American Press