His Own Calling

George Wright found a unique way to honor Atlanta’s sports champions

His grandfather was a Baptist minister, his father was a Baptist minister, his son Bryant is a Baptist minister and his grandson, George B. Wright III, is a Baptist minister.

So how in heaven did George Bryant Wright miss the family tradition? “I wanted to do something that would touch the lives of everyone in the Atlanta community,” he says, “particularly the young people.”

Not that Wright has avoided the church. Indeed, he was chairman of the Board of Deacons of the Second Ponce de Leon Baptist Church in Atlanta. He taught Sunday school there and chaired the fund-raising committee for the church’s magnificent Family Life Center.

Make no mistake about it; Wright – who’s now a deacon at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Sandy Springs – has touched the lives of Georgians of all denominations via that Family Life Center.

Of Wright’s many worthwhile achievements, none compares with organizing “Sports Champions of Greater Atlanta” five years ago. At first, considering the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame and the Atlanta Sports Hall of Fame, it seemed the last thing Atlanta needed was another hall of fame honoring outstanding athletes.

But Wright had something else in mind. He opted not to heap further honors on All-State, prep All-America and All-Pro athletes, but instead to recognize high school seniors in greater Atlanta who have shown a high level of excellence in the classroom as well as on the athletic fields.

Honorees include students such as Charles Bay of Wheeler High School in Marietta. Bay is an outstanding football player, but more important he maintains a 4.13 grade point average, was named to Who’s Who, is a four-year member of Wheeler’s Chamber Orchestra, teaches Sunday school and is a regular volunteer at WellStar Kennestone Hospital in Marietta.

Coaches who produced athletes with strong leadership traits – along with championship teams – are recognized as well.

Pete Higgins, who coaches at the Westminster School, says, “It is not just winning championships, it is turning out good citizens that counts.” Higgins should know – he’s been doing just that for the past 48 years.

More than 300 people turned out to honor these students and coaches at $150 per ticket at the organization’s debut banquet in 2004. The money not only covered the cost of the event, but was enough to send $5,000 to each of the neediest schools in five Metro Atlanta counties, as well as another $5,000 to needy schools in the Atlanta city system.

In 2006, Sports Champions of Greater Atlanta distributed a total of $15,000 to help under-funded schools in Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb and Gwinnett Counties.

Wright grew up in Macon, where at 5’ 11” and 170 pounds, he was a standout lineman for the Lanier High School Poets football team. He was equally adept at basketball, helping lead the Poets to a 1945 GIAA State Championship.

He received a basketball scholarship to the University of Georgia and a football scholarship to Georgia Tech. He elected to become a Yellow Jacket. It took him less than one year to learn he had made a mistake.

“I took an engineering course. It was not my cup of tea. I went to head football coach Bobby Dodd and told him I was not cut out for engineering; that I would be better suited at a college where I could major in business and marketing.

“Coach Dodd picked up the telephone in his office and called South Carolina head football coach Rex Enright. ‘He will not only make your varsity team,’ Dodd said, ‘but he will be one of your campus leaders.’”

At South Carolina, Wright played on the varsity team for three years despite a rash of injuries. He was elected president of the South Carolina student body and named to all the school’s honor societies.

Wright served in the armed forces in Europe and in Korea. Later, he came to Atlanta and spent 23 years as sales manager for Puritan Chemical Co., before founding a one-man consulting firm, which does business in all 50 states.

But of all his achievements, he is most proud of his 57-year marriage to the former Beth Fillingim and their four children, Bryant, 55; Alice, 51; Scotland, 49 and Dan Earl, 45.

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