Padgett: Anthony Lee will be remembered as a 'Warhorse legend'

Ty Roush
Black Mountain News
Owen High School athletic director Anthony Lee announced his decision to retire prior to a home win over Avery County High School.

Nathan Padgett first remembers Anthony Lee as his coach, then a co-worker, and now as a friend.

Lee was an assistant coach at the school prior to a five-year stint teaching and coaching in McDowell County. Their relationship is different now, with Padgett finishing his sixth year as the school’s head football coach and Lee as an offensive coordinator.

Lee hasn’t changed much since 1990, Padgett said.

“I only had one year with him and he was an assistant, but he was about the same as he is today,” Padgett said. “I really haven’t seen much of a change. Very passionate about the game. Very passionate about building relationships with players, and he’s a fierce competitor.”

Owen received close to 40 applications for the head coach slot once Kenny Ford, who led the Warhorses to a school-record 230 wins and 14 conference championships in 29 years, decided to retire in 2015.

Padgett had interviewed with Lee, his former coach, to replace the head coach he played under in Ford.

“We had a great conversation,” Padgett said. “(Lee) has been almost a tradition at Owen for so many years, so it was really an honor and a privilege to be able to coach with him the past six years.”

In the decision to hire Padgett, Lee described Padgett as “an outstanding person” and “someone who is ready to lead our kids.”

“Nathan is ready for this, and one of my jobs will be helping him get settled,” Lee said in 2015.

Following Lee’s decision to retire, Padgett says Lee will be hard to replace.

“In my opinion, coach Lee is going to go down in the books as a Warhorse legend,” Padgett said. “The things that he’s done for our school and our community and our athletes, his shoes are going to be hard to replace.”

Next steps

Lee doesn’t have a “perfect” answer as to why he decided to retire.

“I don’t know,” Lee said. “Other than looking for the next adventure of my life and looking for, I would say, more time to spend time with family is probably the best thing I could say.”

Retirement “is just for me,” he adds. “I feel like I’ve done my time. I’ve put in my time and I’ve cherished every minute of it. I’m just ready for change.”

Having worked as an athletic director navigating COVID-19 protocols, Lee’s position became more time-consuming, requiring him to be at more school events to ensure the school was following each required guideline.

In his 30 years of working in McDowell County and at Owen, Lee said he has been appreciative of every student, athlete and co-worker he has developed a relationship with.

Lee served as Owen's offensive coordinator and head baseball coach.

“It’s been a joy watching them work for four years at Owen High School to become the best they can be and watch them represent a high school at the highest optimal level,” Lee said. “I just appreciate that I had to work with any of them.”

He does remember 2005 as being a “very remarkable year for me,” leading Owen’s baseball team to its first state championship appearance since 1994.

Every other team and athlete, including a stint with four-straight championships with track and field, is just as important for Lee.

“Even though I may have coached some different teams that did not have that success, it doesn’t take away from how important they are in my life as well,” Lee said.

Especially if the students he’s coaching are now the children of former students.

“I've been around for quite a long time and I’ve had an opportunity coaching many of these parents as children,” he said. “And now, to kind of let you know when you're getting old now, you're coaching some of their kids.”

Following the upcoming baseball season, Lee said he’s looking forward to working more in the community that welcomed him 30 years earlier.

“I’m very thankful for the community in their support of Owen athletics, and I’m not necessarily saying in support of me, but I’m just very thankful that I live in a community and was able to work in a community that … has been very supportive,” he said.

‘For coach Lee’

Padgett held a football in the air, encircled by Owen’s varsity football team with Lee on the group’s outer edge. A 50-43 win over Avery High School was for Lee, who had announced his retirement earlier that week.

“This one is for coach Lee,” Padgett said before handing the ball to Lee.

Padgett had walked into the locker room earlier that day and ensured Lee was not around before telling his team that the game that night was to honor the longtime coach.

“He’s given a lot of time and a lot of time and energy to our program,” Padgett said. “When you look at the things that he’s done, and the people that he’s impacted and their lives over the years, is tremendous.”

“All I’ve ever asked of you is give me your best,” Lee said. “We may not have played our best, but you gave me your best and that’s all I’ve ever asked for.”

In Lee’s absence, Padgett looks ahead to new challenges.

“I’m very honored to call him a coach, a co-worker, but most importantly, a friend,” Padgett said.