Jackie Bradford’s road to the Atlanta Sports Hall of Fame began on the campus of Lipscomb University.
As a basketball player he excelled at Lipscomb, serving as co-captain and earning MVP honors in both of his two years with the Bisons. During the 1964-65 season he set a school record for both points in a game (37) and rebounds in a game (28) against Birmingham-Southern. During the 1965-66 season he broke his own scoring record with 38 points against Birmingham-Southern. As a senior he also earned honorable mention as an NAIA All-American.
But it was coaching the game of basketball where he truly excelled. At David Lipscomb High School he coached the boy’s varsity basketball team from 1967-68 after spending part of the previous season working with the junior varsity.
Frank Bennett, who ended a 32-year coaching career with Lipscomb women’s basketball this spring to accept a position as associate athletic director, has vivid memories of that season.
“He came in my sophomore year on the B team and then was the varsity coach my junior year.” Bennett said. “He was very demanding. He had a love for the game. He pushed players to give their very, very best.
“We practiced in McQuiddy before the college team. Bill Burton, who was playing for the college team, watched us practice. He talked about how much harder we practiced than they did. He said he was almost embarrassed to go out and practice after seeing what we did.”
Bradford outlined his expectations for the program ranging from practice attitude to pregame meal menus in an extensive handbook he entitled “Mustang Food”.
“Jackie was very organized,” Bennett said. “He obviously had a great vision. He gave an all-out effort and he demanded that from his players. I remember how hard his practices were. Some guys were turned off by that approach but I loved basketball. I thought it was great.
“We didn’t have the won-loss success that we would have liked. But I think he influenced me as a coach a lot just by his intensity and his approach to the game.”
Bradford explained that he really had no plans to coach basketball. He had expected to become a history teacher at the college, but a coaching change was made at the high school and he was asked to fill in. He points to Bennett, Paul Compton, Ernie Smith, Cooper Wood and Lee Mayo as the reasons he decided to become a basketball coach instead of a history professor. All five have been coaches at some point in their careers.
“I made a lot of mistakes,” Bradford said. “I was right out of college. I took the job somewhat reluctantly because I didn’t plan to coach.
“But it was such a joy to work with them. I told them that none of the other years would have been possible had I not had a positive and pleasant experience working with them. They taught me what an experience I could make working with young people.”
After that one season with the David Lipscomb High school team, Bradford returned to his home state of Georgia where he served from 1968 to 1982 as heads boys basketball coach at Greater Atlanta Christian School. He also served a variety of administration roles at the school ranging from assistant principal to Executive Vice President/High School Principal until 1983.
At Greater Atlanta Christian his record was 253-82 with three Georgia state championships.
“You can see his success at Greater Atlanta Christian,” Bennett said. “I wasn’t surprised. He was totally, 100 percent focused on what he was doing.
“He taught us we had to work really hard at what we were doing to be successful. We had to believe in ourselves and what we were doing to be successful.”
Bradford has been involved in a number of sports projects in Atlanta including the Atlanta Tipoff Club, hospitality committees for both the NCAA Final Four and the NBA All-Star game and the Atlanta Olympic committee.
He will be inducted into the Atlanta Hall of Fame on June 9 in Roswell, Ga.
“It is a great honor,” Bradford said. “To be included with so many great people who have achieved at such high levels is a little bit intimidating. I don’t know whether or not I am deserving, but I am certainly appreciative of that honor.”