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A large crowd gathered Wednesday night inside East Hardin Middle School gymnasium to celebrate and honor the life and teaching career of Brent Wagoner, an assistant principal and boys’ basketball coach at East Hardin.
Wagoner, 45, died March 8.
The crowd, made up of Wagoner’s former students, athletes, faculty, friends and family members including his parents, Charles and Doris Wagoner, filled the bleachers of the gym. One wall was covered with posters of Wagoner’s sayings and personal notes left by students.
Photos of Wagoner flashed on two screens in the gymnasium, where he coached dozens of games.
“Many of our lives were touched and changed by Brent Wagoner,” Principal Dan Lockwood said in his introductory remarks.
“(Wagoner) touched lives and taught students. He opened his heart to those he helped. The Lord touched him and he touched others,” said Brother Mike Bell, who led a prayer at the memorial.
Other teachers and administrators shared tales of their years working with Wagoner, but all said how much they will miss him and know he is in a better place.
As he addressed the audience, former teacher and current school board member Mike Kinney quoted Wagoner: “Make it better because you’re better.”
Former East Hardin Principal Buddy Connelly said he “wanted to hire Brent on the spot” during his interview for a teaching position, noting Wagoner wanted to teach special education and was willing to be a coach “even though the navy blue suit was a little large for his frame.”
Connelly, now retired and spending much of his time at the lake, said he was headed back to his boat immediately after the service.
“I am going to the houseboat, sit on the deck and toast Brent Wagoner with a Coors Lite. Jimmy Buffett will be playing softly in the background and I’ll shed a tear,” Connelly said at the conclusion of his speech.
“Brent’s up there playing in the sand, riding bicycles and having a big time,” said Otha Ray Stearman, another former teacher who worked with Wagoner for 20 years.
Stearman said he and Wagoner had a trip to Florida planned for later this year. They have taken several such trips. Wagoner will be missed, especially when they go to dine at the Lazy Flamingo, Wagoner’s favorite restaurant, Stearman said.
He got plenty of chuckles from the crowd as he recalled the many pranks he and Wagoner played on their fellow teachers. He closed his remarks about his friend, saying “the last prank you pulled was on me. I’ll miss you forever.”
A video presentation of past and present students speaking about Wagoner played on the screens with many saying one profound thing of the beloved teacher: “He’s the best.”
Lockwood, in closing, said he had the “great privilege of hiring Brent Wagoner as assistant principal. I told him he would have to wear a tie most days and he would have to wear socks every day,” bringing laughs from the audience.
Lockwood said a scholarship is being established in Wagoner’s name through the Central Kentucky Community Foundation.
To preserve the legacy of Wagoner’s coaching years, Lockwood said the East Hardin gymnasium would be named in his honor with a formal celebration and dedication taking place at the first boys’ home game next year.
Neal Cardin can be reached at 270-505-1753 or firstname.lastname@example.org.