January 15, 2013

Danny Day: Murray school surprises ex-principal, names gym in his honor

By Christopher Smith

— For most, Jan. 14 will probably be nothing more than Jan. 14.

For many people associated with Bagley Middle School, it will always be “Danny Harkleroad Day.”

It’s the day that Harkleroad, a retired 51-year educator and former Bagley Middle principal, walked into the school gym and began crying when he saw its new name. Above the basketball court on a large banner, yellow letters now proclaim: “Dr. Danny Harkleroad Gymnasium.”

“I can never express my appreciation for this,” Harkleroad said between tears. “I love you, guys. I love you, students. I wish I could see you more. I don’t know what more to say. This is such a great honor to me and it’s something I’ll cherish and remember forever.”

Murray County Sole Commissioner Brittany Pittman made “Danny Harkleroad Day” official at a dedication ceremony Monday night.

“I just want to thank Dr. Harkleroad for all his years of service,” she said at the dedication. “I’m just surprised everyone kept the secret.”

To keep the secret, Harkleroad was told to come to a ceremony honoring Kara Leonard, a physical education teacher, for her upcoming induction to the North Georgia College and State University Athletic Hall of Fame. That was true, said Leonard, who will be added to the college’s hall of fame on Feb. 23 for her time on the North Georgia girls softball team. But as a former Bagley student under Harkleroad, Leonard was more interested in remembering Harkleroad’s time as principal.

“He always told us, ‘This is a special place for special people,’” Leonard said. “I wrote a poem that went into the yearbook (on June, 3, 1991) titled, ‘A Special Place For Special People’ because I remembered Dr. Harkleroad saying that all the time — it was ingrained in us that we were special. I remember his encouragement when I started here as a eighth-grader — back when Bagley first opened.”

That was 1989, said principal Spencer Gazaway.

“Dr. Harkleroad will always be the founding principal of this middle school,” Gazaway said. “Students and staff here are always talking about how much he means to Bagley. That’s why he did this. We just wanted to do something special for him. We wanted to surprise him.”

Harkleroad said he was “beyond surprised.”

“When I first turned around and saw my name on the wall in the gym ... I can’t tell you how that felt,” he added. “When I started as a football coach in a coal mining town in St. Paul, Va., the head coach (Jim Riggs) said, ‘Danny, you’re going to make a big impact on kids.’ He impacted me. And so I always tried to do that to others.”

And he succeeded, said Daphne Winkler, another former student of Harkleroad’s and Bagley Middle’s assistant principal.

“The kids can tell you firsthand,” she said. “Dr. Harkleroad is just an encouraging person. He has the way about him that makes you want to do better. All the kids here want to be better people because of him.”

Savannah Satterfield, a seventh-grader, said she’s one of those kids.

“I was in the gym when I first met him — in PE,” she said. “I thought he was really stern looking and I thought he might be a grumpy person, but when I talked to him I realized he was one of the nicest people ever. I wish he would stay here.”

He will, even if he’s no longer principal, Harkleroad said.

“I’ll still come to all the games, Murray County High School games, Bagley Middle games, North Murray High School games,” Harkleroad promised. “I’ll come to all of them. I love this school system.”