Originally published Nov. 18 by The Auburn Villager.
By Ian Bivona
A lifelong Auburn resident, LaDextric Oliver has spent years giving back to youth and his community in his own way — through mentoring children both in the classroom and in athletics.
Now, his work has been honored by becoming a recipient of the annual Mayor’s Lamplighter Awards.
Oliver, for his part, took the honor in stride.
“I’ve always considered myself kind of a ‘behind-the-scenes’ guy. I just show up and do my thing,” Oliver said. “You never think you’re going to get recognized by somebody like the mayor.
“I couldn’t tell you who nominated me or anything like that, but it was just pretty shocking, especially when you think about some of the people you’re up there with.”
Oliver is a physical education teacher at Wrights Mill Road Elementary School and also serves as the running backs coach for Auburn High School. To go along with that, he is the head coach of Auburn High track and field.
“I always want a really positive environment around myself. I try to create that,” Oliver said. “I want the kids to have fun when we’re around and to enjoy what we do.”
The Auburn native had a humble beginning to his coaching career, spending his own money to travel with the team and book hotel rooms for track meets. That changed when Dan Norton, then-coach of Auburn High track and field and current athletic director for Auburn City Schools, reached out to Oliver and offered him a position as a physical education teacher at Wrights Mill Road.
“At that time, I was working at Kmart, hadn’t gone back to school, and had been at Kmart for about five years or so — and had never worked with a child a day in my life outside of just doing a little volunteer coaching,” Oliver said. “I just stepped out on faith; I just decided to give it a shot.”
“The people that were here at Wrights Mill Road kind of started pushing me to go back to school,” Oliver said. “They believed in me, and some of those people are still here to this day.”
With his degree Oliver was then able to officially become a coach, beyond the volunteer work that he had been doing in the past.
“Once I was in the school system, I was officially a coach, and I can actually get paid for coaching,” Oliver said. “And I’ve been there ever since.”
The 2021 Lamplighter Award hasn’t been the only time that Oliver’s work has been recognized by his peers: he also was named the 2020 Teacher of the Year at Wrights Mill Road, an award that Oliver earned by upholding "the standard that they set here."
“I feel like iron sharpens iron, and I told my resource team here at the school and these teachers here that I feel like I’m just trying to keep up with them,” Oliver said. “I feel like we have a really, really good staff here at Wrights Mill Road. The administration is awesome, and I just don’t want to be the weak link.”
With his opportunities as a coach, Oliver has been given the chance to give back to the community that he’s lived in all his life.
“That’s big, you know,” Oliver said. “This place has changed a lot. When you drive downtown, there’s a lot of people in the town and the school is changing so much. I mean, we’re not even on the same campus anymore. But it’s great to see something that you were a part of grow into something even bigger than you could ever think it was.”
Oliver takes pride in the work that he has done both in teaching and being a coach as well.
“To be a part of all of these state championships in track, and I’ve been lucky enough to go to both state championships in school history — you know, I know what it’s like to play at the Duck,” Oliver said. “I know what it means in my heart to beat your rivals — the Centrals, the Smith Stations and the Opelikas. I’ve sat in those same stands as a kid and watched games.
“To be a person that once wore that ‘A’ for Auburn High, and now I get to coach it, is an extremely emotional thing at times.”