That’s left a long-lasting impression throughout Cobb County, along with Kell’s many years of service as a coach and administrator at Wheeler High School and for the Cobb County School District.
Nearly two decades after Kell lost a seven-month battle with lung cancer, everyone still remembers him, and now those who may not have known him will learn just what he meant to so many.
Kell will be among six introduced into the Atlanta Sports Hall of Fame on Friday at the Buckhead Theatre. He will join media magnate and former Atlanta Braves and Atlanta Hawks owner Ted Turner, Braves great John Smoltz, 1980 Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers, two-time Olympic track and field gold medalist Antonio McKay and Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer Cindy Brogdon.
Kell’s image remains as visible as ever, as the namesake of Kell High School, as well as the football stadiums at Kell and Wheeler.
“It’s amazing that Corky will have been dead 19 years and the accolades keep coming,” his widow, Carole Kell, said Sunday afternoon from her east Cobb home. “I hardly go anywhere without someone telling me a Corky story. People loved him. I wasn’t surprised when (Cobb County Athletic director) Steve Jones nominated him (for the hall of fame).
“I would tell you right now what Corky would have said — ‘I’m stomping in high cotton.’”
Carole Kell remembered her husband coming up with some radical idea one night of high school football players, cheerleaders and bands performing at the newly-christened Georgia Dome, which opened in the fall of 1992. She responded by telling him, “You’re crazy. You’ll never be able to get all the kids to come.”
She remembered her husband’s response vividly.
“I’m going to try.”
Twenty-two years later, the Corky Kell Classic is as successful as ever, expanding to seven games over two days this fall.
Jimmy Dorsey, the longtime McEachern football coach who now serves as the school’s athletic director, was one of Kell’s helpers in making the season-opening football showcase become a reality.
In speaking to the MDJ in October, Dorsey said Kell’s “gift was vision.” He also described Kell as a “gentle soul that got a lot of stuff done.”
Not long before Kell’s death, Carole Kell said, former Brookwood coach Dave Hunter visited her husband in the hospital. She remembers Corky holding Hunter’s hand and saying, “Promise me you won’t let the Classic die.”
Hunter remains one of figureheads of the Corky Kell Classic, along with Dorsey.
“That’s why (Hunter) works so hard to make it happen,” Carole said. “It’s a wonderful thing.”
Looking back on 37 years of marriage and 41 years as a couple, Carole Kell relished her role as a football coach’s wife. She mowed the lawn, paid the bills and fed the kids and never complained once about Corky not having a 9-to-5 job — and then some.
Carole Kell talked endlessly of Corky’s nine seasons at Wheeler, where he went 77-25-1 with two state semifinal appearances and a trip to the state finals in 1973. Corky Kell also coached Wheeler’s girls basketball team for a time.
Having lived just 2 miles from the school, Carole Kell would walk to every home game, saying it was impossible to drive. Parking lots were filled and cars were parked up and down Holt Road.
There would be pep rallies every Friday afternoon at the Kell family’s house, and she could hear the marching band play in the distance. Cheerleaders rolled the Kells’ house every home game, and the coach’s family was proud to take the treatment.
Carole said her son, Tain, would sometimes chat with the cheerleaders from an upstairs window while they threw toilet paper, knowing he was the one that had clean-up duty the following day. It’s a discipline Tain Kell took to heart, leading him to his current post as a judge in the Cobb County Superior Court.
When Wheeler beat Marietta, its biggest rival at the time, to win the 1973 Region 5AAA title, Carole Kell tried climbing the chain-link fence at Northcutt Stadium so she could celebrate with her husband.
But she said a police officer stopped her, asking her to get down.
“I was young and stupid enough to climb that fence, and this police officer comes running toward me, and he says, ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘I’m going over this fence.’ He said, ‘No, you’re not,’ and I said, ‘Yes, I am, my husband is out there.’
“Then, he helped me over.”
Carole Kell also shared her husband’s own run-in with the police, when he and fellow coaches began painting cat claws in the middle of the street leading up to Wheeler High School’s entrance.
“He and other coaches got paint and they painted those paw prints up the street leading to the school,” she said. “The police said, ‘You can’t do that. This is public property,’ and he said, ‘We’re not (stopping).’ He was popular enough to where he was able to get by with that.”
Corky Kell’s memory still lives on, and Carole, retired after a 33-year career as a teacher and principal, is still active in many committees and organizations in Cobb County, including the YMCA Board of Directors and with WellStar, for which she helps raise money for cancer research.
She’s also involved with Kell High School, where she is a speaker at every graduation.
“I never knew Corky Kell, but I heard that he was a man of integrity, and I see those things in his wife, children and grandchildren, who are around,” Kell football coach Derek Cook said. “They are a treasure in Cobb County.”