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Former Player Replaces Legendary Coach in Olympic Torch Run

July 11, 1996

VALDOSTA, Ga. (AP) _ As Paul Hogan carried the Olympic torch through Valdosta on Thursday, thousands of fans cheered the memory of his coach.

Hogan, captain of the 1995 Valdosta High School football team, ran in place of former Valdosta coach Nick Hyder, who died May 16. Hyder made the school a national power with a 302-48-5 record during his career.

``To say it’s an honor is not enough,″ said Hogan, who was joined by Hyder’s widow for the final yards of his leg of the torch run. ``The amount of people that came out for the run is more than I can say. Mrs. Hyder was pleased and Coach Hyder would have been delighted with the turnout.″

``That’s the best thing that could have ever happened in Valdosta. Coach Hyder was such an awesome man, he’ll be missed,″ said Joseph Robertson, a teacher at Lomax-Pinedale School, which sent 55 children from its summer program to watch the torch run.

Robertson said he brought the children because ``there is no better example of a dream coming true than the Olympic torch.″

The crowd filled sidewalks and overflowed into the street for Hogan’s portion of the run. There were thousands of red, white and blue balloons, American flags and Olympic flags. As the torch passed them, spectators released their balloons, forming a rising wave of color flowing into the sky.

The torch also stopped at City Hall for more ceremonies. It was to spend the night in Albany. The flame is making a circuitous trip through Georgia on its way to the opening ceremonies in Atlanta on July 19.

Earlier Thursday in Tifton, a crowd of about 5,000 cheered the torch.

``It gave me chills ... This is as close as well ever get (to the Olympics),″ said Sandy Hudgins of nearby Brookfield, who was holding her 3-month-old baby.

At least one runner wasn’t sprinting.

``It was just a great experience to be able to do this. I tried to go slow and save the movement,″ said Nancy Mark, Tifton High School softball and soccer coach.