Paul Gay, a longtime Lee County High School Yellow Jackets football head coach who led the team to multiple championships in the 1960s and 70s, died on Wednesday. He was 90.
Gay served as head football coach from 1960, when the school was still known as Sanford Central High School, through the early 1980s. He led the team to multiple state championships, including at least two years in which the team was undefeated. He also coached other sports and served for a time as athletic director for the school. The football stadium at Lee County High School is named in his honor.
“If he was your coach and he said you could be all state, you were all state,” said local attorney Norman “Chip” Post Jr., who played for Gay in 1971 and 1972. “He just had that much respect and influence.”
Post said Yellow Jacket football was “a big deal” during Gay’s tenure.
“That stadium was packed out every Friday night,” he said. “Coach Gay had a big influence on a lot of kids.”
Longtime former Yellow Jacket baseball coach Charlie Spivey played for Gay and went on to coach alongside him early in his career. But he knew him for much longer before that.
“My dad drove the activity bus for all the sports then, so I would go to football practice and watch him when I was 10 or 11,” Spivey said. “I was really in awe. He was way ahead of his time, and his film sessions were legendary. We probably knew more about the other team than they did themselves.”
Spivey is retired from coaching but still looks after the facilities at Lee County High School. He said seeing Gay’s name on the football stadium has always been a reminder of his greatness.
“When I mow that football field, I look up and see his name and it always brings back memories,” he said. “Now that he’s gone, it’ll mean so much more.”
A memorial service is scheduled for 3 p.m. Saturday at St. Luke United Methodist Church. The family will greet friends in the Davenport Christian Life Center from 1 to 2:45 p.m. before the service.
Rest In Peace …
Coach , forever..
Prayers to the family..
He will be dearly missed.
I meet coach and jean summer 1960 Ben Avent and I unloaded their furniture when 1st moved to Sangord
Rest in Peace Coach Gay you will truly be missed sending prayers to your family and friends
I spent many Friday nights in the stadium with cheering crowds and good friends. Coach Gay always made us feel like we were at the Super Bowl! We were lucky to have him.
Coach, mentor and friend!! Rest in peace. Prayers to the family.
RIP a wonderful loving coach to all . Love Wade Lynn Womack and family. Class of 75.
My brother, Joe Dawson, idolized Coach Gay and they remained friends for Years. Joe has expressed his thoughts of what a special man, mentor, and friend Coach Gay was to him and many other young athletes in Sanford.
My brother, Joe Dawson, idolized Coach Gay and they remained friends for years. Joe has expressed that Coach Gay was a tremendous coach, mentor, and example to him and to many other young athletes in Sanford.
Emmanuel Grier coach Gay will be truly missed.. Coach was a good person on and off the field. I will be praying for his family.
To have been coached by Paul Gay was to have been coached by one of the great ones. His quiet words were like commands from on high. He seldom let anger show, just a look from his eyes was enough.
Coach Gay had a rare ability to bring out the best in his players and helped them to be better players and better people . He has been one of Sanford’s and North Carolina’s treasures . My cousin, Joe Dawson , thought the world of him and always had the most respect for him and always shared stories and fond memories of time spent with Coach Gay, I am sure Coach Gay had a profound effect on his life just as he had on so many peoples’ lives that passed through the halls of Sanford Central High School /Lee County High School. He will be missed by many people . My heart goes out to all of the family .
Just learned of Coach Gay’s passing. I grew up in Rockingham, but met Coach Gay at a football camp in ’70. Clearly a special man. I would look him up before Jackets vs Rockets/Raiders games. He always had time to say hello. I know he will be missed.