Georgia House of Representative Edward “Mickey” Stephens died on August 14 after an extended illness. The Savannah native was 77 years old.
While many remember Stephens for his political career, many recall him as a educator, coach and mentor.
Stephens taught in the Savannah Chatham County public school system for 32 years, starting in 1971, serving at Hubert and Shuman Middle Schools and Richard Arnold and Savannah High Schools. One person who knew Stephens well was his longtime assistant Lovdy Heller.
Heller said she learned a lot from Stephens and added that over time he became more than a coach to her. “He was like a brother,” she stated.
Heller said she met Stephens while they were teaching at Hubert and joined his coaching staff around 1984 or 85 and served under him until 1998. “We were still close and would still call each other to talk.”
Stephens was not only a mentor to Heller but a father figure to her daughter, Thandi Lee. “He got my daughter started in keeping the game books in basketball when she was in the ninth grade at Savannah High.”
One of Stephens’ best teams at Savannah High was the 1990 squad that finished the year with a 22-6 record and made it to the Class AAAA Sweet Sixteen. That team featured players such as LaChan Rodriquez, Johnnie Mae Brinson and Mildred and Theresa Burroughs. Rodriquez went on to play at Savannah State University while Mildred Burroughs continued her playing career at UNC-Charlotte.
Longtime Savannah High coach and athletics director Tim Jordan also remembers Stephens.
The pair served as football assistants for the Blue Jackets as well as heading up the SHS basketball and track programs. Stephens was the Savannah High girls basketball and track coach while Jordan was the head coach of the Blue Jacket boys basketball and track programs.
“He taught me a lot. He taught me how to be a coach and how to be successful,” states Jordan. He added that Stephens did a lot of the extra things like being a father figure to his players as well as made sure they got home following practices and games if they did not have a ride.
Ronald Booker, who spent 35 years as the girls head basketball coach at Beach High, said that he admired Stephens.
“I admire him for his character and foresight. His former players are successful because of him. He wasn’t afraid to step up to do what was right. He took those same traits into politics.”
Booker said that he and Stephens had a rivalry that started when Stephens was coaching at Richard Arnold. Once Stephens took over the Savannah High program the rivalry was formed between Beach and SHS. “He hated losing. He coached to win. He was a fierce competitor,” said Booker.
Sheri Rouse- Mainor was one of Stephens former players. Rouse- Mainor lettered four years at Savannah High under Stephens and like her coach, went to Savannah State for her undergraduate degree. She is currently the interim executive director for University Advancement at SSU.
The 1997 SHA alumnae stated that she still remembers the practices at Shuman Middle School during the summer, traveling to basketball camp at Fort Valley State University, the bus trips, the laughter, and comradely. “I remember pool parties at Coach Mickey’s house and how he kept the entire team looking fresh in the latest team attire and shoes,” she added.
Rouse-Mainor said that Stephens was a father figure to many in the community.
“He committed so much of his life to serving his community in various ways. As a teenager you don’t truly grasp how much sacrifice, commitment, selflessness, and love it takes to do the things he has done. I’ve always known that Coach Mickey was a great man because I saw him up close and personal, but the more I reflect on his contributions to the lives of my teammates and I, I realize that even that assessment of him as a man falls short. He loved us, and took great care of us. Make no mistake about it though, he was tough on us, and practiced us hard, but it prepared us for not only competition on the court, but beyond. So many years later, I still refer to lessons I learned at Savannah High School, playing basketball for Coach Mickey and Coach Heller.”
A memorial service for Stephens was held on August 24 at SSU’s Tiger Arena and The Mass of Christian Burial was held at The Cathedral Basilica of St. John the Baptist the following day. Interment was at the Catholic Cemetery.