Hamilton High School alumni football players will converge on the city during the first weekend in May for “The Roast and Toast of Coach Botto” to honor a beloved sports hero.
“We had the idea years ago to get the guys back together from all the years Botto coached at Hamilton,” said Coach Roosevelt Hancock. “Two things our guys always knew – that Botto loved Hamilton High School, and he loved his football team.
Hancock became head coach of Hamilton’s football program in 1976. “Coach Botto” is Melvin Earnest. Botto is a “nickname from the neighborhood, according to Hancock.
“The Roast and Toast of Coach Botto” is May 6, from 2-5 p.m.
Earnest, 75, has weathered some health challenges in recent years, and Hancock thought seeing many of “his guys” would be good for him.
“We’re looking for a light-hearted afternoon with roasts, jokes, and a few toasts to a man who gave so much of himself to the success of Hamilton High varsity football,” said Hancock.
“Botto will get a kick out of all the stories the fellas will tell about their experiences with him. He was quite a colorful character.”
Wamon Buggs, who played under Coach Hancock when Coach Botto was an assistant coach, remembers Coach Botto’s “pep talks” with great amusement.
“Before we played a game, Botto would always just be coming in from talking to the other team,” said Buggs, with a laugh. “He would say, ‘Yeah, I just finished talking to the other team. They said you wasn’t s**t, and you wasn’t never gonna be s**t. And this one guy said he was going to f**k you up, said he was going to break your leg, too.’ That was his version of a pep talk. He wanted to make sure you were fired up and ready to play when you hit the field.”
Buggs said although Botto did not coach his position, he would hear this pep talk along with the other guys.
Buggs was a receiver, defensive back, and kicker. He was one of 15 players who went pro after their time with Coach Botto at Hamilton. Buggs played for the Green Bay Packers.
Earnest went to Hamilton from the grades 1-12. Earnest met Hancock years before they would be working together as coaches.
“When Botto was in the fourth grade, I was a senior at Hamilton,” said Hancock. “He reminded me years later that I was one of the chaperones on their field trip. Back then, seniors would chaperone elementary students on field trips and other activities.”
Hancock graduated from Hamilton in 1959. He began his coaching career at Hamilton in 1964, when Botto was a sophomore playing football.
When Earnest graduated from Hamilton in 1966, he started working at General Electric (GE). But in the evenings, he would come over to the field and watch the guys practice. Hancock remembered one day in particular.
“Botto came over to watch practice this one afternoon when our principal, Oliver Johnson, was out there, too,” said Hancock. “After Botto watched for a while, he said out loud, ‘I can coach better than that just waking up from a nightmare.’ Mr. Johnson heard him and hired him to be the coach of the pee wee team.”
Not only was Botto a good coach, according to Hancock, but he used his pay to buy the players equipment and made sure they had all the things they needed.
“The pee wee team lost their first game under Botto, but they won every game after that until 1970, when Botto left that program to become an assistant coach to head coach Hosea Alexander at the high school.
“When Hosea left, I took over as head coach, and I brought Botto right along with me as my assistant. Botto has always personified school spirit.”
Besides Buggs, 14 other former Hamilton players went pro. They are:
Keith Simpson, Seattle Sea Hawks; Eric Harris, Los Angeles Rams; James Cribbs, Detroit Lions; Charles Buchanan, Cleveland Browns and Bernard Williams, Philadelphia Eagles.
Also, Darrell Brooks, Detroit Lions; Kenneth Woods, New York Giants; Elton Cummings, Los Angeles Rams; Bryant Winn, Denver Broncos; John Matthews, Atlanta Falcons; Eric Truitt, Baltimore Colts; Lonnie Johnson, Buffalo Bills, and Lorenzo King, Los Angeles Raiders.
Hancock said Botto is excited about the upcoming roast.
“It’s been a long time since Botto has been so hyped about an event,” said Hancock. “All the guys coming back to honor him is good medicine. And so is laughter, and we know there will be plenty of that.
“And it will be a time of catching up with old friends – a football alumni reunion. It’s going to be a great time.”
The afternoon affair will be in Midtown, 1455 Poplar Ave. Drinks and snacks will be served. There is no admission cost.
(For more information, call Coach Roosevelt Hancock at 901-661-1948.)