Students and faculty in the Central Gwinnett cluster have been in mourning this week after losing a beloved teacher and coach.
Demetris Riddles, 37, fought a sickness since July and died of complications from pneumonia, stunning the high school community. The Swainsboro native was the Black Knights’ head cross country and track and field coach, and founded a youth track club in the cluster years ago.
Athletic and activities director Eddie Hood also emphasized that Riddles, who taught biology, was “one of our best teachers.”
He was a longtime educator in the Gwinnett County Public Schools system, working previously at Moore Middle and Grace Snell Middle.
“As a coach, he was a guy that motivated kids and pushed them to be great,” Hood said. “You think about it, as a track coach, in the two years he’s been head coach here the school record in the 100 has almost been broken by two kids. He was a firm disciplinarian. He held kids accountable. He was an overall likable guy in the building. … He’ll be missed. It hurts our community. The legacy that he left among our kids and the kids he taught in middle school and kids on the track team as part of our Central Gwinnett cluster will live on.”
Hood said Central's runners knew Riddles was sick, but expected him to return this year.
“That was the toughest part of my job, I had to tell those (cross country) kids,” Hood said. “They knew he was a little bit sick at our backpack event. They all volunteered there. They had a card for him. I had to tell them on Tuesday and that was really really tough. Hopefully, they band together for a good season.”
Marlin Dayoub, who has filled in for Riddles during the preseason, will lead the Central cross country team this season. Brandon Harton and Tyler Woolridge are the planned replacements for Riddles in track and field.
"The kids took the news very hard, as did many of the staff," Dayoub said. "But they're strong. Stronger than they think sometimes. When I think of Coach Riddles, the first word that comes to mind is caring. He truly cared about each and every student-athlete that he came to know. He took the time to get to know everyone. Your run times were not near as important as your future. Everyone that spoke to him and got to know him understood that.
"This season, we're going to honor his memory by trying hard to invest in the student's future in the classroom and work hard in cross country as well. He'll be sitting in that lawn chair, looking down on us with his funky hat and I hope we can get a thumbs up or his usual peace sign."
Riddles' memorial service is 3 p.m. Sunday at Saint Philip Baptist Church in Swainsboro. Arrangements are being handled by Chapman Funeral Home at 427 North Main Street in Swainsboro.