By Doug Gorman
When the school bell rang for the final time Friday afternoon, it was the end of an era at Jonesboro High School.
After coaching and teaching in the Clayton County School system for more than three decades, Arlin Batia, a long-time assistant football coach with the Cardinals, is moving home to Biloxi, Mississippi.
It means his coaching career has come full circle.
Before moving to Georgia, Batia began his career at St. Martin High School in Mississippi.
Next fall, he will again serve as an assistant football coach back at St. Martin.
"I am filled with mixed emotions," he said. "I have so many great memories here, but I'm excited about moving back home. There's great golf and fishing where I'm going."
After moving to Georgia, Batia helped start the football program at Pointe South Middle School. In those days, ninth graders attended middle school, and Batia's teams excelled at a high level.
As head coach at Pointe South, Batia compiled a 74-24 record. He won four league titles, including three in a row.
"He set the standard for middle school football at the time. He certainly raised the bar for other teams," said Lovejoy head coach Al Hughes.
Batia coached with Hughes at Jonesboro for several years.
"He is a special man," said Hughes. "When he tells you something, his word is his bond. He is a very good friend. He has mentored many coaches in the area."
Batia has coached wrestling, girls and boys track, and served in a variety of positions for the Jonesboro football team, including most recently as a defensive coordinator.
"I would rather coach football than do anything else," he said. "It's not just my job, it's my hobby too."
Baitia has worked for five different head football coaches during his tenure at Jonesboro.
Although success hasn't always come easy for the Cardinals on the football field, Batia has been on the staff for the team's last two trips to the playoffs, including 2002 when they posted a 7-3 record.
That team featured three future Division I players in Harry Douglas, now at Louisville, and Jamal Lewis and Darrell Robertson, both at Georgia Tech.
For Batia, coaching both football and track was about more than wins and loses. The veteran coach influenced the lives of hundreds of young men and women. He has also made friends with faculty members and parents.
"He is just such a nice guy," Jonesboro head softball and tennis coach Jeanine Conkle said. "He's amazing. He has made such a great impression on students. I know people still come up to him in the community and say hi."
Former Mt. Zion baseball coach Bruce Jones, who started his career at Jonesboro, remembers how Batia reached out to help him when he was just entering the profession.
"He is one of the most knowledgeble coaches I know," said Jones. "He can coach just about anything. When I started out, he helped me a great deal."
Henry County head football coach Mike Rozier became friends with Batia when they both coached at Jonesboro.
"He's probably one of the most loyal coaches around," said Rozier. "He had a great influence with students."
Batia has never lost his competitve fire either. The retiring Jonesboro coach, Jones and Rozier often get togegther for a round of golf, and Batia holds nothing back.
"He's an intense competitor," said Jones.
"It doesn't matter what he is playing, he's good at golf, tennis, and he shoots a mean game of pool," said Rozier.
Since deciding to retire from the Jonesboro school system Batia has had a chance to say goodbye to former friends and collegues at several retirement parties thrown on his behalf.
"It's been fun getting together with people I have coached with over the years," he said. "It's been nice to share stories and say goodbye."
Batia had his chances over the years to be a head football coach at the high school level, but passed on it to spend more time with his family.
His son Rick, 29, went to Georgia and now lives in California, twins Mark 27, who played baseball at University of Central Florida, and Lynn 27, a former cheerleader at Jonesboro and a graduate of the University of Wymoing are all close to their dad.
"It was great to watch them come through Jonesboro High School, and watch them grow up."