Arthur Woodard used to get mail at his home addressed to: “The Colored Football Coach.”
That’s how small the Florida panhandle town DeFuniak Springs was in the 1950s and ’60s at the height of segregation when the late Woodard, fresh out of the U.S. Army, and wife Mary, taught at Tivoli High School, their daughter Vanessa Woodard Byers remembers.
“You were either black or white in those times,” she said. “As a society, it was such a different time and the nation has done a lot of growing in a lot of different ways.”
Woodard, who died Oct. 8 in the Miami neighborhood he has called home since 1968, thrived. Call it his commanding presence. Smarts. Passion.
At Tivoli, he served as head coach of football, basketball, baseball and track. He was named Coach of the Year and inducted into the Florida High School Athletics Association Hall of Fame.
“In that small town, even during those times of segregation, my dad would help build the baseball field,” Woodard Byers said. “My dad was a person who felt you were entitled to certain things as a human being and citizen of this country. You couldn’t wait for other people to do things for you. You had to take it upon yourself to do whatever you needed to do and show initiative. He was able to overcome a lot.”
A statewide 1968 teachers’ strike over low salaries and lack of school resources eventually led to the Woodards’ return to Miami. The couple took jobs at Allapattah Elementary School — Mary as an English and PE teacher, her husband as PE teacher.
Woodard would soon become assistant football coach and athletic director at Miami Central High, assistant principal at Miami Edison and principal of Miami Douglas MacArthur High School-North, a position he held until retirement in 1991.
Woodard was a big man, his daughter said. Tall. Imposing. And he used these traits to maintain discipline and to reach his students. “To a lot of kids, he seemed like he was mean, but he wasn’t. He was very much a teddy bear,” his daughter said.
“Men like Mr. Woodard don't come along every day. When I was a boy, I can remember the times he called me into his office. [I was] a troubled kid at that time and he talked to me like a father. I took a lot in and learned a lot from him at Miami Central High. I can truly say his advice made me a better man and preacher,” wrote former student Amos Nunnally on Facebook.
Born in Live Oak, Florida on July 30, 1928, Woodard moved to Miami as a toddler and graduated with George Washington Carver High’s Class of 1946. At Florida A&M, Woodard excelled on the football team and graduated in 1952 with a Bachelor of Science in Physical Education. At FAMU, Woodard met Mary Williams, a fellow physical ed major, and the two wed in 1952 and had two children, Vanessa and son Harlan. The couple were married for nearly 58 years until her death in 2010 at 83.
“He realized education was the key out of poverty,” Woodard Byers said. She jokes that when her dad was growing up in the Perrine area after arriving from Live Oak, “the family was so poor they couldn’t afford the ‘p’ and the ‘o.’ So they were just po.”
But that gave Woodard empathy for his fellow neighbors. After Hurricane Andrew devastated South Miami-Dade in 1992, Woodard helped lead efforts to host an Orange Blossom Classic Festival parade in West Perrine in 1994.
“It was a moral thing to have it down there, to uplift the people down there in South Dade,” Woodard said.
For decades, starting in 1969, Woodard also maintained a neglected patch of private land on his Twin Lakes street between Northwest 99th Street and 12th and 13th Avenues. Families used the space for play and picnics. He hoped the lakefront, makeshift park would become a true county park but developers took possession in 1997 with the intention of building homes.
The space, however, remains undeveloped. Woodard Byers hopes the county turns land in the immediate area into a public park and names it for her parents. “That’s what the neighborhood needs,” she said. “It has changed so much and there are only a few of us who have been here for awhile, but it was important to my dad in keeping the neighborhood clean.”
In addition to his children and granddaughter Nivia, Woodard is survived by brothers Charles, Otis, Marvin, Carl and Emory Woodard and sisters Betty Woodard Guyton and Mary Woodard.
Services include a viewing for Woodard at 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday at Range Chapel, 5727 NW 17th Ave., Miami. A celebration of life will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at Miami Central Senior High School’s auditorium, 1781 NW 95th Street, Miami. Donations can be made to the Arthur & Mary Woodard Foundation for Education and Culture, 1221 NW 99th Street, Miami, FL 33147.
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