Words by Terrell Manasco | Images by Blakeney Clouse
Standing before a row of yellow school buses, wearing a blue Oxford button-down shirt, his name badge clipped to the belt loop of his crisp khakis, Mike Scott manages to look comfortable in spite of the near-constant gusts of wind assailing him on this drab, wet, blustery day.
No stranger to school buses, Mike drove one himself in his days as a coach and teacher. Since 2011, he has served as director of transportation for the Walker County School System. “I hire bus drivers,” he says later inside his Viking Drive office. “I’m in charge of routes and approving bus stops, I make the recommendation for hiring mechanics, and make sure our fleet is as current as possible. Basically, I am over the transportation budget.”
Born and raised in West Jasper, Mike grew up loving the great outdoors. His fondest childhood memories are of his father taking him and his brother, Kelly, deer hunting. “Back then, we only got out Thursdays and Fridays for Thanksgiving,” Mike says. “If we kept our grades up, our dad would let us take off on Wednesday. For years, we had Thanksgiving at our hunting club. We enjoyed spending time hunting and fishing with our dad.”
While playing football at Walker High in the 1970s, Mike admired and respected coaches like David Campbell and Pat Morrison. Even in 10thgrade, he knew that’s what he wanted to do. “They inspired you,” Mike says. “They were teaching you more than just sports, like how to conduct yourself, how to be the best at whatever you did. I remember them saying, ‘You only get today. After today it will be over, and you can’t get it back.’”
After graduating in 1982, Mike worked toward a degree at Jacksonville State. Then, a conversation with a teacher convinced him that coaching wasn’t enough. “I had a professor who said, ‘Look, 90 percent of your salary is going to come from teaching, not coaching, so you need to be a better teacher than you are a coach,’” Mike recalls.
His first job was teaching physical education at Maddox Middle School in 1987. Mike had been there a year when Walker Vikings coach Campbell resigned. As the only non-tenured P.E. teacher in the county, Mike was let go—a week before he and his wife, Karen, were married.
Fortunately, he wasn’t unemployed for long. A few weeks later, Mike wasT.W. Martin High School’s new assistant football coach. He spent four years there, the last two as head coach. “I taught anatomy, physiology, 10th-grade health, and seventh-grade/eighth-grade math,” he says. “Back then, they’d let you teach anything at the small schools because there weren’t enough teachers.”
In 1992, Mike was hired as basketball coach at Bankhead Middle School, and assistant football coach at Cordova High. He was on the coaching staff when the Blue Devils won the 1995 state football championship.. He finished his last year there as assistant principal of Cordova High. “I thought I would go there for a year and do something else, but I ended up staying 10 years as a teacher,” Mike says. “It was probably the best 10 years I’ve ever had in education. Good people, good school.”
But Mike was becoming disenchanted with the notion of traveling and being away from his family at night. He went back to school and earned his master’s degree in educational leadership. “I got into administration to spend more time with my kids,” Mike says. “I learned you only get one shot at being a good parent.”
In 2003, Mike was hired as Sumiton Middle School’s assistant principal. The next year, he moved up to principal. “I thought I knew a lot about coaching until I became a head coach,” Mike says. “You’re never ready to be a principal. You learn on the job, but you better learn fast or you’re not going to be one very long.”
During his years at Cordova, Mike had grown fond of the students and faculty. He was happy to return to Blue Devil country in 2005, this time as elementary school principal. “I knew the folks and had coached there,” Mike says. “Actually, I thought I would retire there. We had a great staff. The kids were smart. It was a great school.”
When the transportationdirector job became vacant in 2011, Mike was interested, but he didn’t want to leave Cordova. It took faith and prayer to step out of his comfort zone, but he loves his job.
“The thing I like is you still get to work with people,” Mike says. “The buses are inspected monthly, so the drivers drop by my office, and we’ll talk about what’s going on with their route. I tell them I’m here to serve them, not for them to serve me.”
Mike oversees 96 regular bus routes, including seven special-needs routes. He commends the entire staff, from JoAnne, the secretary, to the seven mechanics keeping the buses running. “We’ve got a very good mechanic staff and office staff,” Mike says. “They make my job so much easier. I couldn’t do it without them.”
It’s been said that no man is an island unto himself. As Mike will tell you without hesitation, he didn’t get where he is without help. “I’m at the age where I have no ego anymore,” Mike says in a quiet voice. “Coming from West Jasper, sitting where I’m sitting now…I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for my Lord and Savior. I remember applying for jobs, not getting them, finally having the faith to say, ‘Lord, I’ll put it in your hands. I’m going to trust You.’”
Almost eight years later, faith still plays a vital role in all aspects of his life, both on the job and at home. “I don’t think you can be a good father or husband if you don’t have faith in something,” Mike says. “I have faith in Jesus. I pray every day that He will help me throughout this day because there will be issues I can’t handle. If I pray and let Him decide what I need to do, then I’m at peace with it.”
Out of all the jobs Mike has held, which one was his favorite? His answer is simple.
“I’ve enjoyed every job I’ve had, I guess because of the people I’ve worked with,” he says. “I’ve been blessed.” 78