County loses legendary coach

Nathan Key

Special to the News-Topic

Caldwell County has long been known as a baseball community. It has lost one of its residents and a prominent figure in that rich baseball tradition.

Former Hudson High School and South Caldwell High School baseball coach Fred Lanford died Monday, December 12, 2022, at his home after an extended illness. The long-time Hornet and Spartan skipper was 78 years old.

Coach Lanford was preceded in death by his parents, Floyd and Elizabeth Jones Lanford.

Noted as an intense competitor, Lanford took a business-like approach to coaching his baseball and basketball teams through the years, sustaining a high level of success in both sports.

Lanford fashioned a stellar career in more than 30 years of guiding teams on the diamond for the Hornets and Spartans, compiling a career baseball coaching record of 538-151 (a winning percentage of .781) with 19 conference championships.

So successful were his teams at South Caldwell through the years that the school named the baseball field after him during a dedication ceremony in May 2017 and inducted him to the school’s Hall of Fame in September 2022.

The Woodruff, S.C., native led South Caldwell to 15 conference titles in 22 years (seven straight from 1985-1991) after taking over as the school’s baseball coach in 1979. That included seven seasons of 20 or more victories and 19 playoff appearances. The Spartans made 16 consecutive playoff appearances from 1985-2000 and never had a losing record under Lanford’s direction, advancing to the state quarterfinals or beyond on six occasions.

South Caldwell won the school’s first baseball state championship in 1982, defeating Eastern Wayne in the 4-A title series. The Spartans also won a 4-A state baseball crown 25 years later in 2007 under the direction of Jeff Parham, who succeeded Lanford as South’s baseball coach in 2000 and played for him on the ’82 title-winning team.

Lanford’s Hudson teams were equally as successful, capturing conference titles four times during his coaching and teaching tenure there that stretched from 1965-1977.

He was a conference baseball coach of the year 15 times and was selected as the state baseball coach of the year in 1982 and 1994. He also served as the coach for the Region 7 squad in the North Carolina State Baseball Games in 1988.

But Lanford’s basketball squads also saw their fair share of success during his coaching tenures (1977-1979 and 1985-1993) on the hardwood.  He won a pair of conference titles at Hudson and another conference crown with six state playoff berths at South Caldwell.

Overall, Lanford-led basketball teams at Hudson and South Caldwell compiled a 327-220 record over the course of 22 years with him at the helm. He coached in the 1990 East/West All-Star basketball game and was a three-time conference coach of the year.

In total, that’s an impressive 865 victories over a stretch of more than 30 years in the coaching ranks with a career winning percentage of .700 combined in the two sports.

So prominent were Lanford’s coaching accomplishments that he was named to the George Whitfield Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006, the North Carolina High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame in 2007 and the North Carolina Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame in 2009.

He also was inducted into both the Woodruff High School Hall of Fame and the Caldwell County Sports Hall of Fame in 1994.

The 1960 Woodruff High School graduate played on two South Carolina 3-A state baseball championships teams as a pitcher/first baseman during his prep career before going on to play for two seasons at Spartanburg Junior College in 1962 and 1963.

Lanford graduated Magna Cum Laude from Appalachian State University in 1965 before beginning his career as a social studies teacher and coach at Hudson High School later that same year. He started coaching the girls’ basketball and junior varsity football squads before then-Principal Henry Lathan moved him into the head position for the boys’ basketball and baseball teams.

Lanford moved to South Caldwell in 1977 when it formed from the consolidation of Granite Falls and Hudson high schools, continuing the same success with the Spartans that he and his Hornet squads enjoyed.

During a 2007 interview, Lanford noted that the success he had as a coach was a direct result of the players he coached in Hornet and Spartan uniforms. He acknowledged that milestones he reached during his lengthy coaching tenure would not have been possible without talented players who bought into the philosophy he instilled with a willingness to put in the work necessary to emerge victorious, as they did on 865 occasions in 30-plus years.

Lanford leaves behind his supportive wife and top fan, Phyllis, with whom he shared 59 years of marriage. Also left to cherish his memory and carry on his legacy are a daughter, Caroline Peterson (Brent), and a son, Andy Lanford (Michelle), in addition to grandchildren, Logan Draughon, Piper Draughon, Emma Peterson, Jayden Lanford and McKenna Lanford.

A memorial service will take place on Friday, December 16, 2022, at 4 p.m. at Fred Lanford Field on the campus of South Caldwell High School.

In lie of flowers, memorials may be made to Amorem of Hudson at 902 Kirkwood Street, NW, Lenoir, NC 28645.

An online guestbook and obituary is available at

Mackie Funeral Service and Cremations is assisting the family.