By Rubin E. Grant
For almost three decades, Jody Atchison reveled in physical education, before retiring from Homewood Middle School in 1998.
In March, Atchison’s life ended at the age of 70 because of a rare, degenerative and invariably fatal brain disorder known as Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease. Currently, there is no cure or treatment for patients with CJD, sometimes called mad cow disease because of the similarity to the prion abnormality that cases brain disease in cows.
Her family hopes one day there will be. That’s one of the reasons they have organized a “Celebrate Jody Day” on Nov. 17 at Homewood Middle School.
The event will include a reunion walk beginning at 8:30 a.m. Registration beings at 8 a.m. and the cost is $20 per person with a T-shirt or $10 without a T-shirt. Children under 4 are free.
All proceeds will benefit the Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease Research Foundation. Checks should be made payable to CJD Foundation. The CJD Foundation supports families affected by prion disease, raises awareness and supports medical education and research.
Dick Atchison, Jody’s husband of 49 years, said everyone is welcome to attend the event, which will include refreshments, coffee, drinks and inflatables for kids.
There will be memorabilia set up inside the school from her tenure at Homewood Middle to honor her memory as well as a short video presentation and words from the family. In addition to her husband, Atchison’s survivors included three children and eight grandchildren.
Jody Atchison was a trail blazer for women’s athletics in Alabama. She was the catalyst in bringing the girls sports programs to Homewood Middle School via Title IX. She established the Girls Athletic Club in 1972, and at one point served as head coach of all the girls’ athletic programs at the school, which included basketball, volleyball, softball and track.
She also taught girls physical education and health education throughout her tenure at HMS, and her students fondly referred to her as “Mrs. A.”
Because of her passion for girls athletics, Dick Atchison started the girls’ athletic program at McAdory High School.
“Jody and I started dating in the 10th grade at Banks High School (in Birmingham),” Dick Atchison said. “There were no sports for girls at that time except cheerleading. It has been said since that Jody was one of the two best female athletes to come from Banks during that time and yet she never had the opportunity to compete.
“During her time at Homewood Middle, girls sports were added until all girls had that opportunity. Because of her passion and our special relationship, I wanted other young ladies to be able to compete for their school. I went to McAdory in 1977. There was only cheerleading. In 1980-81, we started girls basketball. In the next few years we added girls track, volleyball, softball and tennis.
“In 1995, I went to Oak Grove School as principal. There was only softball and cheerleading. We added volleyball and basketball over the next three or four years. Jody actually came out and helped us get volleyball started, helping with practice and mentoring the coach. So as you can see, her passion had far-reaching results. Her influence was just as strong in everything she did.”
Jody Atchison retired from teaching in 1998 after 29 years at Homewood Middle. She had a fitting finale to her retirement party by inviting all the guests to the gymnasium to witness her climb the rope one final time.
“She loved challenges,” Atchison said. “In about 2005, she took up golf and we played together and as a couple in some tournaments. She worked so hard and was so competitive. That was Jody.”
At her memorial service, it was announced that a college scholarship will be awarded annually to a high school senior girl from the Homewood School System who wishes to pursue physical education or health education.
For more information about the “Celebrate Jody Day” or questions, contact Dick Atchison at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Link for the T-shirt order is bit.ly/cjdshirt.