A Birmingham legend touched my life

Fred Sington (Portrait courtesy Kiwanis Club of Birmingham)

By David Sher

Some men dream to play golf in the PGA.

Others to climb Mount Everest or travel the world.

For some unexplainable reason, my dream was to be the Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Go figure….seems kind of lame, doesn’t it?

I did achieve my dream and served in 2005, but it never would have happened without a chance encounter with a man I didn’t know.

I met and talked with Fred Sington in 1972 when he was Chairman of the Chamber. He was a small business person who had an unstoppable, contagious passion for Birmingham.

I assumed all Chamber Chairmen had to be CEO’s, bank presidents, or college presidents. Since both Mr. Sington and I owned small companies, I began to think it possible to be Chairman.

However, I if I had had any concept of the prominence and unprecedented achievements of Mr. Sington, I would have chased another dream.

Mr. Sington was a one of a kind…and everyone who cares about our Birmingham region should know about him.

Frederick (Fred) Sington was born Valentine’s Day, 1910.

According to his Kiwanis bio in the Alabama Business Hall of Fame

“Name an award, he received it. Name a charity, he helped it. Name a civic organization, he was a member. Name a sport, he excelled at it. In fact, one sports columnist went so far as to describe Sington as ‘almost a mythic sports figure,’ and ‘a ubiquitous civic worker.’

“He became known as ‘Mr. Birmingham,’ At one point, Sington estimated that he had been involved with as many as 200 civic and community activities over the years, but that is probably an underestimate.

“He attended Phillips High School where he was a four-year letterman in football, basketball, baseball, and track, and was inducted into the National Honor Society.

“He then attended The University of Alabama, where he was a member of Alabama’s 1931 Rose Bowl team and an All-American tackle for three straight years, as well as a three-year letterman and All-American in baseball. The big tackle was generally regarded as the best lineman in the entire country.

“He was a member of Zeta Beta Tau social fraternity, ODK, and Phi Beta Kappa. He was vice president of the student body, and in 1931 received both the Porter Award for Best Athlete and the PanHellenic Award for Best Student.”

After his is graduation in 1931, he became an assistant football coach at Duke University before embarking on a distinguished career in professional sports. For the next 10 years, he played professional baseball with the Atlanta Crackers, the Washington Senators, and the Brooklyn Dodgers. Following his playing days, he was an SEC official in football for 20 years.

He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II.

According to his Kiwanis bio, “After the war, in 1947, Sington began his business career, Fred Sington Sporting Goods, opening a store in downtown Birmingham on Fifth Avenue North. His sporting goods business eventually spread into Homewood, Huntsville, Mountain Brook, Gadsden, Athens, and Scottsboro. In 1986 he sold his sporting goods business to Hibbett Sporting Goods.

“He served on the Birmingham Civic Center Planning Committee, was chairman of the Downtown Birmingham YMCA, president of the Birmingham Kiwanis, and captain of the Monday Morning Quarterback Club. He was president of the Birmingham Football Foundation.

“In 1972 he was president of the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce. He belonged to the “A” Club, Grand Order of the Krewe, Masons, and Shriners.

“He served as a board member for the Salvation Army, Sertoma Foundation…Junior Achievement, and the Boy Scout Council.

“His service reached beyond the city limits, as he served as president of the Alabama State Fair Authority; a coach for the Alabama Mentally Retarded Olympics, president of The University of Alabama National Alumni Association; a member of the President’s Council, The University of Alabama; a member of the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame Racing Committee; and as state chairman of the Alabama Heart Fund in 1978.”

When I asked permission from Honora Gathings, Executive Director at Kiwanis Club of Birmingham, to use Mr. Sington’s photo, I received this unsolicited comment. “Absolutely. He was President of our club and Lt. Gov. for the Alabama District of Kiwanis. We also have a Kiwanis Athletic Award named in his honor The Fred Sington Award, which is awarded to the best local high school athletic team. For the last three years, Thompson High School’s football team has taken it home.”

“His memory is particularly cherished by the winners of the Sington Soaring Spirit Award, presented by The Lakeshore Foundation, which serves people with disabilities. The organization’s newsletter published a special tribute to Sington. The Sington Soaring Spirit Dinner, named in his honor, is held annually to help benefit children and adults with physical disabilities.”

Fred Sington passed away in 1998. In his day he was likely the most famous person in Birmingham and Alabama. It’s remarkable how one man made such a difference.

David Sher is the founder and publisher of ComebackTown.  He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).

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Invite David to speak for free to your group about how we can have a more prosperous metro Birmingham. dsher@amsher.com.

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11 thoughts on “A Birmingham legend touched my life”

  1. David: A wonderful tribute! As you said, those who met him never forgot him! I was one of the those, as fate would have it.
    I fondly remember a meeting with Mr. Fred at his main sporting goods store in Downtown Birmingham. I was a rookie real estate agent calling on this person BIGGER THAN LIFE ITSELF! However, Mr. Fred was not the gruff ,ornery chief executive that I imagined. He was soft spoken and generous with this time. While discussing some business matter, the details of which I do not recall, I will always remember the words carved into a heavy wooden paper weight on the front of his desk: IF MAN HAS TO STOP BEFORE JUMPING EVERY HURDLE, HE WILL NEVER FINISH THE RACE!

  2. Fred Sington, the type of person that is the foundation of a great city. Such principles, such loyalty, such devotion and consideration and friendliness lead as the basis of the kind 9f city people desire to live in.

    No one else can be Fred Sington, but everyone can learn from him, and you David Sher are a fine example of a person who has done exactly that. Thank you!

    1. David,
      Fred was a great athlete and a great man. He was larger than life and personified the highest aspect of Giving as you noted.

      I recall his friendly and sometime hilarious antics as a spark plug of the MMQB.

      Most of all he never met a stranger, was consistently smiling , and could light up a room with his positive attitude.

      Fred was truly a remarkable man and a great role model for many people including myself.
      So glad you recognized him! Thanks

  3. Someone correct me, but I think he had a sign in one of his sporting goods stores saying something like, “Employees reporting sick need to call in by 10:00 AM on the day of the game.”

  4. He was larger then life win your a kid and he is your grandaddy!!! He kept his 3 sons in line that’s for sure! But Nancy my grandmom was the spark that cracked that whip! Love and miss them both! RTR!

  5. David,
    Thank you for all of your articles in “comeback town” and for sharing so much about our community, history included.

    I have heard many wonderful things about Fred Sington but never had the pleasure of knowing him. Your article shows what a giant of a man he was and how he had such a huge impact on our community. (And a wonderful example )

    I appreciate “Comeback Town”.

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