GREENSBORO — The first thing Keith Atkinson remembers about William Hardin in high school is his strength.
“William had tremendous wrist strength,” said Atkinson, who was Hardin’s teammate at Lumberton High School in the early 1980s. “He would work with his father as a brick mason, and that, to me, developed the quickness in his wrists.”
The power and quickness in those wrists helped to make Hardin one of the most feared hitters at the plate during his time at LHS, Louisburg College and Elon University and has been training a new generation of players as a coach at Page High School in Greensboro.
Hardin helped to anchor several teams at Lumberton during his career before moving on to Louisburg College. Even as a player in high school, it was apparent to his teammates that baseball would be his true love.
“He was a very competitive person,” Atkinson said. “He was never down. He was very cheerful and happy all the time.
“When he was on that diamond he was happy, he was focused. The diamond was his field.”
As a senior, Hardin was recruited to play at Louisburg College, and it was there his playing career, and his ability at the plate began to improve, even in his first at-bat.
Hardin is among a select few in baseball that had a home run as their first hit for any team. The memory of stepping into the batters box for Louisburg College at the start of the 1984 season is still vivid in his head.
“I still remember my first home run in Greenwood,” Hardin said. “It was a shot to straightaway center field.”
Hardin’s first hit was an omen for things to come in his career. While playing baseball for Louisburg, he hit a school record 39 home runs including a nation-best 21 during his freshman year.
“It got to a point where folks didn’t want to pitch to you,” Hardin said.
The numbers also impressed his teammates.
“It was fun playing with him,” said Nat Norris, who played with him at Louisburg. “That type of caliber of a player coming in as a freshman was off the charts. It was mouth dropping. I couldn’t believe it.”
It wasn’t just the power numbers that impressed his teammates. It was his selflessness.
“He would get a bunt sign too,” Atkinson said. “He wasn’t just left to swing away. He was able to execute anything that was needed.”
Hardin’s offensive numbers dropped in his second year at Louisburg. After hitting 14 home runs in the first half of the season, he only hit four in the second but still made the All-Region team.
“I got a little anxious and started swinging at pitches out of the zone,” Hardin said. “I think if I had had a little more patience, who knows what could have happened.”
In 1986, Hardin moved from Louisburg to Elon College, an NAIA school at that point, where he continued to have success on the field. Hardin helped the team to back to back 30 win seasons and a berth in the 1987 NAIA World Series in Lewiston, Idaho.
For Hardin, the path to success wasn’t easy, as he had to work to keep up with other athletes who sometimes had more natural talent than him.
“I think my work ethic, off the field in terms of baseball, was incredible,” Hardin said. “I would run three or four miles after practice just to stay in shape.
“When you’re around all those guys that are good you have two options, and I stepped up.”
Hardin was helped by being in a comfortable position. He was joined at Elon by several other players from Louisburg College. His choice of schools pitted him against some of his teammates from earlier in his career.
“I went to then-Pembroke State. We ended up playing against each other in college,” Atkinson said. “It was real competitive against (Elon) but for the two of us it wasn’t.”
The same thing applied to Norris, who played against Hardin at High Point. That was something that Norris says helped the bond of their friendship.
Hardin says his playing career left him with few regrets, although there are still several dreams he came short of achieving.
“Theres about two things I wish would have taken place,” Hardin said. “One, having gotten to Grand Junction (Colo.) with Louisburg, and the second thing, I wish I would have gotten to play pro ball. Other than that, I have no regrets about my time playing in college.”
Hardin takes pride in his time in baseball in North Carolina, as during his four years between 1984 to 1987, he played for two of the best college teams in the state.
“From that standpoint, I am totally, 100 percent happy with where I went,” Hardin said. “And it could be a blessing in disguise, because if I had gone somewhere else who knows if I would have had the same success.”
That success was echoed by both of his alma maters, as in 2010, Louisburg College inducted Hardin into their Hall of Fame, and Elon University followed suit in 2013.
After college, Hardin wasn’t ready to hang up the cleats, and still isn’t. For the last 20 years, he has been the coach for Page High School in Greensboro, and it is a job he is looking to keep.
“I’ll tell you what I like about the high school level,” Hardin said. “I have to take what I’m given, and make it better.”
Those are the same thoughts that come from his current athletic director Rusty Lee.
“He’s very thorough,” Lee said. “He understands the integral parts of the game. The technique. The skills. He is a very good skills teacher.”
Lee also said Hardin is about more than just winning and losing games. Something that is apparent in his relations with the kids he coaches.
“As far as a man, he’s a great influence,” he said. “The kids love him and relationships continue after kids graduate. He has a knack for it.”
Hardin also has reached out to friends from his playing days, and was the one who reached out and brought Norris into his own coaching career.
“He’s a teacher, I’m a student,” Norris said. “He got me into the game in high school.”
Norris still hasn’t made the jump over his teacher, joking that he’s never beaten Hardin, as a player or as a rival coach in high school, where Page and T.W. Andrews play each other regularly.
“Even when I get a lead on him, I’m still looking over my shoulder,” Norris said. “And he always comes back.”
Hardin said those relationships are what drives him to stay a part of the game.
“It’s really not about saying I won so many games or I won a state championship,” he said. “I just want to go out from September to May, and make sure I make my kids better.”
Hardin said he hopes to keep coaching for at least another decade and is also confident he is coaching for the right reasons, and feels the legacy he is leaving is one to be proud of.
“The folks that I had coaching me, when I go back and look at those guys, they were all successful over the years, and they all made it a point to make sure it was enjoyable for us, ” he said. “People shouldn’t judge me on wins and losses, they should judge me on how I treat the players.”
Hardin said the wins and losses don’t always show the true story of success behind a career.
“Just because you don’t win, doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong,” he said. “You can have a huge impact even if you don’t win ballgames.”