Big night ahead for Bayless fund

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR STAFF
jbirchfield@starhq.com

   Saturday night will be a big night for the Charlie and Jane Bayless Scholarship Fund, with a dinner set for 7 p.m. at Sutton Hall on the campus of Milligan College.
   The longtime Happy Valley coach and his wife are scheduled to be in attendance, with collegiate coaching legend Sonny Smith as the guest speaker.
   Bayless has a career record of 848 wins versus 585 losses plus the state championship in 1974, but the scholarship is about more than honoring his record as Warrior coach. It's about helping both Happy Valley students in their pursuit for higher learning.
   "Coach Bayless has always been about helping kids," said Richard Edens, one of the founders of the fund. "His shop students were just as important to him as his ballplayers. He has something that makes you want to do the best that you can do.
   "Putting this scholarship together was a team effort. We're hoping every year to make it grow. It's named for Charlie and Jane Bayless because they were the best known teachers, but it's for all the teachers. There have been several great teachers at Happy Valley over the years."
   Basketball has always been a part of Bayless' life, even before he got into coaching. His playing career included starring on a state runner-up team for Happy Valley, playing at ETSU for Madison Brooks and numerous accomplishments in the old industrial leagues. Bayless received All-American honors playing for Johnson City based Leon-Ferenbach.
   "Back then the industrial league had Leon-Ferenbach, Paty Lumber Company, Reliable Motors out of Knoxville," explained Edens. "John Seward was an All-American that played for Paty and they had Bob Painter, who coached for 53 years, one more year than Charlie Bayless (has). I traveled with Paty Lumber and they would get maybe $200 or $300 to play a ball game. That was a real honor to be on those teams.
   "The industrial leagues used to be something. There still are a few little leagues around, but used to it was so serious. Leon-Ferenbach made it possible for Charlie to go to college and work and play basketball at the same time. Charlie Bayless was probably the best defensive player I ever saw. He could guard Joe Treadway and Kenny Hyder, guys that were great back in the 40's and 50's, and hold them to 10 points."
   Once Bayless hung up his sneakers for his trademark towel and ping pong paddles, he touched one generation of players after another, for one year at Jonesborough, ever since back at his alma mater. Just a few of the many names down through the years, ranging from Bob Whitehead to Danny Webster to Marty Street to David Persinger to Garth McKinney to Chris Campbell, have excelled wearing the Maroon and White colors.
   Edens has a different perspective playing for Bayless than many. He was on one of the coach's first ball teams, before Bayless attained the legendary status that goes along with a state title and hundreds of wins. Those accomplishments on the court has gotten more press than other phases of Bayless' life that has included being a military policeman at the Nuremberg prison in World War II.
   "Basketball was next to religion we I went to school," said Edens. "WJHL was broadcasting ball games back in the 40's. The first year I went out (for the team) I was a freshman and that was coach's first year (at Happy Valley)," He said, come here Red and go get me a spit patoon. I thought he was cutting me. He didn't cut me, but he didn't let me play a lot. I've been around him for over 40 years and have played golf with him for over 35 years.
   "Coach Bayless gets to know his players. He knows their weaknesses and their strengths. I don't think he ever gave up on a player. He may have had to tell a player he would be better off doing something else. That's a hard thing to do. I've seen coach try everything to keep from telling a kid that."
   It is important to also recognize Jane Bayless, who's been one of the most loyal supporters of Happy Valley basketball and the school itself through the years.
   "Honestly, I think I can say that Jane Bayless has attended more games than coach Bayless," Edens remarked. "She was always there for the players. It is very important for the wives to let them go and listen to them. Most coaches and players play it two or three times, after the game is played."
   The namesakes will be much of the focus, but those coming to the dinner, better be prepared to have a good time as Smith's storytelling skills even outshine his Hall of Fame coaching career. The Roan Mountain native has been all over the world with the game of basketball, but his friends will tell you Smith remains the same person he was years ago.
   "I've known Sonny since he was in the eighth grade, both years," joked Edens. "Sonny was a poor old country boy from Roan Mountain. He and his brother Jim were out digging potatoes after he had been up to Lees-McRae one year, and this guy got him in school down in Mississippi. He went on and made a big name for himself, but, Sonny never has forgotten where he came from."
   Smith's coaching credentials can be put up against the best anywhere. As an assistant at Virginia Tech, the Hokies won the NIT championship. Moving to head coach, Smith won conference championships with ETSU in the Ohio Valley Conference, Auburn in the Southeastern Conference and at his last stop with Virginia Commonwealth. Now retired from the sidelines, Smith currently is co-host of one of the most popular sports talk shows in the South along with former rival Wimp Sanderson of Alabama.
   He and Bayless have a shared history together with many of the same close friends in the coaching profession. Coach Bayless' closest friend, the late Buck VanHuss, would often go see Smith's Auburn teams play when they came to face Tennessee and would pass on advice to his younger colleague.
   Bayless is another mentor that less experienced coaches go to for advice.
   Starting his 53rd year on the sidelines, there is little the 78 year-old Bayless hasn't seen. He knows it's mainly about getting the most out of the kids. Perhaps that's why Bayless is the only coach in Watauga Conference history to win titles in basketball, baseball, football and track.
   Asked what he remembers most about playing for the Warrior great, Edens replied: "Coach Bayless always out-thought the other team. One thing Happy Valley was known for was trying to play as a team. That's important, because no one individual is as important as the team. You learn that, you will be a winner in sports, business or anything in life."