Big turnout honors Bayless cause

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR STAFF
jbirchfield@starhq.com

   A crowd in the hundreds that included probably the largest collection of head coaches ever in Upper East Tennessee turned out at Sutton Hall on the campus of Milligan College Saturday night to show their support for the Charlie and Jane Bayless Scholarship Fund.
   Besides a collection of football, basketball and baseball coaches ranging from Alan LeForce to Mike Lunsford, there were Warrior players from every decade of the Bayless era. Even a player from Bayless' one-year tenure at Jonesborough High School that started the 52-year head coaching stint, showed up to honor the coach.
   "I can't believe all the people I've seen over the years, even people who aren't a Warrior, that are here tonight," said Bayless. "This is great. I wished everyone could go through it. I wish we had a place in Johnson City and Elizabethton to have pictures of all the old teams up and all the coaches, so the young kids could see that."
   The large turnout was in large part to the prep work put forth by the scholarship committee. Richard Edens headed a group inviting guests, getting media interest and coordinating much of the fund-raising efforts.
   The fund, which is named in honor of the legendary Happy Valley basketball coach and his wife, was started to help Happy Valley students in their desire to acquire higher education.
   "That's great," said Bayless about the scholarship being named in his and his spouse's honor. "We just happened to come along at the right time and live for a long time. It could have been named for a number of people that are just as deserving."
   Guest speaker on this night was coach Sonny Smith, whose own basketball credentials includes conference championships at East Tennessee State, Auburn and Virginia Commonwealth and six Division 1 conference Coach of the Year awards. Now the co-host of a popular radio show, soon to be syndicated throughout the South, Smith returned to the Milligan campus found time to honor his longtime friend.
   "Coach Bayless is a legend," said Smith. "When I first started out, I did my practice teaching under him. He gave me tips about becoming a coach at that time. When I was at East Tennessee State, he would come and look over my team at the practices.
   "Charlie has always been a dear friend to me. I always like to come back here. I might live some other place, but I always will be a Carter County boy. I didn't come for money. I came because of Coach Bayless and what he has done for this community."
   Back in earlier days, Bayless would bring some of his Warrior players and let them scrimmage against the Milligan College teams that Smith played on.
   "Charlie would bring Bobby (Sams) and those guys over and we would play against them all the time," recounted Smith. "Think of the games that he was won. What a great man he has been.
   "You can tell it by the great family that he has. I like the fact that the scholarship is for a needy person. It doesn't have to be a basketball player. It doesn't have to be an athlete."
   However, Smith appreciates Bayless' dedication on the court and other fields of athletics. Bayless is the only coach in the history of the Watauga Conference to win championships in all four major sports - basketball, football, baseball and track.
   "Coaching is a tough profession," admitted Smith. "There's so many of the great coaches in East Tennessee, like Charlie Bayless, Jerry White and Bobby Snyder. You have to have a love for the game of basketball. You take the kids' dreams and visions and desires and turn them into reality. Coach Bayless and those guys did all that and turned it into solid achievement and commitment."
   Many rival coaches besides the aforementioned White and Snyder were in attendance. Among those was John Dyer, the current head basketball coach at Sullivan East High School. "It's been an awesome career for coach Bayless," said the Patriot coach. "It's been tremendous the many times, I've got to be around him. The four years I coached at Johnson County, it was such a big rivalry between Johnson County and Happy Valley. I learned so much in watching him."
   Warrior fans may recall it was Dyer's East team in the Arby's Classic that Bayless recorded his milestone 800th win against. "He didn't say much about it," recalled Dyer. "He's a great man. He just acted like it was any other win. That's what exciting about him. He's just so much fun to be around."
   Another person with a unique perspective on Bayless is Marty Street. Street was an All-State player on Bayless' 1974 State Championship team and is currently the head coach at David Crockett High School. "I think this is very deserving for coach Bayless," said Street. "He's touched so many lives, not only on the basketball court, but in the classroom and up and down the hallways at Happy Valley. This couldn't happen to a finer fellow than Coach Bayless."
   Those helping with the scholarship community were well pleased with the turnout and expressed they wanted to make clear the efforts aren't limited to athletes, but to any well deserving Happy Valley student needing help in going to college.
   If you couldn't attend the dinner, but are interested in assisting with the Bayless Fund, you may contact treasurer Bobbie Gouge at 926-9824.