It’s 713 miles, give or take, from Bath, N.Y., to Halls Crossroads, Tenn.
But Bill Warren just took a bigger journey.
“It’s been longer along the way on the hardwood,” says the longtime Halls Middle School hoops coach, who stepped down at the end of this season after 40 years.
A fan thought, for Bill, coaching lasts forever. But, as a one-time Beatle reflected, all things must pass.
“Frustration,” is the reason for the exit.
“At this stage of my career, it became more about winning. And that’s not me. Winning is important. I’ve had good and bad years that I felt I was just as rewarded. But I didn’t feel that way these last two years, and knew it was time to walk away.”
He got to Halls 41 years ago, coaching high school girls hoops with Jim Doane.
“After I left to coach boys, the girls won a championship,” he said, laughing.
He coached middle school girls the first year of full-court girls basketball. The high school was doing so the following year, so Warren and coach Bill Pickel prepared their players early.
And, after 39 years with the boys, he takes it in stride.
“I got to coach a lot of father/son combos. It seems like for a long time then, we were always competitive.”
But, he remembers a story of another stripe.
“We went 3-13 during the regular season. (Fulton High football great) Robbie Black played. We made a run in the tournament all the way to the finals.”
They lost by 6-8 points, but that’s not *the* point.
“And, that’s the first time my parents ever saw me coach. You know you always want to make your father proud.” Something to tell fellow Elks back home in Bath.
He thinks about what his players did afterward. Some became doctors. Some were killed.
“And I can remember Teddy Williams telling me at the funeral after the car wreck that his son, Ted, told Big Ted, “Dad, I never had as much fun with any sport as I did playing middle school basketball.’
“That validated what I was doing, and I’ll never forget that.”
And fun moments. Coaching against friends. He and John Melnick would banter across the scorer’s table.
“The ref called a technical on John, and I said, ‘Hey, we’re just talking like friends do.’ And they took away the technical!” He still gets a letter from Ernie Israel every two weeks.
That atmosphere, the chess match of the moment, that’s what he’ll miss most.
And the spirt of a kid like Paul McConkey.
“He was good late in the second quarter of the semifinals against Northwest, made some assists. We got it to under 10 at halftime. As we were walking back to the court, I told Paul I had to get the shooter he’d replaced back in the game, but said, ‘You did a great job.’ Paul said, “It doesn’t matter, coach. All I wanna do is get to the championship.’
“You wish everybody had that team-first attitude.”
Or Cameron Sharp. “He made everybody around him better.
One game against West Valley, he said, “Cam, it’s just time to take over.”
Sharp scored 4 3s in a row on the way to the win.
Quick Halls High golf coach tale. Bill is holding tryouts one drizzly day. Kid he’d never seen, hood up, dark glasses, turned in a card that read one over par after nine holes.
“I asked Shirley Merryman, ‘Is he in the 8th grade?’ She said, ‘Yeah, but he registered so late in the year, I told him not to start until fall.’
“I’m thinking, ‘Oh, great. That helps a lot.'”
The whole school was in on the joke. It was Lawson George, a senior who’d just graduated.
“I heard all this hype for a week! That’s what Halls is all about sometimes.”
He’ll still be teaching 7th-grade math next fall, but Bill Warren has one more walk to make.
“That first home game? Am I gonna go to the gym or go home? I’m not sure what I’ll do.”
Journeys aren’t always measured in miles.
As reported here first, Jefferson County guy Nathan Sherrod will coach the HMS Demons next year. For more about Bill Warren’s walk, visit http://jakemabe.blogspot.com.