Over the years I have had the privilege of meeting many people who remain locked in my memory bank, but Bill Talley will always remain at the top of the list. I lost my dear friend and one of my true …
Over the years I have had the privilege of meeting many people who remain locked in my memory bank, but Bill Talley will always remain at the top of the list. I lost my dear friend and one of my true heroes on Tuesday evening.
My relationship with Talley began when he was at Bradley Central and I was at McMinn High. The Bears were a powerhouse in most sports and Bill made it a special point to rub it in after his Bears had beaten the Cherokees. For two summers I played American Legion baseball with the Cleveland team and he was always around the park.
Talley was seriously handicapped, but he never let that slow him down. He began coaching youth teams while still in high school and established a special bond with hundreds of young men. Bill received his teaching degree from Lee College which later became Lee University.
His amazing life story entered a new all-time high after graduation. The leadership at Cleveland High realized the great relationship he had built while coaching youth football and baseball and quickly made Talley a full-blooded Blue Raider.
Bill continued to push his handicap aside and coached the Cleveland High football freshman team to remarkable success. He did not stand on the sideline during coaching drills, he was right in the middle of the action. He would also work with the basketball team and was later promoted to assistant varsity football coach.
Talley was coaching the Cleveland baseball team when I left the Athens newspaper and came to the Cleveland Daily Banner as sports editor. A year earlier he had taken the Blue Raiders to the school’s first appearance in the state tournament.
I had heard about Bill hitting infield and outfield to his players during pregame drills, but I finally got to witness his flawless use of his beloved fungo bat. It was truly amazing. I wish someone had captured those moments on video — what a leaning tool it would be to inspire handicapped youngsters and other coaches and teams.
Many were sad but also happy for Bill when decided to pack up and leave for Lubbock, Texas to join his longtime friends Steve Sloan and Rex Dockery as part of the Texas Tech athletic program. Others said it would never work and he could never adjust and return to Cleveland after a short period of exploring the new adventure.
Bill proved many of us wrong. After a couple of years, Sloan left Texas Tech for the head job at the University of Mississippi. Talley decided he’d return to high school coaching, not in Tennessee, but Texas. He later married and fathered his son, Bryant. Bill was so proud of this young man and Bryant was at his side when he went on to join his loving mother, Helen, in heaven.
Talley called his mother an angel and said she never wanted him to accept being handicapped. He carried that wish until God called him home. Maybe someday I’ll get to see him using his fungo bat again. During my visit to Texas, he had the fungo bat by his desk.
I can go on and on telling you about Bill Talley. He used those nubs to create a beautiful handwriting. He took small Texas high school football teams to accomplishments they had never reached before and was highly regarded as a teacher and athletic director. He also purchased several homes and rented or sold the houses after his retirement. He was an established businessman.
A couple of years before I traveled to Odessa to interview Bill for my book, I was in San Angelo to visit my son, who was stationed there at the time. Talley drove over to see me. We enjoyed lunch and he drove me around town while we talked for a couple of hours. Again, he drove his vehicle with his nubs. There was nothing he would not attempt.
After I completed the book, Talley and I talked often. He always called me around my birthday and teased me about me being older (our birthdates are in May.) This May the call never came. I tried calling him but always got a voice mail. I longed to hear him say one more time, “I love you.” He closed all our conversations that way.
Finally, I reached Bryant who told me Bill was suffering from Dementia. He put Bill on the phone for a couple of minutes and it was heartbreaking.
My hero didn’t last long after that conversation. Bryant called me last weekend and told me Bill had suffered a heart attack. The doctors worked to save him, but our good Lord called him home late Tuesday night.
I’ve been telling myself for the last couple of days Bill was in a much better place and would not have to live an extended life battling a disease that destroys our memories but losing him was hard.
I’m so thankful my hero, Bill Talley, was a longtime friend. We enjoyed many laughs and talking sports. He always wanted to know about his friends in the Cleveland area. Deep down inside, I hoped he would return to this area to coach, but he kept telling me “when you breath the Texas dust, you never want to leave,” and he didn’t.
A celebration of Bill’s wonderful life will be held at Cleveland First Baptist Church Saturday, July 20th at 11 a.m. Further announcements will be made later.
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