Wiedmer: McCallie's Bill Cherry the epitome of teacher and coach

Wiedmer: McCallie's Bill Cherry the epitome of teacher and coach

September 9th, 2017 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Bill Cherry had a game plan that late summer in 1970. He was going to work at McCallie School for three years; then he and Mary would, in his words, "move on."

Forty-seven years later in a large amphitheater inside the school's Sports and Activities Center that forevermore officially will be known as the Bill Cherry Team Room, the longtime coach, teacher and administrator was honored early Friday evening for never moving on — mostly because, in his words, "It's just a great place to be and good for my family."

Cherry is 75 now, his daughters Rachel and McLean long ago grown with children of their own. He hasn't been the McCallie athletic director since 2008 and hasn't taught geometry since 2011, but his legacy reaches both across the state and across the river to archrival Baylor.

"He was my mentor when I became athletic director at Baylor," said Austin Clark, who has remained the Red Raiders' basketball coach since 1982, though he stepped down as AD in 2006. "Bill was the epitome of what an athletic director should be."

Ronnie Carter, executive director of the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association from 1986 to 2009, seconded that assessment.

"From the first days I worked with Bill it was apparent that he 'got it,'" Carter said Friday morning, recalling his long friendship with Cherry, as well as the McCallie administrator's significant role in the TSSAA's public/private split during the mid-1990s.

"Bill transcended public-private," Carter said. "He was instrumental in working with schools on both sides. He was a top (athletic department) figure statewide. He was a leader, always understanding what both sides needed to make this work."

To listen to those gathered at the reception to dedicate the room some already affectionally have named "The Cherry Pit" was to hear of a man who's never quit working, even through recent heart surgeries.

"He was my honors geometry teacher," recalled Lee Burns, now the McCallie headmaster. "He was demanding but fair, a great teacher. He showed those same traits with athletes and coaches."

John Green, recently named head of the school's Honor Fund, remembered a middle school practice a few years ago, Cherry working with the defensive backs while Green ran the offense. Calling for a pass play over the middle, Green watched in horror as his best young wideout ran over Cherry, harshly knocking the then 70-year-old coach to the turf.

"It was unbelievable," Green said. "Coach does a barrel roll and bounces right back up on his feet. Everybody's kind of still for a second hoping he's OK, and he just looks around and says, 'Let's go.'"

Bill and Mary have been going together since they were kids back in Franklin, Tenn., Bill being all of 14 and Mary 13. They've haven't been apart for any extended period of time since then.

Yet recalling that first year in Chattanooga, she said, "I came kicking and screaming. I wasn't at all sure I wanted to be here. But the Lord knew so much better than me. It's been a great place to raise our girls. The faculty here has always been such a family. It's been such a blessing to call this place home."

Added Bill of raising daughters on an all-male campus: "They learned not to be intimidated by boys."

The house the Cherrys long lived in on campus is gone now, a victim of the school's expansion and development.

"I miss that house," said Mary Cherry. "The Young Life (Christian youth) program for GPS and McCallie began in that house. We planted the Christmas tree that's grown so big and is covered in lights every year. I went to Huntsville to get that little tree."

Though officially retired, Cherry still drops by McCallie daily, still keeps an office on campus and often can be found tooling around the school's ever-expanding grounds in a golf cart.

"Mary Cherry told me I couldn't stay home," he said with a chuckle.

Or at least she wouldn't let him quit dropping in on his Blue Tornado home of the last 47 years.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com

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