For Happy Valley head coach Charlie Bayless, it’s always been about more than success on the basketball court.
After 62 years of coaching high school basketball, including a national record 60 years as head coach, it’s clearly an integral part of his story. Accomplishments like 964 career wins, multiple conference, district and regional championships and a state championship are hard to ignore.
But, if sports are about more than wins and losses, it’s hard to find a better example for athletes than Bayless’ relationship with his family.
Every Happy Valley game is attended by his wife, Jane, and more often than not, their daughters and grandchildren. More important than the family get-togethers at basketball gyms, however, are the Sunday dinners.
Every Sunday, the Bayless clan gathers at the coach’s Johnson City home for food and fellowship. To them, it’s a normal part of life.
“I’m 31 years old and it’s kept us close,” grandson Ross Garland said. “It is special and all families really should try to take the time to do that. We’re always close with each other and have that support there.
“It’s just special to be a part of that family and to grow up like that. We take vacations together, go to his ball games, support him and show we care for him. It’s pretty neat.”
As one of his grandfather’s former players, Garland knows that support is often needed.
Not as publicized as the 964 career wins are 700-plus losses. Through those tough times, the 88-year-old coach earned respect from his peers, and set an example of how to handle life’s setbacks.
“He never wants to lose ball games, but he will congratulate coaches, even if it’s a big win against him,” Garland said. “The respect he shows other coaches — he’s the ultimate sportsman.”
When the going got tough, Bayless didn’t simply get going. Instead, he came to work with the same attitude as the day before.
“The biggest thing about Coach is he brings it everyday,” assistant coach Jeremy Maddox said. “I’ve been here with teams that have won over 20 games and conference championships, and teams that have struggled throughout the season.
“He never changes how he approaches practice and his attitude towards games. He’s always eager and ready to get after it every day. That’s a big testament of how great of a coach he’s been over the years.”
Win or lose, Bayless has always looked at the day after a game as a teaching opportunity.
“He always loved practice the day after a game,” said Jane Bayless, his wife of 65 years. “He liked to show the kids what they needed to correct, where they could become better players. He always worked real hard at that.”
Those efforts led to Bayless being honored throughout the state, including a spot in the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame alongside his own high school coach, A.L. “John” Treadway, who coached Bayless on the 1941 Happy Valley team, and best friend, Walter “Buck” Van Huss, a former Warrior teammate.
Among the most successful coaches in state history, Treadway retired in 1973 as the winningest coach in the state with 843 wins. Van Huss later surpassed the mark, and still holds the state record with 1,021 wins.
Combined with Bayless’ 964 wins, the trio accounted for close to 3,000 head coaching victories.
Still, if Bayless had never coached a day of basketball, he would still deserve Hall of Fame consideration.
Overall, he coached over 100 sports seasons on Warrior Hill. He led the Warrior football program from 1953-60 with an overall record of 30-25-1. He also coached baseball, track and golf, the only coach to win Watauga Conference championships in all five sports.
As the Warriors’ longest-tenured golf coach, two of his golfers, Jimmy Jones and Lisa Phipps, won individual state championships.
He’s led an impressive life outside of coaching.
After high school, Bayless served as a military policeman in World War II where he was assigned to guard high German officers at the famed Nuremburg Prison.
He was a teacher for five decades in the Carter County School System and was a Carter County commissioner for 51 years. Well respected within the Watauga Conference, he served the league both as a secretary and a past president.
Marty Street, the star of Warriors’ 1974 state championship team, said Bayless’ impact goes well beyond basketball.
“His biggest lesson I learned from Coach Bayless was whatever you do, you do it well,” Street said. “The things I think of with Coach Bayless is what he taught us with character and those type of things. We had a unique group of players and I thought he taught us the right thing to do in life as well as on the court.”
Jeff Birchfield is a sports writer for the Johnson City Press. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org