A fisherman like Charlie Bailey wasn’t easily hooked when he moved from Lamar to Johnson City in the fifth grade, but he was ultimately quite a catch for Science Hill.
Bailey was an all-conference basketball and baseball player for the Hilltoppers, and after playing both sports at ETSU, he coached both at Science Hill before overseeing the successful 1990s as athletic director.
“My dad and mom both played basketball at Lamar,” Bailey said. “I was probably in the ninth grade before I quit going to Lamar games and started going to Science Hill games. I wanted to go back down there. We lived on Virginia Street pretty close to where the Lamar school bus ran, but mom and dad said, ‘No. you’re going to city schools and you’re going to Science Hill.’ They were very wise and it worked out for the best.”
Lamar coach Aubrey Painter would disagree, as evidenced when he deadpanned to Hilltoppers coach Elvin Little after Bailey had a good game in a Science Hill win.
“Coach Painter – he had a distinct voice – said, ‘Elvin, I raised little Spider and you stole him from me,” Bailey said, triggering a chuckle.
Bailey was a quarterback on the court, and athletic enough to make the kind of “twisting layups” in transition that sportswriter Jack Linville was impressed with during a win against Erwin. Bailey had 32 points and 11 assists in that game – on a team that had Curly Thomason and juniors Dee Dee Stuart and Percy Hairston.
“With Charlie it was like having a coach on the floor,” Little said. “He had great vision, great peripheral vision. I believe he could see the floor better than anybody I ever coached outside of (Steve) Spurrier. He was a born leader and a great competitor.”
Little said he rode Bailey, who never wilted under the pressure.
“My guards were my whipping boys,” Little said. “I communicated to the others through them. I used to bust Charlie’s (butt). But Charlie was a tough, hard-nosed kid. He wasn’t no rich kid.
“Charlie was so thin and weak-looking that he’d fool you, but he was tough. He threw the ball inbounds one night and hit the outta-bounds line. I took him out and told him ‘You’ve made every mistake a guard can make. If I had anybody better than you, I’d keep them out there.’ And he went back in and played great.”
Bailey’s senior season in basketball was gratifying.
“I remember going on to the state tournament, where we finished third,” he said. “And we had an opportunity to win it. We got beat by Jimmy England and Knox Holston. He was Mr. Basketball and went on to UT.”
Bailey was a solid infielder who hit for a high average in baseball.
“Charlie was a great shortstop, very sure-handed and made very few errors,” said Jerry Dempsey, who started as a sophomore catcher Bailey’s senior season. “He wasn’t gonna knock you down with it, but he had an accurate arm and he had a good sense for the ball. “Charlie wasn’t a power hitter, but he was a good singles hitter and a good baserunner. He was more of a technician, so to speak. … He was a good teammate and a good leader.”
Bailey coached Science Hill to a state runner-up finish in 1981, and his Hilltoppers went 28-4 the following year, but were upset by David Crockett in the postseason. There’s been debate about which team was better, but Bailey doesn’t hesitate.
“When you have Mark Elrod on the mound, that makes you better, and we didn’t have him in ’82,” Bailey said. “His mechanics weren’t real good, but he just had a really strong arm. He could throw every day. He would pitch one day and catch the next day, and throw you out at second base from his knees. I mean he had a gun. When the game was on the line he just rared back and threw it by you.”
Bailey said his two hardest-working players were Jeff Forney, who had a lengthy career in his beloved Cincinnati Reds organization, and Jay Seehorn, who caught at ETSU. Gordon Simpson and Billy Patton were the two best center fielders he saw, and Jackie Cook might’ve had the most powerful bat and presence.
“Jackie Cook, as a sophomore, he led us in home runs, RBIs and average,” Bailey said. “It just came natural for Jackie. He had a hitch in his swing, but you didn’t throw it by him. And he had a lot of confidence and was very competitive.
“When Jackie was maybe a junior or a senior, we had batting practice on Sunday because we were playing D-B on Monday, and he didn’t show up. So I didn’t play him. He took it well, carried the bats and cheered for his teammates from the bench. He responded really well, and I asked him, ‘Jackie, why didn’t you come to practice?’ He said, ‘I went fishing.’ I said, ‘Well, next time come to practice, and then you and I will both go fishing.’”
Many years later, Bailey was out at Broyles Field when a truck approached.
“There used to be a gravel parking lot out there beyond right field and there was big old truck that came flying in there, skidded to a stop and threw gravel everywhere,” Bailey said. “In my mind I said ‘Oh gosh, this must be an irate parent or something.’ And here comes Jackie Cook, and he said, ‘Coach, I got me a boat and I can beat you fishing now.’”
Bailey was a basketball assistant 11 years under Little and Dennis Greenwell.
“Coach Little got me into coaching and he’s been a mentor,” Bailey said. “In many ways, he’s like a dad. I’ve never seen anyone that was any more intense and making sure the little things were done right. Above all, you gave effort for him.
“And I also learned – he never allowed you to make an excuse for a mistake. There might be a reason, but you didn’t make excuses, you just did what he asked you to do. I always felt like he had confidence in me – we didn’t have point guards in those days, but I handled the ball most of the time, especially on the break. And he’d let me know what he wanted us to run offensively and defensively. I don’t think there’s ever been a better coach than Coach Little. … George Pitts always reminded me of Coach Little a lot with his intensity and preparation.”
Bailey succeeded Little as the athletic director, and among the accomplishments while he was AD (1990-99) were three state basketball championships and a state baseball title.
“He was well-groomed for the job … and I know he did as good of a job or better than I did as AD,” Little said. “I think he probably did as good of a job as anybody.”
The loyalty that made it hard to leave Lamar is what made Bailey the quintessential Hilltopper.
“The good Lord’s blessed me – allowed me to have been a student at Science Hill, a player at Science Hill, a teacher in the Johnson City school system, a coach and AD,” Bailey said. “It’s been a great career … but any success I had at any of those levels was because of teammates, teachers and coaches. I never considered myself a great athlete. I was a pretty good athlete. And I never considered myself a great coach.
“But I did learn from people like Paul Brewster, “Little” Bob Evans, Emory Hale, Cregg Moss and Elvin Little about how to work hard. And if you work at it, you can be successful.”