This past Friday night marked the end of a remarkable run for Happy Valley basketball head coach Roscoe “Charlie” Bayless.
His Warriors lost 53-42 to Sullivan North in the opening round of the District 1-AA tournament, thus ending a coaching career which spanned seven decades.
The numbers are staggering — most impressive his passion for the game with 62 years on the sidelines, including national records with 60 years as head coach and the last 59 at Happy Valley.
There are the 965 wins, nine state tournament qualifiers, numerous conference, district and region titles, along with the 1974 state championship.
He’s also coached two Tennessee All-Star teams to wins over bordering states, and helped best friend, Buck Van Huss, coach the East team against Shaquille O’Neal and the West team in the 1989 McDonald’s High School All-Star Game.
The 88-year-old coach’s Johnson City home has an entire room filled with trophies, awards, and other memorabilia of a career which has landed him in no less than seven Halls of Fame.
Great success, which includes the only coach to win Watauga Conference championships in football, baseball, track and gold, is only a part of what has made Charlie Bayless an icon of Northeast Tennessee sports. The devotion he and wife, Jane, as well as their four daughters, -— Sarae, Charlene, Kathy and Karen -— have shown to their family and the Warrior athletic program is a model for others to aspire to.
Some of the best testimonies about coach Bayless come from his peers.
He counts former Hampton coaches and longtime golf partners, Jerry White and J.C. Campbell, among his best friends, while coaches of bitter rivals, John English of Unicoi County and Len Dugger of Elizabethton, have gone out of their way in recent weeks to pay homage to Bayless.
Although wins were harder to come by in recent years, the Bayless-led Warriors ended a streak of 49 straight Watauga Conference wins by the Blue Devils in 2009.
“I have so much respect for Coach Bayless,” English said. “It’s an extreme honor to coach against him. He’s been an inspiration to me.
“When I first got into coaching, he would call me after a big win or a tough loss. That always meant a lot to me to get those phone calls over the years. He’s really special.”
Special on the court as well, Bayless is only one of three basketball coaches from Northeast Tennessee to win a state championship since 1970.
The others were George Pitts who won three state titles at Science Hill in the 1990s, and Donald Ensor who led Unaka to the gold ball trophy in 2004.
For his longevity and success, Bayless’ face would have to be on the Mount Rushmore of Northeast Tennessee coaches along with guys like Van Huss, Dickie Warren of Sullivan Central and Bobby Snyder of Daniel Boone.
In 2009, Bayless passed Warren for third place on the all-time win list of Tennessee coaches. After he tied Warren’s 922 victories, his longtime rival talked about the Happy Valley legend.
“He has always been a great competitor and a great friend,” Warren said. “That combination you don’t see very often. He was just like Buck Van Huss where he would beat you and still make you like him.
“We were at each other’s throats during the game, but when it was over we were best friends. Some of the coaches today aren’t like that. They harbor ill feelings over and over.”
Among those coaches of today, Bayless’ standing is evident. At last week’s Charlie Bayless Night on Warrior Hill, Pitts stood in line with fans to have his picture taken with the legendary coach.
Also that night, Sullivan East head coach John Dyer talked about Bayless’ impact on him.
“I’ve coached against Coach Bayless 28 years and I’ve learned so much from him,” Dyer said. “He always shows great class. He always appreciates great players whether they’re on his team or the opposing teams.
“He’s been a wonderful man to me with his friendship. There aren’t words to express what me and all the people at East feel about Coach Bayless.”
While not sharing as much history with Bayless as those other coaches, University High’s Justin Penley may have summed it up the best.
“You hear the word icon and it’s really thrown around too often these days,” Penley said. “With him, it’s really appropriate. He set a standard for coaching in this area with the amount of time he’s put in, the success he’s had, winning so many games. Basketball is definitely better off for having Charlie Bayless coach it all these years.”