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Multiple Teams · Words of Wood- Track Coach Wayne Williams

Capture Buccaneer Track Pioneer-Wayne Williams
By Wayne Wood

There aren’t any blaring bands, cheerleaders with shakers and the large crowds accompanying a football game at Hoover High but take a long look and you’ll discover a long line of continued success with another set of Buccaneer athletic programs. The current cross country program and both the indoor & outdoor track programs (both boys & girls) are among the top not only in the state but the nation. There is a hall section in the athletic complex dedicated entirely to the history of the programs and it keeps increasing yearly.
Current coach Devon Hind and his staff are doing a tremendous job following the long time service of Mary Birdwell. The track & field facilities at Buccaneer Stadium are named for Coach Birdwell. She attended college with Coach Bob Finley when they were students at the University of Tennessee and knew him well then and later became colleagues in the Hoover community when she was an elementary PE teacher and later a colleague at Berry High.
There numerous noted years of team and individual state champions in various places on campus. Yet the program had a pioneering beginning and the coach behind that was Wayne Williams who coached at Berry from 1968-1973. Here is his story from the book-Bob Finley-A Class Act.
At the beginning of my career, I worked for two great coaches, each with many similar characteristics. I worked for Coach Bob Finley from 1968-1973 and Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant from 1978-1983. I had, and still have, the utmost respect for both men as coaches and as men with sound principles. They both cared deeply for their profession, their families, their faith, and the people they worked with. As athletic directors of their programs, they both made decisions that were tough and hard but that were necessary to make. Some of these decisions were not looked at favorably, but they were accepted and respected.
At the beginning of my years at Berry High School, the track program was simply used as an off-season program for football and the other sports. There was not a lot of time and effort put in by the coaches to have a competitive program. When I was hired to teach at Berry, I asked Wayne Sims, the head football coach and athletic director at that time, if I could take over the track program. He gladly let me have it, but there was not much of a budget for it.
When Wayne Sims resigned and Bob Finley got the head football coach and athletic director’s position, I talked with Bob about my plan to develop the program. Bob listened, but I knew I had to show him I had what it took to make Berry a competitive program. I understood that Bob was a very hard worker in everything he did, and he expected the same from others. If I wanted his support both professionally and financially, I needed to prove myself. I felt I was up to the task, and I went to work.
I believe that as the year progressed, Bob began to appreciate my efforts in commitment and results. He began to give me time away from football to put in more time in the development of the Cross Country and Track programs. It also paid off in that we won our first state championship in Cross Country my second year and had a strong 2nd place showing in the Jefferson County Track & Field meet. Shades Valley High School had won 20 consecutive county track titles including that year. The next year we won the championship and won it each year after that.
We also won 3 state championships in Cross Country (out of the 5 years we competed) while I was at Berry. The team won the 4th state title the next year after I left for the University of Alabama. I don’t want credit for the 4th title, but I believe Bob Finley and I started a program that continued to improve and still continues to be highly respected throughout the state of Alabama. Although we did not win a state Track & Field championship during my time, the level of the program became recognized throughout Birmingham and the state. Five county titles, three district titles, and several top 5 finishes gave the Berry High School program credibility.
I believe it is a tribute to Coach Bob Finley for the success I had and that the program continues to be successful to this day. I also believe that Bob paid me a great compliment during the year that I had decided to pursue coaching on the collegiate level. When I told Bob of my plans to go to the University of Alabama, he told me he respected what I had done with the program and he thought, “I was the best track coach in the state of Alabama.” He also said he would keep the program competitive because I had put so much into it. I appreciate the fact that Coach Finley kept his word to me because he hired good track coaches to continue the success that we had achieved.
As I stated earlier, at the beginning of my career at Berry we had very little money to operate on and Coach Finley was understandably cautious about spending money just because I had asked for it. But, as time went on, he gave us more and more to operate with because I knew he believed in our program.
Now at the beginning of this writing, I said that I had worked for two great coaches early in my career. I want to say that what Coach Bryant was to the University of Alabama and collegiate coaching, Bob Finley was to Berry High School and high school football in the state of Alabama. Both were very highly respected as coaches and as men with integrity, Both were considered “great” teachers of football and the lessons of life. Former players of both coaches talk about the things they learned from them other than football. Their work ethic was incredible. They put in a great amount of time getting ready for practice and play games, and still had time for families, time to worship, and time to spend helping players who needed personal guidance.
I always like to tell of a situation about people who talk about Coach Bryant because it truly shows the amount of respect that he commanded. I tell it also because it is exactly the same way people view Coach Finley.
Through the years, I’ve talked to many people who say they knew “Bear” Bryant. They would say “Bear” this and “Bear” that. These were all people who I knew did not know Coach Bryant. Those who really knew “Bear” Bryant called him Coach Bryant. That is the same level of respect that people always had for Coach Finley. It was a privilege and honor to have been associated with Coach Bob Finley and I will always be thankful for my time at Berry High School.
* Coach Wayne Williams later coached track at the University of Southern Mississippi for several years. He has returned to visit at various Buc football and track reunions. He was a great pioneer for the Buccaneer program.