The Hoover Bucs’ Mr. James
By Wayne Wood
Most 80-year old men with 5 children and 15 grandchildren would be living the life of retirement and ease. Mr. James Dillard of Hoover High School is not in the category of most men however. Anyone who knows Mr. James will indicate that he always gives 100% to everything he does with a positive attitude and is happy & willing to do whatever is needed & more.
Mr. James attends all Hoover Buc football & basketball games when possible. As a former athlete himself and a native of Birmingham helps instill this interest. He takes a special interest in all the students, often discussing their school work, activities and plans for the future. Hoover High principal Don Hulin says, “Mr. James is a great man & cares about everyone at HHS, from students to teachers to parents.”
He began working as a custodian in Hoover Schools in 2001. Long before then, he spent 6 years serving in the U.S. Air Force before returning to civilian life working 35 years as a supervisor, then department manager at a steel plant in Columbus, Ohio. Thus hard work has always been part of his life in supporting his great family and maintaining a strong spiritual life in his service.
Mr. James is a fixture throughout the many and lengthy halls of Hoover High School. Every time I visit the school, I always hope I will come in contact with him sometime & somewhere. He always has a friendly disposition and I personally have a great feeling after a visit with him. It’s certain many people have the same opinion.
In early 2011, Mr. James was selected as the Hoover City School System Faculty Winner of the prestigious Finley Character Award which is presented annually to one system faculty employee and several students across the various schools. Knowing the character and work ethic of Coach Bob Finley reminded me of a story from years ago. I could detect several similarities comparing Coach Finley and James Dillard although they never met each other. Hearing Mr. James speak at his reception of his award at the recognition banquet only refortified my perception. Here is the story.
I met this young coach at a coaching clinic back about 1996. He recognized my connection with Berry High School/Hoover High School after talking with some of us. We struck up a conversation about Coach Finley and as best as I can remember, this is what he said.
“I had just graduated from college in 1980 and moved to Birmingham. I was looking for a high school teaching & coaching job. Berry High School was just one of the places I visited.”
“It was the summer and hardly anyone was on campus. I went by the main office and asked who the head football coach was and where I could find him. The lady at the desk told me it was Bob Finley and that he could be anywhere on the fields, gym or someone that way.”
“After looking around the fields and not seeing anyone, I walked into what appeared to be the locker room. There was some man cleaning the toilets and sinks. I assumed this wasn’t him but instead the custodian.”
“I wandered around the empty gym area and empty coaches’ offices looking for anybody. I figured that Coach Finley wasn’t there and went back to my car. I began driving off but decided to turn around and go ask that man in the locker room if he could direct me to Bob Finley.”
“When I got back and went to the same place, he wasn’t there. I went upstairs and saw the same man pushing a broom mop across the gym floor. I asked him if he would tell me when Bob Finley might be back. He told me, ‘I’m Bob Finley.’ I responded with what I’m sure was a surprised ‘Oh, Okay’ and probably looked liked an idiot to him.”
“I finally introduced myself after quietly thinking to myself, ‘This is the head football coach of a big high school and he was cleaning toilets?’ He stopped what he was doing and invited me into his office. I told him my intentions, but we ended up talking about a lot of different things involving life.”
“It must have lasted 30 minutes, and I never felt so important talking to a complete stranger before or since. He was cordial, yet honest but said he’d try and help me get a job around the area if possible. I didn’t get a job at Berry or in the Birmingham area, but I never forgot that man. I did keep up with the rest of his career before he died. He was a great man, wasn’t he?”
The same characteristics of Coach Finley and Mr. James Dillard are remarkable. Though their personalities are different in some ways, the ways they deal with people with the heart of a sincere servant are strikingly similar.
Mr. James is truly a Hoover Buc Legend beloved by many.