Words of Wood The Buccaneer Chapman Family
By Wayne Wood
When Cleon Chapman and his wife Helen moved to the Bluff Park community in the mid-1950’s, there was not yet a Berry High School and the city of Hoover was quite a few years from existing. Their daughter Carolyn and sons Sonny and Neal would complete their formative years of growing up and schooling in the area. Carolyn eventually attended Shades Valley High School which was the main high school at the time for this part of Jefferson County.
By 1962, Sonny was playing football at Berry High School as a sophomore on the first team coached by head coach Larry Wilson, Bud Bishop and Jimmy Johnson. That year the team was comprised of only 9th and 10th graders. By 1964, Sonny’s senior season, Bob Finley had joined the staff as an assistant.
In time, Sonny and his wife had 3 children: Everett, Sunni, and Landers raising them in the Bluff Park area which by now had become a part of the young city of Hoover in 1967. Following is the beginning of Everett’s recollections of his time growing up.
“My life as a Berry Buccaneer began very early in life, considering that’s where my dad had gone to high school. Sonny Chapman was #63 on the earliest of Bucs teams and was a part of the first graduating class of the then new W.A. Berry High School in 1965. I grew up hearing stories of the Kolen brothers, especially Mike, because he played at Auburn and was later on the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins. He also had a cool nickname: Captain Crunch. I heard stories about Coach Bishop and Coach Wilson and of course Coach Finley. Although he wasn’t my dad’s head coach, he would always speak highly of him.”
“Growing up in a Buc household, we missed very few games when I was a child. We even traveled to road games sometimes, especially if it was the playoffs. I knew who the Berry players were as well as I did my Crimson Tide players. I always dreamed that I would one day get to play for Bob Finley and then Bear Bryant.”
“After going to a private school through most of elementary and all of junior high, I was offered a choice before 9th grade. If I wanted to play sports, especially football, I could go to high school at Berry or go to another private school that had football. Of course, that decision was easy for me and I would become a freshman at Berry in the fall of 1982.”
As that fall was getting closer, I was starting to get a little anxious. I was leaving a very small private school and going to this big public high school and was feeling a bit overwhelmed. So, I decided I wasn’t going to play football that year and concentrate on getting acclimated to my new environment. My parents seemed to be alright with my decision and even said it was my choice.”
“I was reminded, however, of when practices started. One afternoon in early August of 1982, my dad asked me if I wanted to go play tennis. Since we did this often, I didn’t think much about it, but the place he picked to play that day would change the way my next four years would play out. We ended up playing tennis that afternoon at the tennis courts at Berry. And, guess what was going on while we were playing tennis? Yep, football practice. We played for awhile, but my attention was on the football field and not the tennis court.”
“After football practice ended and while we are still playing tennis, up walks Coach Finley. He and my dad exchanged pleasantries and then he turns to me and says that he really hoped that I would play football on the freshman team and that they needed someone like me. Now, remember, this is who I’ve wanted to play for my entire life, so…I was at practice the very next day.”
“I had very limited contact with Coach Finley during my freshman year, but when off-season football came, he was with all of us every day. One memory that I will never forget about him occurred on January 26, 1983. We were on the practice field stretching and Coach Finley proceeds to tell us that Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant had passed away that morning. It was a shock to all of us, but having Coach Finley be the one to tell us made it somewhat special. Anyway, so much for playing for Coach Bryant, but I still had a few years left with Coach Finley.”
“I played on the B-team my sophomore year of 1983 and really the only interesting thing about that team was we got a new assistant coach named Joe Jennings. The first practice he was with us, the season had already started, we were in the gym because of rain. At the end of practice, he told us all we had to do was 5 up and 5 back, from baseline to the other free throw line. We were ecstatic, only 10 sprints! After the first one, Coach Jennings belts out, ‘That one does not count!’ I think we ran something like 100 of those before we got to 5 up/5 back.”
“That year for the varsity was not a very good year with a 2-8 record. It was the first losing record of Coach Finley’s career and that offseason was quite different than the year before. After the first week of off-season workouts, we had many decide to give up football. That spring practice was also the hardest of the four years I was there. Coach did not like losing, that’s for sure!”
“Late August of 1984, I finally got to do what I had been dreaming of my whole life. I played in my first varsity game as a Berry Buccaneer. We played a great game and beat Jess Lanier/Bessemer in a shutout. The QB of the Purple Tigers that day was Stan White’s older brother, Roger. We had an up and down season finishing 5-5 and losing heartbreak games against Vestavia and Shades Valley to keep us from the playoffs.”
“Coach Finley Finley decided to change up Spring practice my junior year. Instead of playing in a jamboree against other teams from our area, we had an Orange/White game. We divided the team and played a game in Finley Stadium. The best part of that game was watching Thor Erikson and Rob Selby go at each other since they were on different teams.”
“In the summer before my senior year, Coach Finley took five of us to Savannah, Georgia for a QB/Receiver camp. This was one of my favorite times being with Coach Finley. We were away from school and he was a whole different person. He was actually laid back and you could see his fun side. He told jokes and we would joke to him about his driving. There was nothing smooth about Coach’s driving: stop fast and start fast. We were all rolling in the back of the van with Coach Finley laughing the whole time.”
“Senior year rolls around and we had two main goals for that season: win all of our home games and get back to the playoffs. I can say we accomplished them both although the playoff run ended pretty quick. The only good part of the playoff defeat was getting to play in Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa. With that defeat, my time playing for the Berry Bucs had quickly come to an end.”
“After graduation in 1986, I had a short stay at Alabama before joining the Air Force. While stationed with the Army in Germany, I was deployed to the Middle East for Desert Shield/Desert Storm. Being in the middle of the desert was not very much fun, but getting letters made it bearable. I remember when I opened one and it was from Coach Finley. It showed me that he cared for all his players whether you were current or past.”
“I got out of the military in the summer of 1993 and moved in my mom and me step-dad in Louisville, Kentucky. I took some classes at the local junior college and decided that I was going to come back to Birmingham in the fall of 1994, attend UAB and use my GI Bill. Before that could happen, though, major life changes were about to happen to me, that would change me forever.”
“On July 23, 1994, my 17-year-old sister Sunni, died tragically in a single-vehicle crash in Louisville, KY. I was crushed. I had never lost anyone close to me and were closer at that time than we had ever been before. I had lived with her for the last year, after being away for a few years and we had bonded. She was about to be a senior and we had just picked out her Senior Pictures. It devastated our whole family.”
“After the funeral in Kentucky, my dad decided to have a memorial service for my sister the following Friday in Birmingham. Either that Wednesday or Thursday. I saw Coach Finley for the last time. I was sitting at the stop light at the bottom of Patton Chapel Road when I see out of the corner of my eye someone waving at me. I look over and it’s none other than Coach Finley! I waved back and said hello, the light changed and we went on our way. I still think God put Coach and me there that day for a reason.”
“On the very next Sunday, two days after my sister’s memorial service, I went on a second date, the night before had been the first, with a girl named Angie Stofel. We went to Wings in Wildwood and were getting ready to be seated when we saw someone from high school leaving. That’s when we got the news that Coach Finley had died cutting the grass in his stadium. I couldn’t believe it. I had lost my sister and my football coach all in the same week and I had just seen Coach just a few days before. I was supposed to head back to Louisville on Monday but decided to stay and attend Coach’s funeral. I think about him often, especially that last encounter that I had with him at that stop light.”
“But through all of the sadness and death that happened that week, something beautiful also came about. Angie Stofel and I have been together ever since and she became Angie Chapman two years later. Both of our kids are Bucs: Elizabeth Rae is finishing up her freshman year at Hoover High School and Annie is finishing up her 6th-grade year at Simmons Middle School and just made the 7th-grade cheerleading squad.”
“Other members of the Chapman Family that were athletes at Berry were my dad’s younger brother Neal who wrestled in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. His two sons also wrestled for the Bucs: Scott in the mid-1990’s and Casey who won state regional championship for 3 years, 1997, 98 and 99 and the state his senior.”
Everett sells insurance now and we have to include input from his wife, Angie who works for I.T. She says, “We met when I was a junior at Berry and Everett was a freshman at Alabama. We met at a Berry home football game that he had come back to watch. We became close friends over the next couple of years, which turned into best friends. We communicated through letters when he was in the Air Force overseas.”
“In May of 1994, he was in Birmingham and we hadn’t seen each other for a long time. We spent the day together with friends at the pool. He was back and forth between Birmingham and Louisville that summer and we were able to spend lots of time together.”
“At the end of July, he lost his precious sister and Coach Finley, but our friendship was turning into more. We had our first date on July 30, 1994, he proposed to me on April 23, 1996, and we were married on September 28, 1996.”
“There was never a doubt about where we wanted to raise our children, the community we both grew up in still love…Hoover.”
“Our oldest, Elizabeth Rae (ERae) was born in 2003, just 2 years after we had moved to Bluff Park. Annie, our youngest, was born in 2005. Everett instilled his love of sports in both of them from Day 1.”
“ERae was very active in dance, taking from the time she was 2 years old until she was in 5th grade. She played church league basketball from 2nd through 6th grade, then went on to play for the Lady Bucs at Simmons in 7th grade. She won the Becky Snead Spirit of Perseverance Award in basketball in the 7th grade. She was also a member of the 7th and 8th grade cheerleading squads at Simmons, a tennis team member in the 8th grade and inducted into the National Junior Honor Society her last year as well. ERae is finishing up her freshman year at Hoover High where she was a member of the Diamond Dolls hostesses for Bucs Baseball. She hopes to run cross country her sophomore year.”
“Annie has her dad’s athletic ability (actually they both do). She played soccer from age 4 until age 9. Everett was her coach in both spring and fall seasons for that entire time. She participated in the Kids Mercedes Marathon from 2nd through 5th grade in elementary school and took dance for 2 years. She cheered for the ‘Little Bucs’ her 5th grade year and has taken private cheer lesson for the past 3 years.”
“Annie is finishing her 6th grade year at Simmons and just made the 7th grade cheer squad! She is looking forward to cheering on the Bucs for the next football and basketball season and may add tennis or running to her schedule in the 7th grade.”
Angie attended Simmons back in 1982-84 before attending Berry High all 4 years and graduated in 1988. While at Berry, she was an Alto in the school choir, a member of the women’s and chamber choirs and was in both the All-State and All-County choirs her junior and senior years. Her senior year, she was selected for a group called Alabama Choral Explosion, which promoted high school choral programs in Alabama. During the football season of 1987 her senior year she was selected as the Homecoming Queen. She attended Auburn University beginning in 1988.
This coming September will mark their 22nd wedding anniversary. When their daughters graduate from Hoover High during the years of the next decade it will have covered 7 decades which members of the Chapman Family will note their beginnings as Buccaneers. Truly Remarkable.