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Bill Bryant’s stay in Galax wasn’t an extremely lengthy one. But around here, he is spoken of as if he had spent a quarter-century molding the minds and bodies of young men from Baywood to Fairview.
The former Maroon Tide football coach called Galax home for 12 years, from 1965-77. The impact he made during that time and the impression he left behind has endured ever since.
William G. “Bill” Bryant died Monday in Bristol, Tenn., at age 66 after a long battle with cancer.
Born in Washington County and a graduate of Patrick Henry High School in Glade Spring, Bryant was a stellar athlete at Emory & Henry College from 1961-65. He earned induction into the school’s Hall of Fame in 1971 after an outstanding career in both football and baseball, which included All-America honors on the football field.
Bryant coached both baseball and football at Galax, and he played a key role in the beginning of what would become a 26-year run on the diamond for Larry Spangler.
After accepting a job offer in Galax in the summer of 1974, Winfred Beale instead wound up in the Floyd system, where he still remains as a successful football coach. Bryant noticed Spangler’s name among a list of applicants and advised Galax administrators to interview Spangler, who had taken a year off after a successful run as the baseball coach at Virginia High in Bristol.
“I knew Bill a little bit from coaching clinics and he knew I coached and had for several years,” Spangler said. “He told them they needed to give me a call, and they did, and I interviewed and got the job.”
Spangler assisted Bryant on the baseball field for a season before taking over the program in the spring of 1976.
“He didn’t want to turn the baseball program over to just anybody,” Spangler recalls. “He knew I had been successful at Va. High, and said that if I would coach with him one year he would recommend me for the job, which he did.”
Spangler also worked with Bryant on the football field.
“He was old-school,” Spangler said. “He believed in discipline and hard work. He was no-nonsense.”
His former players can attest to that.
“We practiced at 7 in the morning,” said Don Ayers, who played defensive end for Bryant and who now is an advertising rep at The Gazette. “We worked so hard that you would crawl away, pull off your helmet and throw up. Then you put your helmet back on and got back to it.”
The words were spoken with admiration.
Ayers credited Bryant with helping form the Galax Boosters Club, and also for creating the first weight room at the high school.
The association lasted past high school for Ayers, who, as a GHS graduate, was questioned along with a fellow graduate and teammate by local authorities after the two were seen driving in the vicinity of some mailboxes that had been knocked over.
For days the questioning continued to the point of badgering until Bryant tracked down the two boys, who were working for the City at the time.
“He said, ‘Just tell me the truth,’ ” remembers Ayers. “ ‘If you did it, just tell me and I’ll try to help you.’ ”
Ayers and his buddy maintained their innocence, and Bryant talked to the authorities on their behalf. The questioning stopped.
“If you played for him, he had your back,” said Ayers. “He had a huge impact on my life.”
Spangler as well spoke of Bryant with more than a hint of gratitude and admiration.
“He gave me the opportunity [to coach at Galax],” he said. “He was a good football coach. Sound fundamentally, and his teams bore that out.
“He was a good coach, and a good fellow.”
Bryant left Galax in 1977 for Marion Senior High, where he coached until leaving the profession in 1981. He worked for New York Life Insurance Co. until retirement.
He is survived by, among others, his wife, Cheryl McFadden of Bristol, sons Christopher Bryant of Emory and Patrick Bryant of Alexandria and step-daughters Lisa Mitchell of Bristol and Lara Barker of Franklin, Tenn.
A memorial celebration is planned at a later date where friends will be invited to share memories of Coach Bryant.