PILOT MOUNTAIN — On a Thursday afternoon in early June, Barry Hall was a difficult man to find.
For a retired man, Hall sure stays busy.
“I didn’t quit everything all at once,” he said. “I gave it up a little bit at a time.”
At one time, Hall was a school teacher, covering multiple subjects, freshman football coach, JV basketball coach, varsity girls basketball coach, baseball coach, athletic director and driver’s education instructor.
These days, he’s cut all that down to just driver’s ed.
Still, finding time to sit down for a retirement interview was not the easiest thing in the world.
Once he dropped off some kids at East Surry High School — a place where he’s spent nearly half a century — Hall was available to chat.
“It’s been fun,” he said right at the start.
Just two weeks earlier, his long coaching career came to an end with a baseball loss in the sectional final.
After back-to-back stellar seasons, one could say that Hall is stepping down while he’s still at the top of his game.
With 734 wins, Hall is the winningest baseball in state history at one school and ranks second in wins overall.
But to pigeonhole him as just a baseball coach leaves out a great deal of Hall’s story.
Hall attended King High School until the new South Stokes opened in 1963, then he graduated from there.
After finishing college, he was looking for work around his home area and got an offer from East Surry. Back then, the school didn’t ask if you would like to coach, he said, but rather how many sports will you coach.
He didn’t complain because he needed the work, and also because each extra job meant a little more green in the paycheck.
Starting in the fall of 1971, the 24-year-old Hall was named the freshman football team’s head coach.
“I didn’t know diddly squat,” he admitted. “I’d seen it on TV.”
The whole team only had 13 boys, he said, and it takes 11 at a time on the field.
“So if there was a boy standing on each side of me, then that meant there were enough guys on the field,” he said.
Thanks to having some talented athletes, Hall’s first coaching opportunity resulted in a 6-1 record.
Then came basketball season, and he took over as the boys’ JV coach. At least he’d played this sport in high school.
Jim Morgan was the varsity coach and athletic director back then, said Hall. Jim and Ron King at North Surry used to have some great battles.
Title IX passed in 1972 and before long East had a girls’ basketball team. Hall did double duty for a while as coach of both the girls’ team and the JV boys.
When the spring came around, Harry Downs was the head coach, and Hall became one of his assistants.
As for the classroom, “Most of the time I taught biology. Back when I started, if they needed something taught, they didn’t look at your certificate.”
He said he also taught history, earth science, advanced biology, and math for one year. He said he even had a class with just three special-needs students long before there was a special-education class or teacher common at schools.
About this time, Hall would meet a very special woman.
“Rachel was from Shoals, but I met her in Pilot,” he said. In 1975, the two were married and now celebrate 40 years together.
Hall’s first season as head baseball coach was in 1976, he noted, “so she’s been with me the whole time.”
“A coach’s wife, it’s tough,” he said. The coach is busy much of the time and on the road with away games. The spouse has to stay home and take care of all the problems that come up, like raising the children.
When he won his 600th game, Hall told a story of how he used to coach basketball with his infant son Bryan with him on the sidelines. He would hand the baby off to the cheerleaders while he was busy and might have to change a diaper during a timeout.
Bryan grew up with the cheerleaders, so it seemed so natural that he would become the cheer coach at East years later, he said. Bryan also is an assistant softball coach.
Their other child is Denise, a nurse with three daughters: Madisyn and the twins Maycie and Millye.
Madisyn has had a significant impact on the gruff, old-school coach.
When he received an award two years ago, Barry said, “The wife of a coach has to be understanding. There were 325 times I came home not quite as happy as the other 653 times.”
Madisyn, however, didn’t care if the team won or lost. She just wanted to hop in the Gator and ride around the field after the game.
Madisyn and the twins were in Zebulon last year when the Cards lost twice in one day to see that state championship slip away.
It was so great to have the family there, including his sister Emily, who used to coach softball, he said.
Hall said his brother, Bruce, used to coach, too, and the two brothers had to face off a few times. Playing against each other on Friday night made for some tense Sunday dinners at Mom’s table because one of them was still going to be licking his wounds, he said.
In 1976, Coach Downs wanted to take a step back from being head coach and asked Hall to flip-flop with him. Hall took over with Downs as his assistant.
Garvine Collins, Seth Brim’s grandpa, coached the JV teams for years, then Mike Kiser took over.
When Downs retired, Chad Freeman and his dad Jerry joined the team and have been a part of it for several years now.
For 20 years, Hall also was the AD at East, which was a decision that didn’t sit well with the missus at home.
The AD has to be at school whenever sporting events are going on, not just his own sport, he said.
Then time began to race past as the years will do, and in 2001, Hall chose to retire from teaching after 30 years. He would stick on as baseball coach and AD, but his time in biology lab would come to an end.
“There was one day when I got a little paranoid,” Barry recalled. The class was going to be dissecting frogs, and way back then, the teacher or students would bring in live frogs. The frogs would be paralyzed, and when they were cut open, the hearts would still be beating.
While he was lecturing, Barry thought he heard the sound of the intercom being activated. He stopped and listened, but no one spoke.
A few more times he heard the intercom come on without anyone speaking. Barry was convinced that someone in the main office was eavesdropping on his class.
Getting fired up, he said loudly toward the speaker and microphone, “If the principal wants to know what I’m doing, he can come down and watch!”
That’s when one of the boys informed the teacher that the sound he heard was a frog croaking in a bucket.
“I’ll run into former students, and they’ll bring that up. ‘You remember that time with the frogs?’”
That is what all this teaching and coaching is really about, he said. Making connections with people that last for decades.
“I’ve met some great people through the years,” he said, including some opposing coaches and administrators like Scott Carter at Starmount and Donald Price at Mount Airy.
Three times Barry’s teams played for a state championship. The first of those came in 1982.
There was an outfielder on that team named Scott Campbell, one of the four best hitters Barry ever coached, he said. “He hit some shots on this field that people still talk about.”
Scott died this year, he said. It was a terrible loss, and yet somewhat bittersweet because the retiring coach saw so many of his former players there.
Getting a chance to mingle with those friends is one of the reasons Hall says he will still be coming back to East Surry to watch some games.
Like he said, he couldn’t quit all at one time.