PILOT MOUNTAIN — East Surry’s Barry Hall has added another accolade to his long list of coaching awards over the past 37 years.
Baseball legend George Whitfield held a banquet on Friday, Jan. 11, before holding his 41st-annual baseball clinic at Goldsboro High School.
As is his custom, Whitfield invited some of the most noteworthy sports figures from the high school and college ranks to attend the banquet and be honored, among them was Hall.
Hall said he felt out of place with such a prestigious list of players and coaches.
He sat beside former Wake Forest basketball star Anthony Teachey, who averaged 13 points and 10 boards as a senior and was drafted by the Dallas Mavericks.
Hall recognized longtime Appalachian State football coach Jerry Moore, former N.C. State quarterback Johnny Evans, and Phil Weaver, the executive director of the N.C. Coaches Assn.
Also honored was former Mount Airy football star Edsel Hiatt, who went on to play football and baseball at Lees-McRae Junior College and Presbyterian College.
The coach said he even saw country music legend Whispering Bill Anderson, who recorded seven number-one hits and has written several others like “Whiskey Lullaby” for Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss.
Of course, Hall has no reason to feel outclassed by anyone. He holds a career record of 653 wins and 325 losses, all of those at East Surry.
He is now the all-time leader in baseball wins at one school, having passed Charles “Babe” Howell (618) in 2011. He is second overall behind Ronald Vincent, who has more than 800 wins.
When East Surry plays its 22nd game this spring, Hall will reach 1,000 career games coached.
He has been named conference coach of the year so many times he had to refer to notes to count the awards – 10 times, for those keeping track. He’s also coached the Cardinals to 20 or more wins in 13 seasons.
Twice the Cards have reached the state championship series.
Blaine Bullington was one of the top players on the 1982 team that lost to East Bladen, said Hall. His son, Jonathan, was a member of the 2007 team that fell to Princeton.
Out of his 37 years as head coach, the baseball team has qualified for the state playoffs 29 times.
Hall held up the large plaque that Whitfield presented him at the banquet.
He said, “This is a big honor for Surry County and East Surry High School, the assistant coaches that have helped me and all the players who have played for me over 37 years.”
He has had just two junior varsity coaches over the years: first Garvine Collins and now Mike Kiser. Only two assistant coaches have worked by his side over the decades.
Harry Downs had already been with Hall for more than 20 years when current assistant coach Chad Freeman joined the group 13 years ago.
Working so long with the same men has helped the staff work seamlessly together both in practices and games, Freeman said.
Downs has been retired for several years, but spoke out when Hall reached his 600th win in 2010.
“People around the dugouts would think we were mad at each other,” Downs said of his heated exchanges with Hall. “But Hall always said, ‘I don’t want a yes man, I want somebody that will give me their opinion.’ Me and him would fuss, but we both knew we were trying to win, and when the game was over, there were no hard feelings.”
Hall admitted he can get pretty worked up during games. When he walks out to the mound to talk to a pitcher, the young man doesn’t know if he’s going to get soft words of encouragement or a tongue lashing.
“If I walk out there pretty quickly, I’m alright,” he said with a grin. If he shuffles out to the mound deliberately, it might be because he’s calming himself down along the way.
What does he usually say to a pitcher?
It’s usually either trying to calm him down or to focus in on a point the coach is trying to get across. There are few changes that can be made in the middle of a game, he said. That has to happen in practice.
The players sometimes think Hall is being too hard on them at practice, but he says they should have played for his high school basketball coach, Frank Christie.
Hall spent his first two years at King High School (1961-63), then South Stokes opened. His new coach was Christie, a Wake Forest star and 1992 inductee into the Wake Hall of Fame.
The first day of practice, there wasn’t a basketball in sight, he recalled. There were, however, eight trash cans out on the floor.
Two hours later after running numerous sprints, he said, “we knew what those trash cans were for, and we’d used them several times.”
After 13 years together, Freeman broke down Hall’s coaching philosophy into three simple rules: learn the fundamentals, play hard and play the game the right way.
“If you do that, more times than not you put yourself in a position to win,” Freeman said.
Working hard and doing things the right way are messages that hopefully the boys take away from the game once their playing days are over, he said.
One former player said he was walking down Main Street in Pilot Mountain with his baseball cap turned around backward. Coach Hall was driving by; he pulled to the curb and told the young man to turn his hat back around.
Hall smiled when the story was repeated.
That is part of doing things the right way, he said. The way the player wears his uniform, refraining from using bad language, hitting the cut-off man, these are part of his rules to live by.
What makes Barry Hall successful is that attention to detail, said Freeman. East Surry has been blessed with baseball talent, but it still has to be cultivated with good coaching, he noted.
On the subject of talent, if Hall had a dream pitching rotation, what four pitchers would he choose?
David Mabe, Jordan Jessup, Chris Smith and Rodney Bottoms, he replied. With that lineup, the coach said he would win the 4A state title.
Hall also rattled off another 15 names of past players. And, he added, A current player, Drew Wilson, has the talent to pitch at the collegiate level.
As for the top hitter he’s ever coached, Hall didn’t need long to think on that one.
“Chris Chilton was the best,” he said. There have been some truly great hitters, he said, but they are all vying for second place behind Chris.
He said his dream lineup would include these four hitters: Chilton, Bottoms, Richard Pell and Scott Campbell.
“When you see Rodney’s name on both lists, you know he was a special player,” Hall said.
Speaking of special, Hall said none of his accomplishments would have been possible without a special wife waiting for him at home.
“The wife of a coach has to be understanding,” he said, and Rachel has certainly been that.
Speaking of his won-loss record, he said, “There were 325 times I came home not quite as happy as the other 653 times.”
With his 4-year-old granddaughter Madisyn with him at games, however, Hall said he has a new perspective.
“Since she came along, the losses don’t bother me half as much as they used to,” he said. She just wants to hop on the Gator and ride around the field.
Managing a job, a coaching career and a family can be difficult. And if one sport wasn’t enough, Hall coached girls basketball the first decade East Surry had a team, and he helped out with the JV boys a few years.
When his son Bryan was tiny, Barry sometimes had the toddler with him on the basketball sidelines.
The cheerleaders would help watch him, while Hall would pace the floor with a spare diaper sticking out of his back pocket.
Bryan is now the one watching over the cheerleaders, he noted, and daughter Denise is a nurse.
As for his own job, Hall said he has no plans to pursue Vincent’s record of more than 800 wins, but he might coach for two to three more years to try for the 700-win plateau.
“That would be a nice milestone,” he said.
Of course, he might have to run that by Rachel.