Naylond Hayes coached Charles Gillespie, and Naylond Hayes coached against Charles Gillespie.
“You couldn’t find a better person,” Hayes said.
Coach Gillespie, who led Byhalia to several 30-win seasons on the basketball court, died July 31 at the age of 68. He coached the Indians 13 years, leaving in 2007. They finished as state runners-up twice.
“He had a great life,” Hayes said. “He was a great leader. He will be missed.”
After moving to Marshall County 16 years ago, I met Gillespie that next basketball season. I found out quickly he was an excellent basketball coach, but more so he was a godly man with integrity.
We’d talk almost weekly during the season – about basketball and other things. We’d share laughs, and he shared some advice about life.
It was 2004 when Hayes’ Hawks and Gillespie’s Indians met in an all Marshall County championship game at Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson. Holly High won a war, 70-66. Gillespie made Hayes, whose team was favored, sweat it out.
“I was really afraid,” Hayes said. “We had beaten them three times; and going against them a fourth time, that’s not in your favor.
“After the game, he (Gillespie) told me, ‘I should have beat you.’ We hugged and stayed good friends.”
The Gillespie-Hayes relationship began in the early ’70s at Rust College when Hayes was his coach.
“He was a great ball player but a better person,” Hayes said. “He played small forward – good shooter and rebounder and he was fast.”
Jerry Moore and Summer Pannell worked with Gillespie in the Marshall County School District. Both shared their utmost respect for him.
“This world lost a great man and a great friend,” Moore said. “He cared about his students, players and friends. He was a merciful, kind, tender-hearted and fun man. I loved our conversations, his jokes, his demeanor, his enthusiasm for life.”
Moore said he and Gillespie still talked on the phone regularly.
“He never stopped checking on me,” Moore said. “I just loved the man. There is going to be a big void in my life without him.”
Pannell, who coached the Byhalia Lady Indians, said Gillespie took her under his wing when she was cutting her teeth in coaching.
“He not only taught me a ton about the Xs and Os, he taught me how to build relationships with my players, discipline them when they needed it and care about them enough to remember they were just kids and would make mistakes,” she said.
Pannell said Gillespie was a coach, pastor, teacher, comedian, parent and mentor.
“He touched many, many lives at Byhalia High School and in the community,” she said. “He taught me leadership lessons to help me become what I am today. I am forever grateful I was able to coach alongside him and learn from him.”
I wrote a story on Gillespie when he left Byhalia.
“The kids – we became close,” he said. “I always wanted to help the kids. There’s a life after basketball, and that’s what is important.”
Amen, Coach, Amen.