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October 10, 2005

ENCSD hails Williamson

From: Wilson Daily Times - Wilson,NC,USA - Oct 10, 2005

By Tom Ham Sports Editor

The Eastern N.C. School for the Deaf gymnasium now bears the name of the school's coach and teacher dubbed as "the greatest Fighting Hornet of them all."

The 36-year-old structure was dedicated and named as James Barney Williamson Gym in a lengthy ceremony Saturday morning in the Massey Center.

Following a ceremony filled with videos and glowing tributes, the turnout of some 200 was invited to view the unveiling of Williamson Gym placards placed on the facility's bricked exterior, within the gym itself and in the lobby.

Primary participants were the late Williamson's wife, Mary; son, Lee; daughter, Amy; and ENCSD Athletic Director Leonard Baker.

Williamson, born in 1941, coached and taught at ENCSD for 30 years before retiring in 1999. He died in April, 2004.

Videos chronicled his life and ENCSD career. He was remembered in uplifting presentations by ENCSD Director Hank Widmer, Cyndie Bennett, superintendent of the Office of Educational Services, a branch of state government that oversees North Carolina's hearing-impaired schools; keynote speaker Gary Farmer, a long-time athletic director and coach at ENCSD; Williamson's long-time teammate and long-time friend Garrett Walker; and former student-athlete Lamar Williams.

The occasion and Williamson were saluted in video messages from legendary Alabama School for the Deaf School coach Don Hackney and former ENCSD student-athlete Craig Hanford.

Members of the football team signed the song "One Sweet Day," and Justin Garrett, Javon Lashley and Joshua Wilson, a trio of football players, presented a "Hearts Inspired" tribute.

David Cobb, another former ENCSD student-athlete, saluted Williamson in his dedication prayer.

The campaign to honor Williamson's memory by naming the gym for him was launched by former ENCSD coach Ike Pakula and spearheaded by Baker. Widmer and Bennett completed the mission.

"This school needs to honor the contributions of the deaf to ENCSD," Widmer commented. "We believe this is a well-deserved honor. We appreciate his contributions, dedication and outstanding leadership."

The gesture was applauded by Farmer, an associate of Williamson's at the school for 27 years. Williamson, Farmer, Barry Pope, the late James Massey, Jimmy Lamm and Robert Watson pioneered the tiny school's athletic program.

"I know personally every person, except one, that has had a building named for them here," Farmer emphasized. "They are all incredible people in their own right. Now, we're going to name a part of a building for another special, special person.

"These kind of things just don't happen; people have to step forward. We don't always understand what (state government) does. But this is the right thing to do."

Lee and Mary Williamson expressed their appreciation in behalf of the family.

Lee Williamson joked he preferred the name of "Barney Dome" for the gym but, in a serious tone, added: "All of us have a Barney story — don't forget our Barney stories."

Mary Williamson assured her husband would be proud, but signed: "He would not have wanted the gym named for him. He would have wanted it named for the kids."

The charismatic, tireless Williamson was devoted to the welfare of the student-athletes as a graphic arts teacher and a coach in every school sport except wrestling and cheerleading.

However, Williamson's passion was his capacity as head varsity boys basketball coach from 1986 through 1999. The pinnacle event for hearing-impaired basketball teams is the Mason-Dixon Tournament, which includes 11 schools, and Williamson's teams seized the boys championship in 1991, 1992 and 1999.

Those directing lavish praise pointed out criteria for the involved process included success, devotion to duty and being loved. Bennett outlined the steps, and Farmer assured Williamson splendidly embodied every qualification.

"The man was loved," Farmer said. "He did not have a vicious bone in his body. One thing that got Barney in trouble was that he couldn't say, 'no.' He coached everything on campus. This school was his life. The man bled green and gold (ENCSD's school colors). He was the greatest ambassador to this school and deafness that I've ever met."

Farmer, now a member of the Elm City Middle School faculty, pointed out that he attracted considerable acclaim during his tenure as ECNSD's head football coach and A.D., and credited the impact and lessons in life he learned from Williamson.

"Gary Farmer was nobody without Barney Williamson," the keynote speaker said. "He was the wind beneath my wings. He left us way too early."

Williamson, said Farmer, reveled in the world of the underdog — but not from the standpoint that the hearing-impaired are handicapped but because ENCSD constantly competed against schools several times larger in terms of available athletes.

Farmer portrayed Williamson as innovative in coaching, teaching and life.

"He was thinking outside the box long before it became popular," the 36-year educator said.

Williams, a member of ENCSD's last Mason-Dixon championship team signed: "He always laughed and he always made me laugh. He reminded me of Bobby Knight — I don't think he had his temper, but had his emotion."

Williamson was an accomplished hearing-impaired athlete in the sports of football, basketball and track.

Added Walker: "(The occasion) represents what Barney is all about and what he means to the community. I always looked up to Barney. He was a good role model, a stickler for detail. It seems a little bit funny that we can celebrate and miss him at the same time. But, now, we have a connection. We can hold onto a piece of him."

Hackney, in his video message, applauded ENCSD's decision and noted that Alabama School for the Deaf often attempted to emulate ENCSD's program.

"He was more of a basketball teacher than a coach," Hackney said of Williamson. "He taught his players more than basketball; he prepared them for life through basketball. We never considered that we were competing against him, but, instead, with him."

The message of Hanford, a 1987 ENCSD graduate, hailed Williamson as a great friend, father, coach and mentor.

"He is an ENCSD legend," Hanford expressed.

Wilson signed: "Barney made a difference."

"Barney was loved," added Lashley.

And Garrett concluded: "We can look back and say ENCSD was touched by Barney Williamson."

The turnout found dreary skies and light rain outside — a contrast from the environment within the Massey Center.

"It's a bittersweet day," Baker commented. "But it's a happy day, a great honor. I know tears will be shed, but Barney wouldn't want it that way."

Farmer agreed.

"This is no messy day," he remarked. "Every day around Barney, the sun was shining." | 265-7809

Barney Williamson Profile

Born in 1941 in South Carolina. Retired from ENCSD in 1999. Died in April, 2004.

Standout athlete in sports of football, basketball and track at N.C. School for the Deaf. Staunch Clemson University fan.

Coaching: Head varsity boys basketball coach 1986-1999; varsity football assistant 1980-1987, 1990-1996; junior varsity head coach 1979-1986; varsity track 1982-1985; middle school track 1979-1981; middle school soccer 1976-1978; 7th-8th grade football 1972-1976; midget football 1977-1979; varsity volleyball assistant 1988-1989; middle school volleyball 1988-1989.

Highlights: His teams won Mason-Dixon Tournament championships in 1991, 1992 and 1999; honored with Mason-Dixon Tournament Sportsmanship Trophy in 1989 and 1994; Mason-Dixon runner-up in 1998, third place in 1987 and 1997; N.C. High School Athletic Association 1-A Carolina Conference runner-up in 1999.

Honors: Carolina Conference boys basketball Coach of the Year in 1999; coached two Mason-Dixon MVPs; coached 14 All-Mason-Dixon Tournament players; coached 13 All-Carolina Conference players; and coached five Mason-Dixon free-throw champions.

Duties: ENCSD graphic arts teacher 1970-1999; ENCSD intramural director 1970-1976; ENCSD yearbook sponsor 1980-1999; co-chairperson for Mason-Dixon Tournament 1989 and 1991.

Family: Includes wife, Mary; son, Lee; and daughter, Amy.

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