PICKENS — With the Pickens’ fight song playing over the antiquated PA system, former Blue Flame players came down the hill onto Bruce Field one last time on Saturday to honor their coach, mentor and friend Bill Isaacs.
“For those of you who might be visiting today, one of the traditions is the players coming down the hill onto the field,” said Harvey Gantt, Isaacs’ son-in-law, from the podium midfield. “The only thing I can say is that if Coach were here now, you guys would probably have to do that over again.”
The stadium at the old Pickens High School was packed with people all wearing Blue Flame blue to celebrate the life and mourn the passing of Coach Isaacs. They chuckled at Gantt’s comments and a few former players hung their heads in mock shame.
Gantt’s opening statement was clear, this memorial service was to be a celebration of the life of Coach Isaacs.
“The format of this celebration will probably be a little different than any other you’ll go to,” continued Gantt. “Sometimes we do things a little different here (in Pickens.) We might run ‘trip-right-counter’ 13 times in a row.”
Former players, colleagues and long-time friends all took their turns at the microphone telling funny stories, inspirational tales and personal memories of Isaacs. Some of the speakers made jokes, others broke down with emotion but one thing was clear: Bill Isaacs touched a lot of lives in the Pickens community.
Coach Andy Virgil, who had been friends with Isaacs for the past 55 years, said that he originally didn’t want to speak at the memorial but after sleeping on it a few nights changed his mind.
“Back in those days you had two coaches: a head coach and an assistant. I was the assistant. Maybe, if you were lucky, you’d have a third coach,” said Virgil.
“Bill and I being young, full of spirit, we came into this (Pickens) program which had won one game over the last 22. We thought that we were going to turn the program around right away. Well, it didn’t quite work out that way. We won one game though and it was Homecoming. Right here on his field.
“The next year we got 3-7-1, then 6-4-1, you know, under Bill’s leadership we got better and better. Then we went 7-3-1 and then in 1969 we had a little bit of a slide back to 5-5-1 but, that ‘69 team is the team that started the 57 game win streak, which is a state record,” smiled Virgil.
The hundreds of people who showed to the memorial were invited by the family down onto the field following the eulogies. Hugs were exchanged, condolences were expressed and many tears were shed.
“What it all boils down to is that I loved Bill,” Virgil said. “I know it’s a sad time and we have the tendency to grieve and cry, but (by doing that) we aren’t doing what Bill wants. Bill wants us to remember him in joy and happiness and all the good relationships we had with him.Whether it’s (as) husband, father, grandfather, teacher, coach, fishing buddy or friend.”
Reach Kasie Strickland at 864-855-0355.