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Boyd, Willard are a pair of the good guys

Posted Monday, February 20, 2012, at 3:35 PM

As my partner in crime sports writer Rick Curl and I were making our way through another girls basketball post season tournament at the Bloomfield and Clay City Sectionals, I got to cross paths with a couple of coaches -- Benji Boyd of Union and Jerry Willard of North Central -- who are two of the classier individuals I have ever had the pleasure to meet and are as different as day and night.

I have known both Boyd and Willard since the late 80s, when I first moved to the Wabash Valley.

I think it would be safe to classify both as coaching lifers. Boyd, who scored 1,000 points during his playing days at Union High School, was an elementary and junior high boys basketball coach for many years, helping to guide the careers of his sons Ben and Brody.

The Boyd duo combined to score of 4,300 points for the Bulldogs. Brody is the all-time leading scorer at UHS and fourth all-time in Indiana with 2,632 points. Ben, who broke his uncle Doug Boyd's then-school record in 1994, is third on the Union list with 1,744 points.

Willard, the very successful longtime girls and boys cross country coach at North Central, has come full circle. Willard, who also has had stints as an assistant boys coach at North Central, was coaching the NCHS girls basketball team in the late 80s and is now coaching the LadyBirds again.

It was six seasons ago when Frederick Boyd II, otherwise known as Benji, was summoned to step in and take over the Lady Bulldogs in mid-season after the coach resigned. Boyd, who works for Sullivan County as an engineer and surveyor, coached the last 11 games of the 2006-07 season, posting a 4-7 record

Every year I expect Boyd, the 1974 UHS graduate, to tell us that he is hanging up his whistle. But he just keeps on saying, "One more year."

After losing to Shakamak 39-18 in the opening game of the Class A Clay City Sectional on Feb. 7, finishing a 5-15 season, you could tell how much Boyd cares about his players.

It was several minutes before he came out of the locker room. It was obvious that he was emotional after basically saying good-bye to his lone senior -- Cheyenne Goodman.

"This is tough," said Boyd, who is 41-71 in his tenure as girls coach. "She is one of the few players that has been with the program for four seasons.

"They give so much of themselves for four years and it is over in an instant. Last year, we lost Shay (Shayna Nicol). I am not really used to this (saying good-bye)."

Willard is easily in the middle of one of the toughest girls basketball rebuilding projects in Indiana. His LadyBirds were ranked 392 out of 402 schools (Sagarin ratings) and posted a 0-21 record this season. They were outscored by almost 45 points per game.

North Central has lost 25 games in a row, including the last four of a 2-15 2010-11 season, the first in his recent tenure. Willard still teaches mathematics at NCHS as a substitute despite retiring several years ago.

Maybe it is because I have known Willard for 24 years, but he always has a smile on his face whenever I see him and a firm handshaking waiting.

Willard came up to me on the final night of the Greene County Invitational on Jan. 7 to say hello. His LadyBird team at the time was 0-12 and had lost to Turkey Run 56-32 earlier that day. If I was coaching and in the same position, I doubt that I would go out of my way to greet an old friend. I would probably try and hide.

But Willard was there supporting his school as the NCHS boys team were competing for third-place in the GCI.

Instead of being down about his squad, he talked positive, saying the 32 points was the most they had scored up to that point.

He talked about how young his squad was and that they were getting better, despite the obvious growing pains.

Willard spoke about how the North Central junior high girls had won the Sullivan County championship and how much he looked forward to having a chance to work with them.

It was a month and one day later when I saw Willard before North Central was preparing to face Eastern Greene in a first-round game at the Class 2A Bloomfield Sectional.

As always, he had a firm handshake and a smile waiting. You would have never known that he was coaching a winless team.

Like Boyd's Lady Bulldogs, North Central, who has had six double-digit win seasons in the past 12 years, exited the state tournament almost as quickly as they entered, losing 70-24.

Willard is never shy to express his pleasure or displeasure vocally, and Boyd is as calm as a summer breeze. That's not to say that Willard can't be gentle or that Boyd can't become exasperated because I have seen both. They just have different ways of making a point and getting their girls to play hard, which they do more often than not. They both love teaching this crazy game.

You can't really measure a coach and his or her contributions or their worth by the win-loss column. Most of the time, Boyd does not even have enough girls on this squad to scrimmage, let alone have a junior varsity team.

He doesn't have that luxury to give his inexperienced players a chance to develop on the jv.

Boyd said he told his kids that he will coach for at least one more year. Union and North Central should consider themselves fortunate to have Boyd and Willard serving as lay coaches, no matter how much longer they decide to roam the sidelines.

I know I do.

B.J. Hargis is the sports editor at the Greene County Daily World. He can be reached at (812) 847-4487, ext. 12 or at hargisbj@gmail.com.

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