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COLUMN: Anderson County is going to miss Charlie Bryant

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Softball league dedicates season to his memory

By John Herndon

The bases are still 60 feet apart.

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The right field fence still separates the playing field from a pasture, just like it did when the Alton Ruritan Field opened in the 1960s.

But behind home plate, someone else will be making the calls. Charlie Bryant will only be at every game of the Anderson County Church League in spirit.

A fixture around Anderson County sports for years, Bryant passed away on April 6 after a lengthy illness. But Bryant's memory will live at what amounted to his second summer home.

The league dedicated the current season to Charlie Bryant's memory in a ceremony before the season opener last Monday. Bryant's great-granddaughter, Valerie Mobley, threw out the first pitch.

“Charlie umpired at least 20 years,” league president Noal Cotton, Jr., said last week. “The last two years, he didn't umpire as much and sometimes other people took over, but he was always here. Last year, he'd come out and  get everything ready.”

And here is the kicker: Charlie Bryant was not even a member of the Alton Ruritan Club.

“He really enjoyed it,” Cotton says. “He got a kick out of umpiring the games and just had a good time.”

Occasionally, a player would go off in mock anger to protest an injustice. It's a memory that brings a big smile to Cotton's face. “Charlie never made a bad call,” he said.

Even last year, when Bryant was not able to call many games, he sat behind home plate giving out candy or bubble gum to kids whether they were 2 or 92.

It's the same story hundreds of people who have made their way through Anderson County sports can tell. Not only was Bryant a fixture at Alton in the summer, he had reserved spots at high school football and basketball games. If, for some reason, Charlie Bryant wasn't there, it just wasn't the same.

“When I played (football at Anderson), he always sat up on the hill by the tennis court,” Cotton recalled. “Then when Zach (Cotton's son) played, Charlie was still sitting there.

“But, if it was raining, Charlie would go to the top of the hill and sit there and watch the game.”

Hill?

“Right out there,” said Cotton, pointing to the parking lot in front of The Anderson News office.

It was news to me, but really should not have been. Over the years, I found Charlie Bryant to be one who did what he could to watch his favorite teams play. He'd been to every football stadium in the Southeastern Conference, except for Texas A&M and Missouri, to see the Kentucky Wildcats play. So what's finding a perch across Highway 127, if it keeps you dry?

When the basketball Bearcats played, there was Charlie, along with buddies Rex Riley, Pee Wee Robinson, Roger Rose and, up until he passed away several years ago, W.J. Smith, seated along the wall near the Anderson bench.

It was such a fixture that opposing coaches noticed too.

When Anderson renovated the gym in 2006, another Eighth Region coach asked me, “When they get done, will those veterans still be sitting close to (Anderson's) bench?”

And it was through basketball that I got to know Charlie Bryant best. About 12-15 years ago, I was in the habit of parking behind the school then going in the back way to the gym. It was just quicker, especially after the game when people had cleared out.

But apparently a lot of other people who did not have a pass were doing so as well. The school caught on and asked Bryant to police the back entrance. One night, I forgot, of all things, my media credential. Charlie stood his ground.

“You got a pass?” he asked.

What a night to leave it on my desk.

Thankfully, Anderson coach Glen Drury was walking by, got a laugh and told Charlie to let me in.

It became a running joke between us, asking each other, “You got a pass?” 

Charlie would sometimes produce two or three passes, show them to friends and start laughing.

It was the same kind of fun they had with Charlie Bryant in the Anderson County Church League.

“You never knew what Charlie was going to say,” Cotton laughed. “I am sure going to miss him.”

Won't we all?

 

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