Coach Bayless left an impact on many players, students and coaches

Published 9:30 am Wednesday, September 27, 2023

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Charlie would have turned 100 this Sunday

BY C.Y. Peters

Roscoe Craig “Charlie” Bayless, a legendary high school basketball coach at Happy Valley, passed away at the age of 98 on a serene winter day, on February 21, 2022. He was born on October 1, 1923, in the picturesque town of Jonesborough, Tennessee. Charlie’s journey through life was colored by his unwavering dedication to his family, his country and his community; a legacy that would echo through generations. Alongside him on this remarkable journey were his beloved wife of 74 years, Jane Allison Sisk Bayless, who passed away in 2020, as well as his sisters, Beatrice Beals and Estella Mae Bayless.

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Bayless, a true patriot, proudly served his country during World War II. He bravely fought in the Battle of the Bulge and later served as an MP traffic officer, responsible for guarding high-ranking German officers on trial for war crimes at Nuremberg Prison. His commitment to duty and honor was evident not only on the battlefield, but also on the basketball court, where he coached and mentored young men. Furthermore, he represented his constituents in the 5th District on the Carter County Commission for an astonishing 54 years, tirelessly working for the betterment of his community.


Bayless’ athletic achievements were remarkable. A graduate of Happy Valley High School, he earned four basketball letters, three in football, and one in baseball. He played guard on the Warriors’ 1941 state runner-up team and the 1942 team that finished third in the state. After returning from the military in 1946, he married his sweetheart, Jane Sisk, and pursued higher education. He attended Milligan College as a freshman before transferring to, and graduating from, ETSU. He did not play basketball his senior season at ETSU, despite being captain of the squad during his junior year. Instead, he chose to play in the independent leagues, where veteran players were plentiful and often the top teams were stronger than the local colleges. He continued playing at that level while also being an assistant coach at Happy Valley under the guidance of Carl Gouge. In 1951, while playing for the powerful Leon Ferenbach team, Bayless was named to the senior All-American Gold Medal Basketball Team. He was the only Tennessean selected on the 11-member squad from independent teams all across the nation.


In the 1951-52 season, he left Happy Valley to become the head basketball coach at Jonesboro High School. The following season, he returned to Happy Valley to be assistant coach in football and basketball once again under Gouge. When Gouge left to coach Mary Hughes High School in the fall of 1953, Bayless took the helm as the head basketball coach and remained there on Warrior Hill for an astounding 59 seasons. With a white towel draped over his shoulder and paddles to signal plays, he became an iconic figure on the sidelines. His coaching prowess shone brightly as he led the Warriors basketball team to an impressive 932 wins during his tenure, including a state championship victory in 1974 and two other state tournament appearances. His 932 wins is 4th most in the history of Tennessee boys basketball and ranks in the top 30 nationally. He coached several other sports at Happy Valley and guided teams to championships in football, baseball, track, and golf. The school’s gymnasium was rightfully named in his honor.


Charlie’s accomplishments were celebrated widely, with his induction into prestigious halls of fame, including the Northeast Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame, the East Tennessee State University Sports Hall of Fame, and the TSSAA Hall of Fame. He was a part of the inaugural class of the Carter County Sports Hall of Fame. One of his most memorable moments came in 1989, when he coached in the McDonald’s All-American High School Basketball Game, side by side with his best friend, Buck Van Huss. Additionally, Charlie was the subject of the book “100 Years a Warrior,” a testament to his profound impact on sports, the school, and the community.


Beyond his illustrious sports career, Charlie served as a dedicated teacher and taught countless students the craft of woodworking. In December of 2021, his over half-century of service was acknowledged by the County Commission, which unanimously voted to name a bridge spanning Buffalo Creek on Governor Alf Taylor Road in his honor, near the place where he grew up in the Milligan community. Coach Roscoe Craig “Charlie” Bayless was a true legend. He left an indelible mark on his community, his country, and the hearts of those who had the privilege of knowing him. His legacy will live on for generations, a shining example of dedication, service, and excellence.