My Billy Creech
(Really A Tribute to
Coach Bernie Reid)
Ben Swilley, Class of 1960
Today’s stories and movies about teens are often
touted as being “coming of age” tales. I’m not sure what “coming of age”
means, but I think this may be a story about how I came of age.
In the summer of 1957 I decided to go to football camp. We were on a
family outing out on the Grave Springs Road when my Daddy got tired of
me whining about my miserable life so he kicked me out near an old trash
bin. We didn’t have dumpsters back then but ever since I have
sympathized with dumpster dogs. I was trying to decide if I should
have dinner there or walk back across the river when a car full of
football players came by. They let me ride in the trunk.
And that’s how I decided to go to football camp. Football Camp at Grave
Springs, a special torture camp for both the guys who could actually
play football and the not-so-good simple-minded rest of us.
There was a fairly new whitewashed cinder block bunkhouse that housed
the coaching staff and the upper classmen. It had windows without bars
and metal bunks, one stacked on the other, and real mattresses.
An old unpainted clapboard, shaky looking, bunk house housed the
underprivileged fleshy-heads like me. Our bunkhouse had one door on each
end and makeshift bunks built three high from scrap lumber tacked
together with old rusty, reject nails. People sleeping on the top bunk
often got nosebleed from a lack of oxygen up there.
One day during the middle of the week all the coaches left us and went
into town. We grubs couldn’t understand why we were left victim to the
untamed upper class savages by the coaches. We were abandoned and it
occurred to me that the coaches were all sick of our whining and didn’t
want to see us alive any more.
In the absence of the coaches it was only a matter of minutes before the
older, stronger (and meaner) boys had stormed our old bunkhouse. They
ran most of the younger boys outside, and commandeered the top beds of
every bunk in the house. Then they brought out this huge arsenal of
rubber bands and every stick, wad of paper, metal paper clip and any
thing else they could propel as a lethal weapon with a rubber band.
I was trapped inside. I ran to a far corner of the bunkhouse. Luckily I
could make myself disappear because I was extremely skinny and I had a
large bushy, poorly defined head. I quickly aligned my skinny frame
with one of the four by four bunk posts and my strangely shaped head
with a big knothole in the wall. So I became invisible as I watched it
all unfold from the beginning.
Enter Billy Creech:
Billy Creech saunters in the door. Creech is cool. He had definition in
the shape of his body. He looked like a football player. The rest of us
looked like little stick people with big heads or sacks of potatoes with
shoes and helmet heads. Creech was so cool he could actually saunter.
The rest of us couldn’t even mosey which wasn’t as cool as sauntering.
When we tried to mosey, we wound up looking more stupid than usual and
we fell down a lot.
So in saunters Creech completely unaware that he faced a deadly
gauntlet of fierce, whistling, scorching projectiles until it was too
late. One of the missiles popped him right in the eye. In seconds he
looked like there was a small gourd growing from his eye socket. Inside
a minute it looked like somebody had nailed a cantaloupe to his
And then came the “coming of age “magical moment. Coach Bernie Reid
came through the door. He had seen poor Creech stumbling around outside
holding his head with his hands in a valiant attempt to keep his eyeball
from slipping further down on his cheek.
Did I say Coach Reid came through the door? It was more like Coach Reid
made a new door. He came in like an enraged grizzly. That’s probably why
they called him Bear. If you don’t remember Bernie Reid I can tell you
that, at that precise moment, not only was he an enraged grizzly but
looked (and acted like) the Tasmanian Devil……times five.
The only voice heard was Coach Reid’s and nobody moved, nobody blinked,
and nobody drew a breath. The ferociousness of the message was so
intense and so powerful we all stared in wide-eyed, slack-jawed
disbelief until I thought I would pass out from fear and extreme
And then there was affirmation of my “coming of age”. Someone else
spoke. Someone said a word that transformed us all and changed our young
lives forever. Someone said the magic word. Believe it or not the magic
word was “Damn”. I’m not going to tell you who spoke that word because
he probably still has flashbacks of red-faced soul-searing embarrassment
not to mention a few arthritic aches and pains from the results of his
uttering that one word. To be truthful he was whining.
The speaker of the magic word actually said “but Damn Coach” and he was
instantly airborne. This was a day of many firsts for me. I had never
seen a 200 pound man thrown bodily against a wall. The unpainted
clapboard wall shook and spewed forth hundred year old dust motes from
every crack. The whole building trembled for several minutes. I would
have run but my knees wouldn’t work.
I had never seen a man as big as the Coach move so fast. I had never
seen blistering flames erupt from a man’s nostrils and gale force winds
burst from a human throat.
No sooner did our magical word man bounce off the wall than Coach Reid
had him by the collar on the rebound and while his toes dangled a good
six inches off the floor, the Coach explained in that kindly, fatherly
way of his that if there was going to be any cursing, the coach himself
would do it.
It all soon passed. The speaker of the magic word survived. Creech
survived and to this day I believe he is sighted in both eyes. I
survived and I seriously believe that was the snapshot moment of my
“coming of age” and every time I hear Aretha belt out “R-E-S-P-E-C-T”, I
think of that great character-forming moment when I realized how
important it is not to be such a whiner and to choose your words very,
very carefully when speaking to adults – especially those built like a
grizzly bear with the speed and temper of the Tasmanian Devil…..times
Thank you Coach Bernie Reid. Because of you and that very important
lesson, I along with many of my old high school pals survived a lot
longer than we probably should have.
March 30, 2010
Back to Top