Brentwood Academy’s Bill Brown: a Brief Biography @baEagles

Posted: December 3, 2012 in Uncategorized

by Bill Traughber


As a researcher and writer of Nashville sports history for several years, I have been satisfied in making discoveries and bringing to date the sporting events and athlete’s accomplishments that have been lost in time. Of my research, I have included dozens of stories about the history of Vanderbilt athletics.

Vanderbilt has been the primary university in Nashville since 1873, and its contribution to Nashville sports is prominent. In my research to locate some Vanderbilt spring sports stories, I turned my attention to track. I made a discovery that was previously unknown to me.

I learned that the headmaster of my high school, Brentwood Academy, was a prominent member of Vanderbilt’s track team in the 1950’s. He was not only a captain as a senior, but at one time held the Vanderbilt school record for the 100-yard dash.

So, I am going to take privilege of the fact that I am a researcher and writer of Vanderbilt sports history to tell you about, and brag on, my former high school headmaster.

Bill BrownBill Brown is the oldest of six boys and graduated from Nashville’s Montgomery Bell Academy. All of his younger brothers would later attend Franklin’s Battle Ground Academy.

“We lived in East Nashville when I was a kid,” Brown said from his Brentwood home. “We didn’t have TV then, but I was listening to the radio and MBA was playing Isaac Litton for the City Championship. It was 20-19 and MBA won.

“I was zoned for East High School, so I asked my mother if she’d let me go to MBA. We went over there to talk, but we didn’t have the money. The tuition was $400.00 and they said we’d let you come for $200.00 if you’ll wash dishes. There were a few others like me, and we worked our way through.”

Brown loved and participated in sports. He played offensive end on the football team and was a member of the baseball team. MBA did not have a track program, as track was not at that time an official high school team sport. It wasn’t until he was on the Vanderbilt campus that Brown gained attention as a runner.

Brown’s family lived near downtown Nashville on Meridan Street. The ambitious youth was not old enough to drive, so he would leave early in the morning to ride the city bus. His morning commute would take him downtown for a bus transfer to the West Minister Presbyterian Church. Brown walked the rest of the way to the MBA campus.

“I had never played organized football until I got there,” said Brown. “And in my sophomore year, I started in the Clinic Bowl — the first one they ever had. We played East High School and got beat, which is the school I would have attended.

“I wanted to be a running back at MBA, but I was an end. The last year at MBA, I was injured and helped coached the eighth grade team. The only year that I had success was my sophomore year. I could run as fast as anybody on the team. I knew that much, but I didn’t know how to run until they started coaching me at Vanderbilt.”

Brown graduated from MBA in 1953 and entered Vanderbilt University. Track was never on his mind since he wasn’t familiar with the sport. Brown did make an attempt to make the Commodore baseball team, but was cut.

Brown wanted to continue his participation in sports when his first experience with track came in the fraternity track meets. Vanderbilt head track coach, Ernest H. “Herc” Alley, was always scouring the Vanderbilt campus for hidden talent to aid his team. Alley noticed the lightening fast Brown at one of those fraternity events. That’s how Brown became a member of the Vanderbilt track team.

“Track back then was so informal, but the coach was in a suit and tie,” said Brown. “Sports back then was for the fun of sports. I ran because I loved to run. We didn’t get anything for it. There were no scholarships, money or anything. We just went out there because we loved to do it. I didn’t know if I was any good or not, until I ran in a race where I saw that I could beat people.

“All the SEC teams had a track team, but LSU, Florida and I believe Auburn had scholarships. We did not run against them in dual meets. They were too far away to travel. I think Herc Alley picked out the teams that didn’t have scholarships. We’d run against Kentucky, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and UT.”

Bill BrownWithout scholarships for Alley to offer the outstanding athletes, he turned his attention to the one’s already in school. The Vanderbilt football team offered the bulk of the track team members. Track was a spring sport, and the football players were required to participate in spring football practice. Then the players would walk over and join the track team.

Brown was asked about the Vanderbilt football players that joined him on the university track team.

“There were football scholarship guys like Charlie Horton,” Brown said. “Nearly all the running backs ran track in the spring. They were fast. They didn’t have to run, they just ran because they wanted to. We ran on a cinder track with big old leather shoes and long spikes. It was a different time.

“Buddy Stack, who was a punt return specialist, was real fast. We fought it out all the time. Jim Butler was a great running back at Vanderbilt — big and fast. Horton was a real good running back. Vanderbilt football wasn’t great in those times and a guy named George Deiderich, who was a guard on the football team, had a lot of speed.”

Brown’s events were the 100-yard dash, 220-yard dash, 440-yard relay and the mile relay. He ran for Vanderbilt in three springs competed against Tennessee’s Johnny Majors. Majors was the future Vols head football coach and 1956 Heisman Trophy runner-up to Notre Dame’s Paul Hornung. Brown also ran against LSU’s Billy Cannon at the year-end SEC Championships. Cannon would later be awarded the 1959 Heisman Trophy.

On March 30, 1957, Brown entered the Vanderbilt track record book when he became the 100-yard dash champion with a time of 9.75 seconds.

“I enjoyed it, but I knew it was hand timed,” Brown said about the record sprint. “Coach Alley was awfully generous with me. I was fast for that league, and the people we ran against. It was special. It was in the newspapers and we kind of joked about it. We got into the next week and just moved on.

“I was announced as being one of the ranked guys in the SEC, but I really wasn’t all that good. As it turned out by the end of the season there were several other guys running 9.4’s and 9.5’s coming from all those scholarship schools. I wasn’t that competitive SEC runner. Back then for Vanderbilt and Nashville I was fast. I knew 9.75 was pretty fast. It was 100 yards. That would be a 10.7 in 100 meters.

“Track was just coming on the scene. In high schools it was just starting at that time. Tommy Owen from MBA, Vic Varallo and Jim Webb were the three coaches that formed the NIL (Nashville Interscholastic League) Track Program. And it happened while I was at Vanderbilt. Nashville didn’t know much about track back then.”

Brown’s record was bested a few years later. Brown was a co-captain in his senior year in 1958. While running for the Commodores the track team lost only one dual meet, which was against Kentucky. The defeat to the Wildcats ended a string of 24 consecutive dual meet victories extending back to 1953.

Alley had been the Vanderbilt track coach since 1949, and led several of his team members to individual SEC championships. From 1949 to 1963 Alley recorded a remarkable mark of 61-14 in dual competitions. This included a 40-11 record against scholarship offering opponents. Alley, who coached Vanderbilt for 22 years, never captured the conference title and the men’s track program was eliminated in 1973.

“I think it was Herc Alley’s ability to get the scholarship athletes that were in the school out for track like football and basketball,” Brown said. “It was much different back then. The school was much smaller and everybody knew everybody. The fraternity life was much bigger.

“We didn’t have great facilities at Vanderbilt. Our track was actually in Vanderbilt Stadium around Dudley Field. It was right against the wall and you went behind the North end zone on the 220. You disappeared for a while then came out. It was kind of funny. We would train during spring practice while the football team practiced on the field.”

After graduating from Vanderbilt in 1958, Brown served a required six months in the Marine Corps at Parris Island, S.C. and Camp Lejune, N.C. Brown played football for the Marines and said he learned discipline during his military experience.

After his discharge in the spring of 1959, Brown married Beth Barnes of Waycross, Ga., whom he met at Vanderbilt. Brown took his first teaching and coaching job at a junior high school in Savannah, Ga.

A year later Brown was the football backfield coach and assistant track coach at Darlington School, located in Rome, Ga. Darlington was a non-military preparatory school. Brown later became the head track coach and also coached an AAU swimming team at Darlington.

Brown became the head football coach at BGA in 1962. While also coaching the track team, he left the Franklin, Tenn. school in 1966 to become the headmaster at the Oak Hill School and First Presbyterian School in Nashville.

The Oak Hill School consisted of grades 1-6 and as headmaster Brown increased the years to include a ninth grade. In 1969, Brown was instrumental in the founding of Brentwood Academy. The school’s doors opened for the first time in the fall of 1970.

Brown not only served as BA’s headmaster, but also was the man behind building the girl’s infant athletic program into prominence. He would coach the girl’s varsity basketball, tennis and track teams for a number of years.

Brown retired from Brentwood Academy in 2000 after 30 years of unselfish service, devotion and leadership. He has two sons and a daughter that all graduated from BA. Brown has several grandchildren that keep him busy.

“My dream was to have a high school that fit the vision that I felt like schools should be,” Brown said about the humble beginnings of BA. “It was a little different from MBA. I wanted more of a school that emphasized the total person — the whole person. And that’s how we came to the spiritual body in mind and spirit.

“That was the general flow of the things I was seeking. I was also looking for a school that would appreciate the “C” student who usually worked harder in life and sometimes ended up better in life than the “A” guy did.”

  1. Richard says:

    The quiet gentleman who sits in Starbucks with his coffee and book. We should all slow down long enough to learn from and about the people that we do life with.

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