Fishwrap Archive

Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch
Published: Wednesday, December 20, 2000
Section: Chesterfield Plus
Page: M-6

Bill Neel has walked the sidelines in the Chesterfield Quarterback League for 30 years. He's taught kids how to play football, and he's taught them about life. He's won plenty of games, but he's won more friends. Finally, he's . . .

Calling it quits

Bill Neel storyBY DAVID LAWRENCE
Times-Dispatch Correspondent

Bill Neel sat on a hill overlooking a football field 30 years ago when a coach walked up and asked him to help with the kids.

This season, Neel walked away from the sideline to end a long career coaching 7-to 9-year-olds in the Chesterfield Quarterback League.

"Bill is the kind of coach a parent loves," said Harvey Lamb, whose youngest son, Andrew, has played for Neel the past two years. "Not only does he teach the game of football, but he teaches his kids good sportsmanship, good citizenship and the value of a good education."

From the time he started, Neel did more than build football teams. He had a knack for building community spirit. Neel spent much of his time encouraging parents and others to provide time and money in support of the CQL.

Neel's career began with the Chester Association, but five years after he began coaching, the Chester Elementary school district split, and he joined the Wells Association. Ten years ago, the Chester Association was defunct, but he launched an effort to resurrect the team.

Neel called upon neighborhood businesses to contribute money for equipment and other materials, which he maintained and stored in a shed in his back yard.

He recruited boys for the team, making sure they were properly registered. He managed the concessions, too, until he could get others to join the effort.

"He has kind of kept things together over the years," said Allen Ross, who is stepping down this year as director of the Chester Association. "He is a total team player."

Neel's motivation for his 30 years of effort was pretty simple.

"I like the game of football, and I like working with children," he said.

He had not coached or been trained before he moved to the sidelines 30 years ago.

There were no "Coaching for Dummies" books available then, either. So how did he become such a well-respected mentor?

"I think I pretty well picked it up naturally," Neel said. "It's good to know a little about football, but it's more important to know about children."

Lamb agrees that it takes more than knowledge of football to be an effective coach with children.

"He's got a lot of wisdom and a lot of patience," Lamb said. "Naturally, his kids are young, and they're eager not only to learn, but to please as well.

He takes those two factors to guide these kids with a strong hand - a caring hand, too."

Two of Neel's players have gone on to play in the National Football League: William Henderson is a fullback with the Green Bay Packers, and Ken Oxendine is a former running back with the Atlanta Falcons.

But Neel's most lasting and arguably more important legacy has been closer to home.

Neel got Vic Williams - the head coach at Thomas Dale High - involved in coaching. "He asked me to help him with a Little League baseball team, and I helped when I could," Williams said. "Evidently, he saw something."

Neel did see something.

"Vic was good with the boys," Neel said, "and when we went out to go scout a team, he wouldn't take a pad and paper. But when we left, he knew more about what went on than I did with my pad and paper."

Williams had been managing a lumber mill in Prince George County. But after Neel recommended him for a junior varsity coaching position at L.C. Bird, something had to give.

"I enjoyed football coaching so much I got my degree and became a paid assistant at L.C. Bird," Williams said.

Neel is not severing his ties with the Chester Association. While he no longer will be coaching, he still plans to maintain the equipment and work behind the scenes. He leaves a big void.

"When you think of the community and all the lives he has touched," Williams said, "all the people that have played for him and all the parents that have dealt with him would say nothing but positive things for him."

Society has changed considerably since Neel began coaching. Thirty years ago, football was king. Now children have more activities to choose from, and fewer try out for the football teams. But society is not the only thing that has changed for the 61-year-old Neel.

"When I started, I could outrun all the 12- and 13-year-olds," he said. "But now, I have trouble outrunning the 6- and 7-year-old players."