A new era has dawned for Bessemer City High athletics, and a familiar face is leading the charge.
Yellow Jacket alum Billy James was named the school’s new athletic director on Thursday. A lifelong resident of Bessemer City, he graduated from the school in 1986 after a career as a three-sport athlete in football, basketball, and baseball. During his senior football season, James was recognized as the All-Gazette Back of the Year.
He has more than 25 years of coaching experience, including his current tenure as a girls’ basketball coach in Bessemer City. In his seventh season at the helm, the Yellow Jackets are 49-91 under his watch.
Last winter, the Bessemer City basketball team claimed its first share of a league championship since 2001, when the program was run by James’ late father-in-law Calvin Albright.
He was also the right-hand man to longtime Bessemer City Boys basketball coach Danny McDowell, the two who have been working together for over a decade.
James will take over from outgoing athletic director and retired football coach Larry Boone, who announced in December that he would be stepping down from both roles.
While he hasn’t fully taken on his new role, the pieces are already falling into place for James and Bessemer City’s athletic program.
An announcement about the Yellow Jackets’ football coaching position is expected shortly. The school’s brain confidence didn’t have to go far to find the next baseball coach, but handed the program over to former assistant and Gaston Christian product Matt Denham.
“To be in a school for just three years and to be trusted by the administration, the sports directors (Boone and James), it really means a lot,” Denham said. “I’m a young teacher with a love for baseball and I wanted the opportunity to turn a program around. That was a big part of the conversation, I want to bring a healthy baseball culture back to Bessemer City High School.”
Denham, also a coach of the Charlotte Megastars baseball team, added that he wants consistency, hard work and a positive attitude to be the pillars of the program.
“I get chills just thinking about the impact I can have on these kids. I believe they can win in class and on the field,” said the new Bessemer City skipper. “During my playing time, baseball almost consumed me. If I want to do something right, I put everything into it. Here in Bessemer City, that’s where I think consistency is lacking lately.
“We’re going to fill in the gaps in the weight space, get bigger, faster and stronger. We will work on our casting, step into the batting cage and swing from a tee. The only way to have a good baseball environment is to create opportunities for them to get better.”
Without a winning season since 2009, Denham understands that his job is in front of him. However, the hope is that the community will serve as a building block for future success.
“When you talk about the glory days, you can’t do that without community involvement. The hardest thing in recent years has been that,” he said. “I don’t like losing, it’s not fun. My goal is for this program to perform at a level that makes people want to come to games and kids want to stay here even though there is the ‘school choice option’.
“I want Bessemer City to be a place where children want to play. A place where they can say that Coach Denham is doing good things, those guys are working hard, getting better as players and young men. I want them to feel like they belong, that they can work hard, be successful and most of all, have fun.”
You can reach Joe Hughes at 704-914-8138, email firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @JoeLHughesII.