Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, April 20, 2019, 2:16 p.m.
Presbyterian College is erecting student housing on the site of the old Bailey Memorial Stadium, which was known as Walter Johnson Field when I was a lad. The home stands were backed against Leroy Springs Gymnasium, which is now the student center. The unique aspect of the old stadium was that a smokestack attached to the gym went right through the middle of the press box.
I was never in that press box until the 1980s, when I was out of college and writing for The Clinton Chronicle about the Blue Hose.
Johnson Field was a place of great wonder. My father and I used to sit in the little bleachers behind the end zone, the better for me to crumple paper Coca-Cola cups and turn them into makeshift footballs for games of tackle behind the stands and inside the cinder track. Occasionally, I got to be a ball boy because one of my friends was Cal Gault, whose father coached the Blue Hose.
Cal Gault died in an automobile accident many years ago. His father – Cally, a.k.a. “The Houn” because his full first name was Calhoun – was the football coach from the time I was five to the time I was 26. He was athletics director for 11 years after that and athletics director emeritus until the day he died, which was Friday.
Cally was a man who laughed easily, never more so than when he was the butt of the joke, at which point he would say something even funnier about himself. He had a deep voice that carried, which was appropriate for a man prone to getting carried away. He laughed easily, cried easily, was as competitive as a cornered raccoon and as kind as a village pastor. Steve Earle sang of a road “straighter than a preacher, longer than a memory.” That was the one Cally rode.
A few may have thought him a bit much, but no one disliked him. Not a rival coach. Not a spurned athlete. Not a cynical scribe.
In the years since I returned home from the NASCAR frontier, I saw a lot of him. He and Joy were at most of the home basketball games, all of the home football games, and the President’s Box at the modern Bailey Memorial Stadium is right next to the press box. It wasn’t uncommon for us to chat in the hall at halftime. After he told me for approximately the 10th time that he’d like to hear me play guitar and sing, I took it over to the hospitality tent he frequented one Saturday and played him a few country songs before a Blue Hose home game.
I saw him at the Hall of Fame inductions. I saw him at the Touchdown Club. I went to the party in Greenville when he turned 90. I thought he might be ailing because he hadn’t been at Templeton Center for the basketball games late in the season, and I know he wanted to be there because the team was good in general and better at home.
“That Fighting Blue Hose Spirit” wasn’t a cliché to Cally. He believed in it. He preferred a fellow “PC Man,” which I wasn’t, but it was okay because I was a fellow Clinton man, and that was character-building, too, in his eyes.
He died at 91. I wish more people could have seen him at 41. He was a bantam rooster on the sideline, running up and down, slapping fannies, waving his arms at officials, but seldom crossing the line at the edge of sportsmanship. He said “Gollamighty” a lot, about as much as his coaching friend Art Baker yelled “Hot-dow, son!”
In summary, I’m not sad. I won’t see Cally anymore, but there are many humorous memories that will sustain me, just as it will all his friends, and he collected them like Facebook. When he arrived in heaven, God had to tell everybody to hold it down.
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