Lions will honor Waller, McCool for perpetuity

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A sometimes teary, often reflective, always inspiring Butch Waller received the surprise of a high school coaching lifetime last week.
The Salisbury Lion’s Club recognized the veteran coach and community icon by naming a major local sports award in his honor. Joining Waller in the honor was the late Barbara McCool, longtime women’s basketball coach for Mardela High School.
Each coach will have a trophy in their honor that will be awarded annually to an outstanding county male and female athlete, announced King Lion John Ebelein.
Lion’s Club Treasurer Bruzz Truitt, whom club members said was a driving force behind the award, called the awards “an effort to recognize and memorialize two of Wicomico County’s most successful coaches.”
“The citizens of this county have benefited immeasurably from the devotion of these two leaders to their trade, to their schools, and to their student athletes,” said Truitt.
“Most of us cannot fully understand the level of dedication that is required to produce successful sports teams an esteemed sports programs — moreover, we’re not able to witness the personal sense of obligation these two coaches have been willing to shoulder to in order to help mold the youth for whom they feel responsible.”
A panel of seven people — the county’s four high school basketball coaches and three media representatives -—- will select each year’s winners. Nominees will be measured for both their athletic ability, integrity and sportmanship.
The awards will be known as “The Waller” and “The McCool.”
Ron Wainright, who coached with McCool for 25 years and whose daughter, Barbara is named for McCool and is McCool’s goddaughter, saluted the important coaching figure who could not be there.
“I have been lucky enough to know both Butch and Barabra for many years and I consider both of them to be greatest representatives of basketball in this area and our community,” he said.
Wainright added that most people regarded McCool as “that crazy lady who ran up and down the sidelines, yelling and throwing towels in the air.”
“But there was another side to Barbara McCool that most people didn’t know,” Wainright said. “She was a lot more than what you saw during 40 minutes of basketball.”
Coaching at Mardela from 1965 until her death in 2009, she served for 44 years as coach of one of Maryland’s top basketball programs. She won over 600 games as a coach.
“She would consider this an honor, though she didn’t like all of the awards and the spotlight. She touched so many kids in and out of basketball, turning girls into strong women. If you talk to any former students, they will say her ‘life lessons’ were the most important.”
Mike Dunn, a former Salisbury City Council president who played baseball for Waller in the 1970s, said the Lions Club contacted him after a Q&A feature Dunn conducted of Waller for the Salisbury Independent newspaper.
“The Independent has provided a remarkable forum to get to know people a little bit better and it spurs things like this on,” Dunn said.
Dunn, like many others who spoke last Thursday, heralded Waller’s preparation and practice session skills as a defining difference in his coaching.
“To this day, making the cut of a Butch Waller baseball team and having your name written into the starting lineup — one time as a 10th-grader and lots of times as an 11th-grader — it’s overwhelming.”
Added Dunn: “During the interview in Salisbury Independent, I asked him how he won so many games. (Butch’s) answer was ‘well, you do something for 49 years, you hang on long enough …’
“I’m going to digress,” Dunn said, “I’m going to disagree with all that — you win all of those games because you’re good at what you do. You taught us how to play a game, how to do it right, how to win. And those aren’t just lessons for the field — those are lessons for life.”
Edwin Lashley, Salisbury University’s police chief and a longtime local law enforcement figure and leader, recalled his time as a all-star athelete under Waller.
“In the true spirit of life in the true spirit of basketball and competition, and achievement, there is nothing more fitting to honor athletes with a trophy that bears the name of Butch Waller,” Lashley.
Lashley said Waller was a “father-figure with a truly honest character.
“He tells you as it is, not as you’d like it to be,” he said. “Butch taught me how to win and how to lose in a competitive fashion.”
Waller had been coaxed to the event by being told he was speaking to students at nearby Pemberton Elementary. It was a ploy, of course, and Waller promised revenge against those who had surprised him with the honor event at Brew River restaurant.
“I’ve always been pretty sure of myself. When you’re short, and bald at an early age, you catch a lot of flak in high school. I’ve always perceived myself to be pretty quick and not get fooled at times, and I always like to be prepared , but before I get put in the earth … I’m gonna getcha.”
Waller compared himself to the legendary Mardela coach.
“I don’t think I measure up to Barbara McCool. Barbara and I were real tight I can tell you that. We came from the same stock and we had the same philosophy … some people call it ‘old school’ but you just do what you do and you hope it pans out.
“McCool was awesome,” he said. “I know I wasn’t as tough as her — because she backed me down a couple of times.”
Reflecting on his record, the coach observed: “744 wins 332 loses — what coach in the United States would still have a job with 332 loses? Thank goodness they all didn’t come first.”
Waller took a few emotional moments to salute his family.
“I wouldn’t be half of what I am without my partner, Sandy. She puts up with a lot, I know that. I’m not there very much. And I apologize to my son, Spencer, who’s quite successful in his career, and I just wasn’t there very much.”
Speaking directly to his son, Waller said: “I apologize for that, Spence, I really do.”
Waller said he considered the Lions’ recognition his greatest personal achievement other than the birth of his son.
“I can’t remember the last time I had a tear in my eye, but I imagine Barbara would have a tear in her eye,” Waller said.

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