GLADEWATER — On a sunny Wednesday afternoon, the Garland “Butch” Clay Tennis Center was dedicated on the campus of Gladewater High School.
More than 150 people attended, including many former tennis players from across Texas who came to the ceremony to honor the longtime Bears tennis coach.
“I am overwhelmed,” said Clay, who began teaching and coaching at Gladewater in 1972. “This is a very happy day. It is like a reunion with all the former students and players.
“I’m so happy that on a Wednesday afternoon at 3 o’clock so many people from throughout the state took time to come to Gladewater.”
Clay was surrounded by his family and many friends. A reception in the Bill Waters Gymnasium was held after the ceremony.
Clay said he was elated with all of his students, on and off the court.
“I’m proud of their tennis accomplishments, but also of all the valedictorians and salutatorians who came through our program and through the classroom; and all they accomplished, from the doctors, to the lawyers, to the teachers to the skill professionals,” Clay said. “I am proud of them.”
Those in attendance included 1984 Class 3A girls state singles champion Cindy Tallent Rowe, now a second grade teacher at Broadway Elementary in Gladewater; 1989 Class 3A boys state singles champion Johnny Tallent, who runs a tennis academy in the Dallas area that was produced many of the state champions at Highland Park High School; and Kayla Bowden, who along with Lucy Flores, won the 2001 Class 3A girls state doubles championship. Bowden, of Dallas, is a tennis instructor at Lakewood Country Club.
Jon Keller, who along with his brother Jeff Keller earned a state doubles berth in 1992, noted the many accomplishments by Clay as a tennis coach, football coach, Lady Bear basketball coach and history teacher.
Clay began coaching in 1972 and his tennis teams have earned 32 district championships, seven regional titles and placed third in state team tennis. Also, his players have been to the state tournament 39 times, including 18 in singles and 21 in doubles.
“At one time coach Clay sent someone to Austin for the state tournament 27 of 28 years,” said Keller, who is vice president of Austin Bank.
Johnny Tallent said Clay was best described as the way the Indianapolis Colts players thought of coach Tony Dungy or how “Roger Staubach and Randy White said of coach Tom Landry.”
“Playing for coach Clay was like they said of coach Landry, you respected him, you trusted him and that made you love him; and you never wanted to disappoint him,” Tallent said. “That’s the way we feel about coach Clay.”
Keller said, “Coach Clay never yelled. He always was calm and steady; and always offered a word of encouragement at the right time.”
Tallent Rowe added, “Coach Clay cared about everyone, from the JV to the No. 1 player. He made it such fun to play. It was like a family not only here, but all over East Texas. It was an honor to play for him.”
After the ceremony, Tallent, Tallent Rowe and Bowden presented Clay replicas of their gold medals they received at the state tournament.
“The players receive a medal and the school receives a plaque, but we wanted coach Clay to have these," Tallent said.