Bill Southern thought he was attending just another beginning of the basketball season pep rally at Whitesburg Elementary school on Monday afternoon at the Whitesburg Gym.
Both teams were introduced as each kid raced through the cheerleaders’ pompom tunnel to a loud cheer from their classmates, teachers and others at the facility, and Southern watched on with a smile.
Then, Southern was brought up to the front of the gym for a surprise he will never forget.
It was announced on Monday by the Hamblen County Board of Education and the Whitesburg School Board that the Whitesburg Gym would have a new name, The William H. Southern Gymnasium.
“I was very surprised,” Southern said. “It really means a lot, and I am so honored. It was really special to have all the kids in here today for this, too.”
Southern was presented with a plaque that will go outside of the gym in his honor. It reads, “The William H Southern Gymnasium. Dedicated in appreciation for his years of loyal, dedicated and committed service to the students and staff of Whitesburg Elementary School.”
A member of the staff for 54 years at Whitesburg Elementary, Southern served as a teacher, coach and has been the principal for the last 50 years.
“It’s just such a good school,” Southern said. “They have such a good community, and I have just really enjoyed staying here. It has been a home to me for half of a century now.”
Southern was the basketball coach at Whitesburg for a little over 30 years and had hundreds of kids come through his program during his tenure at head coach. He said that he tried to teach them all the fundamentals of basketball and how to be a good athlete, while also focusing on being a good sport.
The kids he taught basketball have grown up over the years and now, Southern is in the interesting position of not only having taught them the sport, but also their family members.
“I have kids that I coached who are now parents and grandparents, so it is very rewarding teaching these kids,” Southern said. “I taught them when they were kids and now, I have their kids and grandkids. It is a really cool feeling.”
Many of Southern’s family and friends were in attendance on Monday afternoon at the ceremony.
The dedication of the gym was made possible by the Hamblen County Board of Education, enabling the Whitesburg school board to make a resolution granting permission to name the gym in Southern’s honor for his dedication and service throughout his life.
“Mr. Southern has demonstrated an extraordinary commitment and dedication to Whitesburg Elementary school,” the resolution said. “He has demonstrated a high personal and professional standard at all times. He has dedicated countless hours coaching, mentoring and guiding students in the athletic programs.”