VINTON–The 1967 William Byrd High School yearbook nicknamed James Childress “Mr. Everything” for the many honors that he won in his one year at the school. His retired basketball jersey hangs today in the hallway at the entrance to the gymnasium. Now 45 years later, Childress is still adding to his collection of awards. On July 27 Bluefield State College inducted him into their National “B” Club Hall of Fame Class of 2012.
“This year’s honorees are individuals of distinction on the athletic field, in the classroom, and in the community,” said Orlando Henderson, chairman of the Hall of Fame committee and President of the Bluefield State College Alumni Association, at the induction ceremony.
At Bluefield State, Childress was a member of the first team for All Conference in the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WVIAC) in 1968 and again in 1971. He was honorably mentioned in the WVIAC in 1969 and 1970.
He served as basketball Team Captain during his junior and senior years in college and was part of the starting line-up for every varsity game his entire four years at BCS. He averaged 19 points and 12.5 rebounds per game throughout his collegiate career.
While at William Byrd, Childress excelled in football, basketball, and softball. The plaque next to his retired #31 jersey reads: “All State, All American, 30.9 points per game, 16 rebounds per game, 1741 career points, scoring record 59 points against Covington in 1967.” He was named All City/County for football, Player of the Year for two years, All American Team in basketball and All State in softball.
He was listed among the top 100 high school players in one magazine at the time, and was nominated for the prestigious B’nai B’rith award given to outstanding senior student athletes at area high schools based on athletics, scholarship, and personal life.
“James had great athleticism for all sports,” said Steve Lonker, who was in his beginning years as head football coach at WBHS. “He had the ability to anticipate plays and the flow of the game so that he could position himself to be in the action. He could change gears during a play.”
Childress played end on defense, split end on offense; he kicked off and kicked extra points.
“He could take two steps and kick the ball 60 yards into the end zone,” said Lonker. “He could throw the ball 60 or 70 yards but declined to play quarterback because of a bad knee. He could shore up a whole line on defense. He could have played any position on the team.”
That same knee is the one Childress was rehabbing when the Dallas Cowboys offered him a try-out at the end of his college career in 1971.
Childress grew up in Vinton, the third child of James Warren Sr. and Virginia Mae Childress, with six sisters and one brother. He attended Craig Avenue Elementary School, Carver High School in Salem, and then graduated from William Byrd.
In the days before integration, Childress and other black students in Vinton attended school at G.W. Carver High School in Salem, with a long bus ride to and from school, especially with after school sports practices.
“We left home in the dark, and came home in the dark,” said Childress.
G.W. Carver was dissolved as a high school in 1966 with integration and Childress transferred to William Byrd for his senior year.
Childress was one of only seven black students in his class at the time. His athletic reputation preceded him and his head coach from Carver, Roland Malone made the transition with him, appointed assistant coach at WBHS. Malone eventually became the first black head basketball coach at a predominantly white school (WBHS) in the Roanoke Valley.
The caption next to his photograph in the yearbook reads: “James Childress, selected as Byrd’s Most Valuable Player, proved his exceptional ability in both football and basketball. Breaking the City-County Record for scoring in basketball, “Hoolie” earned the respect and admiration of everyone. This distinction is given to a player by his teammates.”
Childress is part of a family sports dynasty in the Roanoke area through the years. His uncle Donald Childress Sr. was an outstanding athlete at Carver in the 1950’s. His brother Harry was well-known in the 1970’s; his niece Lisa in the 1980’s; and his cousins Chris and Donald in the 1990’s.
His son, James III, began his sports career with AAU basketball at age 6 and scored 1,000 points during his 2004-05 season at Byrd. A daughter, Diane, was the first woman named as a boys’ high school basketball coach in the Chicago area. His nephew Larry Basham is becoming a standout in football and basketball at William Byrd Middle School.
“I know people who say ‘we could use a few more of those Childresses’,” said local sportswriter Brian Hoffman.
After college, Childress took up baseball, traveling on weekends to tournaments across the regional and around the country. A business administration major at BCS, he took a job with General Electric in Salem after college and sometimes returned from baseball tournaments just in time to make it to work on Monday morning.
He met his wife of 35 years, Phyllis Craig Childress at GE, where she was also employed.
Eventually Childress became an amateur softball umpire, working at the Moyer Sports Complex in Salem for ten years, and excelled there as well. He was inducted into the United States Specialty Sports Association Virginia Hall of Fame in 2006 as a softball official, having retired from umpiring to follow his son’s sports career.
“In calling a game you have to remember that most coaches just want to be heard, to vent,” said Childress. “Good umpires give them the chance to do that and then get on with the game. I would say, ‘Sir, are you finished talking? Well then, let’s play ball’.”
Childress displayed that same even temperament back in high school sports.
“He was very low-key,” said Coach Lonker. “He didn’t show it if he got upset; he managed his emotions to his advantage. He was also a hard worker.”
That’s one of the things Childress is proud of that he hasn’t received a specific award for.
“I never missed a game; I never fouled out of a game,” said Childress.
Nowadays Childress’s favorite sport is fishing, which he has to arrange around duties at his church, the First Baptist Church of Vinton, where he has served in the Deacon ministry, as Church treasurer, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Sunday School superintendent, and as a member of several choirs. He has been the president of the Baptist Men’s Union organization of the Roanoke Valley, and a member of Lampados Club of the Zeta Sigma Omega Chapter, and currently serves on the Town of Vinton Highway Safety Committee.