- Last Updated on 12:22 PM 04/23/12
- BY Doug Ford
Halifax County-South Boston Sports Hall of Fame inductee Bill Vanney has worn many hats in his athletic and academic career. A Halifax County native, Vanney played Little League and Dixie Youth baseball and little league football as a youngster and lettered in baseball, basketball, football and track at Halifax County High School.
Vanney, a defensive back and quarterback in high school, spent one year at East Carolina before transferring to Western State College in Colorado, where he became the starting defensive safety his second year.
He served as co-captain his senior year and was starting defensive safety and second-string quarterback.
He returned to Halifax County in 1969 and helped coach the varsity football team before moving into teaching and administration.
He left Halifax County in 1978 and currently resides near Tempe, Arizona, where he was an assistant principal and athletic administrator at Marcos De Niza High School before retiring in 2003.
“The school is in the largest athletic conference in the state, and over the years we’ve averaged about 2,100 students, so in a lot of ways it’s similar in size to Halifax County High School,” said Vanney, who still keeps up with sports in his hometown, especially football.
“I have a really warm spot in my heart for South Boston and Halifax County,” he explained. “I grew up there, and I tell people it’s a great place to grow up.”
As a youth, Vanney played Little League baseball for the Jaycees under Chandler Nelson, and he played on the state champion Little League all-star team in 1955 under coaches Bennie Hawkins and Coleman Green.
He played Dixie Youth baseball for one year and played on a World Series all-star team with Coach Addison Marable in Alexandria, Louisiana in 1956.
Vanney played on what he thinks was the very first organized little league football team in Halifax County, one started by Cameron McRae.
After high school, he spent one year at East Carolina, but didn’t play a single down of football, transferring instead to Western State.
A chance to help coach the Comets’ football team prompted his return to Halifax County.
“I was graduating from Western State with my master’s degree, and Coleman Starnes was coaching at North High School in Phoenix,” recalled Vanney.
“My in-laws had moved to Phoenix right after my wife and I got married, and we were looking for a job in Arizona, so I interviewed at McClintock High School in Tempe.
“I was offered a job there, but Coleman had been offered the job in South Boston.
He called me and wanted to know if I could come back and become the defensive coordinator. At that point in time, I wasn’t really interested and decided we would stay in Arizona.
“I stayed there for two years, coaching freshman football, basketball, varsity track and junior football, but I kind of got a little homesick and wanted to coach varsity, so I thought I’d get an opportunity to coach at Halifax County.
“I talked with Coleman and told him I was still interested if he was. Things worked out for me, and I came back to South Boston in 1969.”
That was a great experience for him, Vanney commented.
“I worked with teachers who taught me when I was a student there, and we had a great relationship throughout my nine years back there.
“I got a chance to coach at the varsity level my first year back and we were very successful, winning the Northwest Regional title and being ranked third in the state after a win against Tazewell High School.”
“That was the team I remember most, no question,. They were hard workers and very astute, a great bunch of kids.
“They just were anxious to learn, and they listened, did what you asked them to do.
“Frosty Owens, Ronnie Chappell, Alan Parham, Bill Maxwell, and a lot of other good kids were on that team.
Vanney Had Multi-Faceted Career
From February 1970 to June 1971, Vanney was in administration at Halifax County High School, and he was a physical education teacher and football coach from 1971-1973, before becoming athletic director in 1974.
“One of the things athletics teaches you is that it’s hard work, and you have to have commitment and be willing to work to have success,” said Vanney.
“You have to commit yourself and work hard on the field and off the field. Being an athlete is not an easy thing because not only are you expected to excel on the field, but in the classroom.
“Success is when preparation and opportunity come together, and I tried to prepare myself later on in life both in the classroom and on the field.”
“That’s had a lot to do with my success.”
Life Lessons, Hometown Roots
“I love athletics, and I knew what I wanted to be since the age of 15,” recalled Vanney, who desired to be a coach, teacher and to work with youth.
“If you look back on my early life, the persons who influenced my life the most were teachers and coaches.
“I’ve have great opportunities, and I’ve learned through the bad things, and I look back at what happened at East Carolina as a learning experience.”
His mother, Mozelle Vanney, still resides in Halifax County, and he doesn’t go anywhere when visiting his mother that someone doesn’t recognize him, said Vanney.
“My mother still lives there, and there aren’t many places I don’t go where someone comes up to me and says, ‘Mr. Vanney.’
“One summer in Hawaii on the beach, a couple walked past us who lived on the same block back in Tempe. When we got back to Arizona, we then flew to Virginia to see my mother,” continued Vanney.
“We went to D.C. and pulled into a parking lot, and I told my wife to ask a bus driver where the Guess Jeans outlet was.
“He said to ask a guy in a limousine where it was. I rolled my window down, and I couldn’t get a word out before the window came down, and the guy in the car called out, Mr. Vanney.
“It was Carl Lykes, a former student at HCHS.”
Vanney still checks the Web sites to follow the progress of his alma mater.
“I still check the Websites to see how the Comets are doing, and I try to keep up with them.”