Little-known fact: Hall of Fame tennis coach Billy Chadwick led the city of Jackson in scoring in peewee football as a sixth grader at Wilkins Elementary. He was an 11-year-old Bronco Nagurski.
“It’s funny, I was one of the biggest kids in the sixth grade and loved football,” Chadwick says. “It was easy.”
Then came the seventh grade and Chadwick went out for football at Peeples Junior High. The other kids had grown over the summer. Chadwick had not. Peeples was playing a game at the old baseball/football fields at Battlefield Park and Chadwick was riding the bench.
“It had to be 100 degrees and dusty as could be – just miserable,” Chadwick says. “I’ve got on that helmet and those pads and I look across the way and under those big shady oak trees were guys and girls wearing shorts and T-shirts playing tennis.”
That’s when Billy Chadwick made a decision that would change his life and that of many more Mississppians. He turned to his twin brother, Barney, and, pointing to the shady tennis courts, said, “We need to be over there.”
Billy Chadwick retired from football and got serious about tennis. He took his first lessons from Hall of Famer Dorothy Vest at those Battlefield Park courts. And the rest, as they say, is history – glorious history where Mississippi tennis is concerned.
Chadwick announced his pending retirement as Ole Miss tennis coach on Monday in Oxford. His 31st season as men’s coach this spring will be his last.
We could use any number of ways to illustrate how successful Chadwick has been at Ole Miss. But perhaps the best way is this: Chadwick has been every bit as successful at coaching tennis as another Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer, John Vaught, was at coaching football.
Chadwick’s teams have finished in the nation’s top 10 in 15 of the past 20 seasons. They have won 10 SEC Western Division titles, five overall SEC titles. In fact, should Ole Miss win the SEC this season, Chadwick would equal Vaught’s record of six SEC championships.
Joked Chadwick, a really nice guy who has never finished last, “That might not be a good idea to tie Coach Vaught. Here at Ole Miss, that would kind of be like sacrilege.”
There are so many Hall of Fame connections for Chadwick. His first lessons were from Hall of Famer Vest. He played collegiately at Belhaven College for Hall of Famer Charles Rugg. He was hired at Ole Miss by Hall of Famer Warner Alford.
Many may have forgotten this, but Chadwick was first hired as the Ole Miss womens coach.
Almost immediately, the Lady Rebels became a power. When the men’s job opened up in 1983, Chadwick took it. The year before Chadwick took the job, Ole Miss finished last in the SEC. Never again.
“I think what I am proudest of is the consistency,” Chadwick says. “We are in the best tennis league in the country and we have been there right at the top on an annual basis. You have to beat the best teams in the country to do that.”
Chadwick has coached 29 All-Americans and 39 players to 72 All-SEC selections. His teams have excelled academically, as well.
Last year, the Chadwick’s team won the Ole Miss Chancellor’s Cup (highest GPA among Ole Miss athletic teams) for the 10 straight time.
“I’ve been blessed,” said Chadwick.
So has tennis, Ole Miss – and Ole Miss tennis.
Rick Cleveland (email@example.com) is the executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum.