Salley coached the Church Hill High School football team from 1955 to 1979. With the completion of Volunteer High School in 1980, the old Church Hill High School campus became the middle school.
The stadium remains named for former player Mike Johnson, but on Tuesday the field was named in honor of Salley.
Dozens of former players from the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s joined Salley and his family for a ceremony inside the CHMS gym Tuesday evening prior to the Panthers’ football game.
Shortly before kickoff, Salley, his family, friends and former players congregated near midfield for a plaque ceremony officially dedicating the field in Salley’s honor.
The ceremony inside the gym opened with a slide show of memories from Salley’s career, not only as a coach but also as a player for the University of Mississippi (1947-52) and as a halfback for Dobyns-Bennett High School (1943-46).
Several speakers followed the slide presentation including retired teacher, principal and assistant coach Charles Ladd, who said he never felt comfortable calling Salley by his first name like many of the older players did. To Ladd, he will always be Coach Salley.
“We’re here, of course, to give Coach Salley this recognition, and a plaque, and name the field after him,” Ladd said. “But Coach has kind of written his own epitaph when he came here to Church Hill High School. I feel comfortable saying that because it’s evidenced by the number of people that are here tonight.”
Ladd noted, however, that Salley was also a highly respected teacher for all those years. Ladd said he spoke to a former valedictorian who went on to graduate summa cum laude from the University of Tennessee. That student later told Ladd that Salley was the best teacher he ever had.
“Coach, thank you for who you are, for what you’ve done for this community, this high school, and all these lives you’ve touched,” Ladd said.
Among the other speakers inside the gym were Church Hill Mayor Dennis Deal, who read a proclamation naming Sept. 22, 2009, as Coach J.W. Salley Day in Church Hill.
Former player and current CHMS Principal William Christian said this recognition of Salley will hopefully preserve the history of Church Hill High School for generations to come. He also recognized players in attendance from the 1950s and 1960s, and noted that they were the heroes of the players from the 1970s like himself.
Salley’s health prevented him from speaking during the event, but his son Tim Salley expressed the coach’s feelings and the feelings of his family at the close of the ceremony.
“We’d like to thank the director of schools, Charlotte Britton, and all the school board members for giving permission to name the field for him,” Tim Salley said. “He spent a lot of days and nights on that field and had a lot of enjoyable times out there, and I just think it’s great that you did that for him. We’d also like to thank Mayor Dennis Deal and all the aldermen for declaring today as J.W. Salley Day.
“I know he always loved Church Hill. I remember going off on vacation, and we’d be gone maybe two or three days and he was ready to get back to Church Hill every time.”
Tim Salley told his dad that he and his family are proud of him, and also acknowledged his mother, Betty.
“I know he’d like to thank his wife Betty, my mother. She’s been with him all the way, through all the good years, some of the lean years — the 0-9 years — but she’s been there by his side the whole way, and I know he loves her very much.”