Old school: Church Hill Middle's practice field to be named for two longtime football coaches

Jeff Bobo • Feb 5, 2019 at 9:13 AM

CHURCH HILL — A football partnership that started nearly six decades ago when Charles Wells and William Christian first strapped on pads together for Little League Football will be immortalized later this week on a Church Hill field where they played — and then coached together.

Christian and Wells were disciples of legendary Church Hill High School football coach J.W. Salley, for whom the old Church Hill High School (and current middle school) football field is named.

On Thursday, however, the practice field on Oak Street directly across from the football stadium will be officially named "Christian-Wells Practice Field" in honor of two of Salley’s top students of the game.

The Hawkins County Board of Education is expected to approve the dedication, honoring not only two decades each of teaching on the gridiron, but more than three decades each in Church Hill classrooms and the principal’s office.

How did the field dedication come about?

CHMS Principal Scott Jones, Assistant Principal Devin Thomas and school board member Chris Christian led the charge to get the practice field named in honor of William Christian and Wells.

"These guys have dedicated their lives to this school," Thomas told the Times News on Monday. "They've taught here and been administrators here. (Christian was) head principal, and Mr. Wells has probably taught everything in Hawkins County.”

Thomas added, “They've dedicated their lives to these young men at this school. They retired, came back, decided they were going to coach again, and they helped us out — got our structure back in our program, and ended up winning the Tennessee (Middle School Athletic Association) sectional championship in 2017. And then in 2018 we won it again."

Jones noted that the young men Christian and Wells worked with have gone on to be successful "at the next level."

"The character they have instilled in them is probably what we're most proud of," Jones said. "Winning comes because of the hard work, and it's appropriate that the practice field is named after them because that's where the work takes place, and it's showcased on the actual field during game days. That's indicative of both of these gentlemen. They work hard every day and we're proud of them."

A long football history together

Wells and Christian were teammates from the time they joined the Church Hill "Golden Bears" Little League Football team in the early 1960s, through middle school and into the old Church Hill High School, where they graduated in 1971.

After high school, Christian went to college and Wells went into the Army.

Their football partnership resumed in 1976 when Christian, the new middle school head football coach, asked Wells to join him as a non-faculty assistant.

That lasted until 1982, when Christian became a varsity football assistant coach and Wells was named head middle school coach.

In the meantime, Wells had been inspired by Christian to become a teacher and he went to college on the G.I. bill, graduating in time to join the middle school faculty in 1984. He served as head football coach at CHMS until 1991.

Christian, meanwhile, served as a varsity assistant for three years and a varsity head coach for four years before being named CHMS principal, a position he held for 19 years before retiring.

Out of retirement for one last hurrah

In 2015, Christian and Wells were both retired, but they agreed to take on their former roles as head and assistant football coaches at CHMS.

In their third year, they won the TMSAA sectional championship in 2017 and retired again. But their legacy continued on as the team repeated as TMSAA sectional champion in 2018.

It was a good way to end a highly productive coaching partnership.

Christian: "We've had some undefeated teams and some championships. (In the early 1980s), we had a run of 21 wins in a row."

Wells: “We decided to go ahead and retire again (after the 2017 championship) so we could go out on top.”

Old school football coaches

Wells: "We were strict disciplinarians, and they wanted to see if we'd come back (and teach) old-fashioned, and work with the new kind of boys. We didn't change. They had to get used to it. We ran them. We pushed them. We did all we could do. William and I agreed, let's have a parent meeting, and we both told them, 'I'm old fashioned. I scream and I yell, and I get in your face.' I said that's not likable these days, but if you'll leave your kids alone, and let them figure out we're not here to hurt them. We're just trying to make better football players out of them. I said they'll come around and be all right, but you've got to leave them alone."

An unexpected honor

Wells: "(The field dedication) was a real surprise because we just don't think in terms like that."

Christian: "We're honored. Being a lifelong resident of Church Hill, and being in the school system here for 36 years, it was a real honor when they told us."

Christian and Wells will appear on Thursday at the Hawkins County BOE meeting, where a vote will be taken on officially naming the practice field for them. An actual on-field dedication ceremony will be scheduled at a later date.


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