(Part 1 of an interview with TSSAA Executive Director Bernard Childress)
By Steve Williams
Bernard Childress once played in a state high school basketball tournament and once coached in one, but he never dreamed he would someday be the Executive Director of the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association.
“I never had this on my mind,” he said, laughing during a break in this year’s state boys’ tourney at MTSU’s Murphy Center in Murfreesboro. “It’s just where my career has led me and I enjoy what I’m doing.”
Childress graduated from Columbia Central High School in 1973 and played in that year’s state tournament which was held at the University of Tennessee’s Stokely Athletics Center in Knoxville. His team lost to two-time defending state champion Chattanooga Riverside.
“You never forgot those memories,” he said. “The large crowd at Stokely … and the fans cheering you on …”
It was the beginning of the classification era in TSSAA basketball that year and Gallatin won the Class Large state title. The mid-state team lost only one game that season and it was against Columbia Central, Childress noted.
Childress played college ball at Belmont before returning home and coaching six years as an assistant at his alma mater. During that time, Columbia Central advanced to the state tourney at Vanderbilt’s Memorial Gym one season and made it to the semifinal round.
Childress later coached one season as an assistant at MTSU. After that, he once again went back home, where he became assistant principal and then principal at Columbia Central before joining the TSSAA.
He was Assistant Executive Director for 14 years before succeeding Ronnie Carter as Executive Director and now is in his ninth year in that position.
Childress said he gets his most satisfaction from “probably what I’m doing right now (at the state tourney). We attend and conduct these state championship events and watch these kids come and compete for state titles.
“To us, it’s not about winning and losing. It’s about creating lifelong memories for young people and trying to get them to understand that someone is going to win a ball game and someone is going to lose.
“We’re trying to teach them life lessons … you’re not always going to get your way in life.”
Childress believes a lot of people don’t understand who runs the TSSAA.
“The TSSAA is the 426 member schools,” he said. “It’s not that building and it’s not those 18 people that work in that building on Lebanon Road (in Hermitage).
“We work for the schools. They create and write their own rules. They have a governing body and Legislative Council that oversees the organization and they just ask us to enforce what they want.”
Because of these rules, sometimes students have to be declared ineligible.
“But we do everything that we can on a daily basis to make kids eligible to participate within the framework of the rules that the schools have set,” said Childress.
“For us, creating those memories that young people can feel good about for the rest of their lives is what makes us happy.”
Childress has such memories, too.
COMING UP: In Part 2 of the interview with TSSAA Executive Director Bernard Childress, he will address the 2-year ban from post-season play that the Austin-East and Chattanooga Brainerd boys’ basketball programs were dealt this past season.
It looks like what was a very unfortunate incident could turn out to be a positive in the long run, said Childress.