It’s been 20 years since Oneida High School football coach Jim May died after suffering a heart attack on the sideline during a home game.
Now, a proposal pitched to the Oneida Special School District Board of Education would see the school’s football facility named in May’s honor.
Kevin Acres, the school’s current public address announcer at middle school and high school football games, and a long-time member of WBNT’s broadcasting crew at Oneida High School games, appeared before the school board on Thursday to plead the case for honoring May by naming the stadium the Jim May Memorial Stadium.
“Over the past several years, I have talked to countless individuals about this possibility,” Acres said. “Of all the people I have mentioned this to, or who have even come up and mentioned it to me, all believe this would be a very appropriate honor.”
May, who was a native of Clinton, Tenn., made the move to Oneida in 1981, where he built the Indian program into a perennial power. Over the next 17 years, Oneida made the playoffs more often than not, including a run of 10 consecutive seasons in 1985. The Indians three times advanced to the state semifinals, and won the Class A state championship in 1992, defeating Battleground Academy 13-10 in Nashville.
The Indians made the move to Class AA from 1993 to 1996, where they competed against powerhouses like Alcoa and Sweetwater. Oneida moved back to Class A in 1997 and appeared set to resume where it had left off. But May collapsed on the sideline during a win over Cosby that season. He was airlifted to a Knoxville hospital, where he was declared dead at the age of 57.
The Indians were 6-0, and were in the midst of a 38-0 win over Cosby, when May died. Prior to the season, he had remarked that he felt the 1997 team was talented enough to win another state championship. As it turned out, the Indians advanced to the state semifinals before losing to Trousdale County.
May was Oneida’s longest-tenured head coach, and remains the school’s all-time winningest coach, with a record of 140-55. His overall record, which included three coaching stops prior to Oneida, was 218-100. He also coached Oneida’s women’s basketball team to three state tournament appearances.
A newspaper editorial after May’s death remarked, “Prior to the start of every game, every year, Jim May walked back and forth among the rows of his players as they did their warm-up exercises, touching each one on their shoulder pads or head gear as he passed. In 17 years at Oneida, Jim May touched a lot of players. He touched a lot of other people, too.”
Acres — who pitched the idea of naming the stadium in May’s honor a decade ago, only to have the proposal shot down — said it the time has come to honor the late coach.
“I recommend that on this 20th anniversary of Coach May’s passing, we not only honor the man but his legacy,” Acres said.
The school board agreed to take the request under consideration.
While the press box at the stadium is called the Jim May Pressbox, Acres said the name is unofficial. It was never voted on by the school board; instead, the name stuck after coaches began referring to the press box in May’s honor.
During May’s tenure, the Oneida stadium underwent several upgrades, including a major overhaul that was completed the year he died.
Acres told the Independent Herald that the proposal would not change the name of Dr. M.E. Thompson Field, which is named after the late physician.
“Say this to yourself: ‘Welcome to Dr. M.E. Thompson Field at Jim May Memorial Stadium.’ It kinda gives you goose bumps, doesn’t it?” Acres said.