Placing Coach Jim May’s name on the football stadium at Oneida High School is an honor long overdue.
Earlier this month, the school’s P.A. broadcaster, Kevin Acres, appeared before the Oneida Special School District Board of Education to formally propose that the stadium be named in May’s honor. Supporters of the effort have started an online petition to encourage board members to consider the request. The petition, which has garnered more than 100 signatures in one weekend, can be found at www.change.org/p/oneida-special-school-district-board-of-education-rename-ohs-stadium-for-jim-may.
May was more than just the school’s all-time winningest football coach, though with a record of 140 wins to just 55 losses, he was that. And he was more than just a championship-caliber teacher of the game of football to young men, though with the 1992 Class A state championship and two other state semifinal appearances to his credit, he was that, too.
Perhaps the biggest part of May’s legacy is the respect he commanded off the field, not just with his former players, but throughout the community. His stature was much larger than the games and championships he won, which is why a newspaper editorial after his death remarked, “Jim May touched a lot of players. He touched a lot of other people, too.”
There’s no way to know how many games Jim May’s teams would have ultimately won, how many championships they would have ultimately compiled, if not for his untimely death in 1997. May was in the midst of his 17th season at Oneida when he collapsed on the sideline during a win over Cosby, but he was still in his coaching prime. That 1997 team was undefeated, and headed to the state semifinals for the fourth time since May took over the reins of the program in 1981. He remarked before the season that the 1997 team might be good enough to win the school’s second state championship.
State championships were something few dared to dream of before May arrived on campus in the early ‘80s. The Indians had success before May arrived, particularly during the tenures of Bill Jacobs and Ben Daniel in the 1950s and 1960s, but it had been a while. The ‘70s were a lean decade for Oneida, with the Indians winning fewer than 40 percent of the games they played throughout the decade before May took over the program.
At 140 wins, May accumulated nearly twice as many wins as any other single coach in the program’s 87-year history. In fact, with the exception of Jacobs and Daniel (who combined for 114 wins in 14 years), May accumulated more wins than the rest of Oneida’s first 18 coaches combined, dating back to 1930.
Under May’s leadership, Oneida won nine games in 1982 — just his second season on the job — and advanced to the state football playoffs for the first time since 1972. He guided the program to 10 consecutive playoff appearances from 1985 to 1995, advancing to the semifinals in 1989 and 1994 and turning the program into a high school football brand that was recognizable throughout the state.
Naming the football stadium at Oneida High School after Jim May would not diminish the legacy of Dr. M.E. Thompson or any other individual who has contributed to the success of the school’s football program. The field itself would retain its name — Dr. M.E. Thompson Field at Jim May Stadium, not unlike Shields-Watkins Field at Neyland Stadium — which would allow Thompson’s contributions to be honored while finally placing formal and permanent recognition on the indelible impact May had on the Oneida football program.
Besides his accomplishments on the field and on the basketball court — where he guided the Lady Indians to multiple state tournament appearances — May was chiefly responsible for major upgrades to the high school football facilities. In fact, the largest of those upgrades was completed the year. The new stadium, including the log press box that was donated by Jim Barna Log Homes, was dedicated just weeks before May’s death.
It’s only fitting that his name be on it.