By Tim Smith
Let me begin by saying I made a mistake in the naming of the petition that was posted online. The petition was titled Rename OHS Stadium for Coach Jim May. The word “rename” may have led to some confusion and I would like to clear that up. I actually should have written “name” instead. I say this because I want to be clear about what is sought here. Dr. M. E. Thompson field is and as far as I am concerned should always be the name for our football field. That would not change. The petition doesn’t seek to rename anything. It doesn’t remove anyone’s name from anything. It only seeks to call our stadium Jim May Memorial Stadium.
I want to share a moment from my experiences with Coach Jim May that may explain why I feel such an importance about this effort. I began broadcasting OHS football with Mark Matthews in 1990. Oneida was fresh off of their first Semifinal appearance since 1969. It was only the second time the Indians had ever made it this far. They would return three more times under Coach May’s leadership. The only state championship in our history in 1992 would soon follow. A classification change to Double A? No problem. Coach May’s third semifinal appearance would follow in 1994. However, the 1995 and 1996 seasons would see an uncharacteristic 8 wins and 12 losses. It was during this time period when Mark and I would learn the most important lesson Coach May ever taught two young broadcasters.
We had reveled in Oneida’s successes as if we were somehow part of it. Coach May had been kind and welcoming to us in our role. Always gracious in interviews, patient as I learned the difference in a guard and a tackle, and humbly crediting his coaching staff and players in victory while accepting the blame for losses. We learned a lot of unspoken lessons in those early successful years. The lesson of the struggling years would have to be shared audibly with us. I do want to insert here that Mark and I trained for our radio job by watching TV broadcasts of football and trying to “sound professional.” After an interview following a loss one night, Coach May waited until we were done. I had been critical in the interview (and the broadcast) of one his players following a fumble or two.
Anyone who experienced Coach May as a player, student, or acquaintance would recognize this next moment. He put his hand on my shoulder and leaned in and said, “Hey, Hoss, these kids are doing their best out there. You need to take it easy on calling out blame for a fumble when you don’t even really know what caused it. There are Mommas and Daddies – Grandmas and Grandads out there listening, and these are kids. They aren’t NFL players. Try to think about that.” I was embarrassed…..and should have been. Coach May could have handled that without being so nice. He had just come off of a disappointing loss in a disappointing season and I had set him up to tear into me. Looking back now – I would have been a wonderful candidate for a lecture with an angry finger pointing in my face or the recipient of a completely blown gasket. Jim May chose to care for my growth as well as that of his players. I have tried to incorporate his wisdom from that day since.
Concern has been expressed that there have been other great coaches in Oneida’s history, and that would be an understatement. However, that places those of us in favor of the proposal in the position of defending our effort through comparison with other coaches. That, in my opinion, leads to comparing eras, athletes, and downgrading one coach’s accomplishments against the other. I have no desire to engage in that fruitless practice. I would like to point out why I am in favor of placing Jim May’s name on the OHS stadium. Coach May had opportunities to leave coaching for internal advancement. He had opportunities to move to other coaching jobs at other schools based on his successes at our school. He chose to continue as the head coach of the Oneida High School Indians until the day that he passed. In fact, he was doing just that when Our Father in Heaven chose to bring him home.
The moment when I said “thanks” to Jim May for his impact on my life never happened. I had opportunities, but I didn’t seize the moment. I suspect that is why it is such a personal effort for me and many of the 245 others who, at this writing, have signed the petition. Those of us who feel he deserves this honor and recognition missed out on bringing him back to Dr. M. E. Thompson Field in later years. We missed the chance to give him a standing ovation, to read the accolades of his teams over the public address system, or the satisfaction of having just walked up to him and expressing our thanks for everything he did for us on and off the field. Many have shared their thoughts and feelings in the petition comments. That is why this is such a personal effort for me and at this writing 244 others who have signed.
That is why we feel an urgency and importance in this moment. That is why we are now looking at the Oneida Special School District Board of Education and saying, “Hey, Hoss, it’s time to do the right thing.”
Tim Smith is the radio voice of the Oneida Indians on WBNT 105.5 FM.