A new era has begun for Bessemer City High athletics, and a familiar face is leading the charge.
Yellow Jacket alum Billy James was named the school’s new athletic director on Thursday. A lifelong Bessemer City resident, he graduated from the school in 1986 following a career as a three-sport athlete in football, basketball and baseball. During his senior football season, James was recognized as the All-Gazette Back of the Year.
He has more than 25 years of coaching experience, which includes his current tenure as Bessemer City girls basketball coach. In his seventh season at the helm, the Yellow Jackets are 49-91 under his watch.
Last winter, Bessemer City’s girls hoops team claimed its first share of a league championship since 2001, when the program was run by James’ late father-in-law Calvin Albright.
He’s also served as the right-hand man for longtime Bessemer City boys basketball coach Danny McDowell, the two working in tandem for more than a decade.
James takes over for departing athletic director and retired football coach Larry Boone, who announced he was stepping down from both roles in December.
Though yet to fully assume his new role, pieces are already falling into place for James and the Bessemer City athletic program.
An announcement is expected soon regarding the Yellow Jackets’ football coaching position. The school’s braintrust didn’t have to look far in finding its next baseball coach, however, handing the program over to former assistant and Gaston Christian product Matt Denham.
“To be at a school for only three years and to be trusted by the administration, athletic directors (Boone and James) it really means a lot,” Denham said. “I’m a young teacher with a love for baseball, and have wanted the opportunity to turn a program around. That was a big part of the conversation, I want to bring a healthy baseball culture back to Bessemer City High School.”
Denham, also a coach for the Charlotte Megastars baseball team, added that he wants consistency, hard work and a positive mindset to be pillars of the program.
“I get chills thinking about the impact I can have with these kids. I believe they can win in the classroom and on the field,” the new Bessemer City skipper said. “In my playing days, baseball almost consumed me. If I want to do something well, I put my all into it. Here at Bessemer City, that's where I believe consistency has been lacking of late.
“We’re going to fill in the gaps in the weight room, get bigger, faster and stronger. We’re going to work on our throwing, get into the batting cage and take swings from a tee. The only way to have a good baseball environment is to make opportunities for them to get better.”
Without a winning season since 2009, Denham understands his work is cut out for him. However, the hope is for the community to serve as a building block to future success.
“When talking about the glory days, you can’t do so without community involvement. The hardest thing over the past few years has been that,” he said. “I don’t take pleasure in losing, it isn’t fun. My goal is for this program to perform at a level that makes people want to come to games and makes kids want to stay here, even though there is the ‘school-choice option.’
“I want Bessemer City to be a place where kids want to play. A place where they can say coach Denham is doing good things, those guys work hard, are getting better as players and young men. I want them to feel like they are part of something, that they can work hard, be successful, and most importantly have fun doing it.”
You can reach Joe Hughes at 704-914-8138, email firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @JoeLHughesII.
This article originally appeared on The Gaston Gazette: Bessemer City High makes athletic director, baseball coach hires