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39-Grand: Anderson Still Lives For His Players and the Game
By Lee Davis
Journal Sports Editor
Buddy Anderson has seen a lot of things change in his 39 years at Vestavia Hills High School.
For one thing, the cramped coaches’ office of 1972 is a sprawling athletic complex in 2010. The football stadium is different as well, as natural grass has been replaced with a prescription athletic turf.
But the other difference about the stadium that should tell you everything about the last four decades at Vestavia is its name: Thompson Reynolds Stadium at Buddy Anderson Field.
That’s because, next to the late Thompson “Mutt” Reynolds, the school’s first head football coach and athletic director, no one has had a greater influence on the Rebel program than Anderson.
When Anderson was promoted from an assistant’s position to be head coach in 1978, some Vestavia boosters were disappointed. They wanted a so-called “big name” coach.
Thirty-two years later, there is no bigger name in Alabama high school athletics than the former Samford University star.
Anderson has chalked up more than 250 victories and two state titles in 32 seasons as head coach, but he insists that his purpose is about far more than championships and trophies.
“God called me to do this,” he said recently. “This isn’t a job. It’s a calling.”
If you don’t believe it, you should see Anderson get misty-eyed when talking about receiving a letter or e-mail from a former player serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. Or see him show off a photo of the newborn son or daughter of an ex-Rebel he has just received.
What may tell you the most about Anderson’s relationship with his athletes, however, is to look down the team’s present-day roster and note how many of their fathers played for Vestavia.
The times may have changed, but Anderson said the needs of teenage boys are much the same as they were in the 1970s.
“They are still looking for love, acceptance, and to be a part of something bigger than themselves,” said the coach, when contacted earlier this month. “The things they take away from the experience of playing football will always be with them.
“In life, when they get in a tough situation, they’ll draw on the lessons learned practicing and working together as part of a team.”
Anderson says football is important, but at the high school level, so are other things.
“If our players get a chance over the summer to take a church mission trip or go on a family vacation, we urge them to do so,” he said. “They are only going to be in high school one time.
“Football is a great activity, but we want them to have other good experiences as well.”
For all his success on the field, in many ways Anderson is a throwback to a different era of high school athletics. He remembers the days when there was more camaraderie among opposing coaches and considers the late Berry coach Bob Finley to be one of his personal heroes. Finley’s Bucs and Anderson’s Rebels battled tooth and nail for area superiority annually for nearly 20 years, but Anderson said it never got personal.
“There was great respect on both sides,” Anderson recalled.
Anderson has always had an acute understanding that community rivalries are the lifeblood of high school athletics. While some coaches may like the idea of playing a top-tier program in a neighboring state, Vestavia believes that competition begins at home.
Every season, the Rebels’ schedule is filled with traditional neighborhood rivals, whether they are in the same region or not. For example, Vestavia has played Mountain Brook every year since 1971. The Rebels have played Homewood every year since 1972.
And while those intense backyard rivalries might result in brisk ticket sales, Anderson said that’s not the main reason he puts them on the schedule.
“These games are important to our kids,” Anderson explained. “They know a lot of the guys on the other Over-the-Mountain teams because they played either with or against them when they were younger, or they might go to the same church.
“Those games against the neighboring schools are what high school sports are supposed to be about. So that’s why we’ll play them year in and year out.”
Loyalty is another old-school tradition in which Anderson still believes. Some members of his present staff have been with him since the 1970s. Peter Braasch has been Vestavia’s defensive coordinator since Anderson has been a head coach.
“We’ve always looked at our coaching staff like a family,” said Anderson, who also serves as athletic director. “We’ve always worked together and tried to help one another when we could.”
Although Anderson – now a proud grandfather – turned 60 this year, he said retirement is not on the radar.
“I really don’t have any hobbies, and I love what I do,” he said with a smile. “I’m here as long as the athletic director wants me.”
Lots of things have changed at Vestavia Hills High School in 39 years, but Buddy Anderson isn’t going to be one of them.
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