By John R. Schirmer
When the Nashville Scrappers took the field Friday night at Scrapper Stadium for their season opener against Hope, 130 orange balloons were released into the air as fans welcomed their team.
Those 130 balloons were in memory of Coach Billy Laird, whose Scrapper teams won 130 games during his 12 seasons at Nashville. Laird died June 11 in Shreveport.
Laird posted 130 wins, 34 losses and a tie. The Scrappers won the state championship in 1996, reached the state title game 5 times, the semifinals 9 times and the quarterfinals 11 times.
Stadium announcer Johnny Wilson told of Laird’s contributions to Scrapper football as the balloons were released.
The balloons were the second tribute to Laird as the Scrappers began the 2015 season. The other came Thursday afternoon when Coach Brian Beard told the current team about Laird and his contributions to the Nashville football program.
Bearden said three people have made a difference in his life, including his father, his high school football coach and Coach Laird.
“He was a good friend. I spent a lot of time with him,” Bearden told the players. “I was almost an older son of his. He was a father figure to me.”
Laird left Nashville in February 2004 to coach at Ruston, La., and to be close to his grandchildren.
He returned often to watch the Scrappers play and to visit friends from Nashville. “He came back to see us. The last time was when we played Dardanelle” last fall in the state playoffs, Bearden said.
After the Scrappers’ loss to the Sand Lizards, “Coach talked to me. He asked about my family. He asked about fishing. He consoled me on the game,” Bearden said. “He treated people the right way. He was a great person, a really good man.”
Laird was “an awesome football coach. If he called a pass, somebody was going to be open. He changed the game in our part of the world. He was an innovator. People talked about us being pass happy, but our offense was really balanced,” Bearden said.
Laird was responsible for painting the field at Scrapper Stadium, adding numbers on the field for the yardlines and placing the Scrapper Star at midfield.
“He got new, nice uniforms. He took football another step. He gave our program a swag,” Bearden said. “He was very confident. On Friday afternoons, he would take a nap. He watched CMT with his cap down over his eyes.”
After coming to Nashville, Laird called a meeting with all high school boys in the old Scrapper Gym, Bearden said. “I’m here to win a state championship,” Laird said at the meeting.
“We had never heard that before,” Bearden said. “He divided football into the preseason, conference and playoffs. He gave an invitation to be part of something special. When he left, he still considered himself a Scrapper.”
Bearden and the other assistant coaches handed out stickers with “BL,” Laird’s initials, on them. The players placed the stickers on their helmets for the new season.
When Laird died in June, the Leader received a number of comments about the former coach and his impact on Nashville. Here are some of them.
Superintendent Doug Graham – “In his 12 years here, he made an impression on lots of folks. He brought a lot of statewide recognition to our community. He decorated our field like it was a Saturday or Sunday TV game. He changed the landscape of high school football. He was the same person every time you saw him. He treated everybody the same after a heart-breaking loss or a big win. He always spoke. He was always pleasant. For 48 minutes, he was as competitive as he could be. It didn’t matter if he was on the ref the whole game, that ref was his best friend at the end. He never carried the game away from the field. When we were playing a big rival, I was always nervous. He would ask what I was so nervous about. He was an assistant for a while at Tulane. He told me, ‘Nervous is when you go to LSU Stadium from Tulane on a Saturday night. This is Scrapper football. You need to calm down.’ When he was at Tulane, it was the first time in 25 years that Tulane had beaten LSU. They had the largest attendance ever at a college game at that time.”
Alan Aylett – “One of the highlights of my son Wes Aylett’s football career was to be able to participate in Coach Laird’s football camps. Wes was always treated just like a Nashville Scrapper, even though Wes played for Ashdown. Wes’s junior year, Ashdown had not beaten Nashville in over 10 years. On this night, the game was in Ashdown and Wes had the game of his career. I watched the game from the north endzone and when it was over, Ashdown was on top. I sprinted to congratulate my son, but when I reached midfield, I saw somebody already had him armed up. I quickly figured out it was Coach Laird. As down as Coach Laird was, he took time to congratulate Wes on his outstanding game. In my opinion, Coach Laird was a Class act, and Nashville should be proud of the time they had with him.”
Floyd Clark, Scrapper 1969-72 – “When Coach Laird first came to Nashville, I was serving as vice president of the Scrapper Booster Club. I visited with Coach and offered my assistance to him in any way I or the club could help him. He was so excited to be a Scrapper coach and had heard so much about the tradition Nashville and the Scrappers had. We were NOT a little known secret ! He knew a great deal about Nashville before arriving to start his illustrious and successful career. He was most receptive to some ideas I approached him with. One idea was to implement a “player of the week” for each position on d-line, o-line, o-backs, d-backs and special teams and they would be treated for a meal the following week by Scrapper fans in their homes. He went all in and adopted the program that lasted for several years and later commented that it was a really great way for players and fans to get to know each on a personal basis. One idea that I discussed with him was having a fund-raiser for the Booster Club. He immediately jumped at the idea of a golf tournament. I’ll never forget what he said. It was this, ‘I have some friends that I can get to come and host it for us.’ I responded with, ‘That would be great; who do you have in mind?’ He remarked, ‘I’ll get my good friend, ex-Razorback and pro great Joe Ferguson to come down; he’ll do it for us.’ And that he did, and it was a very successful event for all involved that year. That event continued for several years as well. Coach Laird was one of many GREAT coaches , the Scrappers have been blessed to have throughout history, and I am grateful that I was able to be associated with him as a booster member, fan, and father of player who played for him! Thanks Coach. Once a Scrapper always a Scrapper.”
Assistant Superintendent Joe Kell, who coached at Hope when Laird was at Nashville – “When we played Nashville, we put in long hours getting ready for that passing game. He was a gentleman coach. Before or after a game, he’d just as soon go fishing together. Win, lose or draw, it was like you met on a Tuesday after the game. I was 1-1-1 against him. We tied a game here. Some coaches whine and cry. Coach Laird was always a gentleman. He’d say we’re going to show up and play.”
Max Tackett – I was on the school board when Coach Laird was hired, and it was a professional relationship at first, but it didn’t take long before we were friends. That lasted till he passed away, but that friendship continues with his whole family today. Coach Laird had no idea how divided our community was when he got here, but in a very short time he won most over and all he did was be himself. He was the same man every day, win or lose. He also knew when to hug a kid and when to kick to discipline them. That’s why they played so hard for him and they loved him. I told [his wife] Brenda how much they meant to Deb and me, and she said how much our family meant to them. I thought yes, she’s right. They watched our family grow up just like we watched their family grow up. Brenda gave Coach six months for this jot to work out and he said, ‘Brenda, you can’t do anything in six months.’ They stayed 12 years and really helped our sports program overall. I sent Coach a text when Coach Dawson said he was leaving and asked if he would come back. He knew I was kidding. He said, ‘Max, that was the best job I ever had, and if it wasn’t for these grandkids, I’d come back in a heartbeat.’ When I was growing up, you decided if you wanted to play in the seventh grade, but after Coach Laird got here, kids wanted to be a Scrapper in the first grade and they still do. The ones that knew him know how blessed we were to have him.”