Sunday, June 17, 2018
Sports

Fennelly: It was all about family for Hillsborough coaching legend Billy Turner

The last time I saw Billy Turner was a few weeks ago. I'd been thinking about him. People had asked about his condition. One high school football coach asked this way:

"What's the score with Billy?"

That day with Billy was one of his last best days. He was in pain, but he was as sharp as ever. He'd fought an exhausting battle with cancer. At one point, doctors figured Billy was down to a few months, or even weeks. That was a few years ago. Billy fought and fought.

"He's been going up against Goliath, and he doesn't even have a slingshot anymore," said Lucy, Billy's beautiful bride, inside and out.

The last time I saw Billy, a great high school football coach but an even better man, he was in a recliner in the living room of that rambling house under a canopy of trees near Lake Magdalene, where he and Lucy raised eight children. All 20 of the grandchildren and most of the six great-grandchildren learned to swim in the pool out back. His former players visited in the final months, or sent notes or texts or Facebook posts. Billy died on Friday.

Ray-Ray McCloud, who played for Billy's son Brian at Sickles High before going to Clemson, came to see Billy, who helped Brian with coaching even while commuting from chemotherapy. McCloud stopped by with his dad to say hey to Billy and to tell him that he loved him.

I never met anyone who didn't like Billy. He won more than any coach in Hillsborough County, in his years at Hillsborough High and most of all at Chamberlain High.

More important: Billy got it right.

It was about family.

You knew it with all the kids who never forgot him and the hundreds of people who crowded the Chamberlain auditorium in November to celebrate him, an event organized by Brian Adcock, one of Billy's former players.

"I looked up and saw so many smiling faces," said Billy, leaning forward in the recliner, trying to get comfortable. "It made me think maybe I made a little bit of a difference along the way."

Lucy sat near her husband. Her eyes filled. On the back porch at the house, there were dozens of folded wooden chairs, reserved for the Sunday family meal after church, a Turner family tradition. Two days after Billy passed, the Sunday meal went on, as if anything will ever stop it. Billy's photograph was placed on his recliner.

It began with Billy and Lucy. They were married 56 years. Even when they fussed at each other, which was seldom, their love was like sunshine. They fell for each other at the University of Tampa, where Billy Turner was a three-sport star. On their first date, Billy Barnes Turner took Lucille Yvonne Cabrera to … play basketball. For their honeymoon, Billy and Lucy went to a University of Miami football game before hurrying back to Tampa so Billy could play quarterback in a semipro game.

"I got to know what my life would be right off the bat," Lucy once told me.

It was a wonderful life. Lucy and the children, the six girls and the two boys, always held dinner for Billy after practice. They sat down as a family. The kids would be running around the neighborhood. Billy would walk out front and let out three whistles, three blasts, for dinner.

"I can still hear it," Billy Jr. said. "You could be down the street, around the corner, but you'd hear him. 'Got to go.' "

Billy suddenly put a few fingers in his mouth and whistled. We laughed.

He hadn't lost his touch.

The last time I saw Billy, Billy Jr. arrived with his family. One of the children, Brooke, had graduated from Gaither High School that day. Brooke leaned over her grandfather and hugged him. Billy told her he was so proud and that he was sorry he had missed it. Billy didn't miss a lot of things.

Hillsborough High football coach Earl Garcia — who coached for Billy, who learned from Billy — told me a story a few years ago about Billy scheduling a Labor Day 6 p.m. practice. Billy said that anyone who was late wouldn't play in the season opener.

"Everybody is there 15 minutes early," Garcia said. "Except Billy. No Billy. Five minutes goes by. No Billy. Ten minutes. No Billy. … 'Well, okay, guys, let's get ready.' One minute until 6, I kid you not, a station wagon roars up down by the double gate. Billy has got the whole family in there, inner tubes, floaties hanging out windows. He'd taken them to the beach. He jumps out of the car in a bathing suit and flip-flops. He's yelling, 'I ain't late!' "

Billy had a bucket list. He didn't quite get to all of it in his 79 years. Vacations went by the wayside for Billy and Lucy. Money was tight. Time flew.

"Three things I always wanted to do," Billy once said. "One was go to an Olympics, because I was a miler in high school. I wanted to go to the Masters. Third, I wanted to go to Ireland."

He passed before dawn, at home. Lucy lay close to him on the bed for a long while. The memorial service is Friday.

"Friday was his day," Brian Turner said. "Game day."

Billy and Lucy. Those folding chairs on the porch. Billy and family. Billy and the generations he touched. Billy and football. Making a difference along the way.

That's the score with Billy. Forever.

Contact Martin Fennelly at [email protected] or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly.

 
Comments

Tarpons’ Castillo, North squad notch FSL All-Star Game victory

TAMPA — The Tarpons' Diego Castillo led the North squad to a 5-0 victory in the 57th Florida State League All-Star Game on his home field Saturday night.The game MVP went 2-for-4 with two doubles and started the scoring for the North in the sec...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Rays lose again to Yankees, this time 4-1

Rays lose again to Yankees, this time 4-1

NEW YORK — Kevin Cash was not going to go all Lou Piniella on his Rays, raging and ripping and roaring over their latest mess, a 4-1 Saturday loss to the Yankees that didn't feel that close.Which is too bad because Piniella, the volcanic former...
Updated: 7 hours ago

Sports on TV/radio for Sunday, June 17

TODAYAutosXfinity: Iowa 250 qualifying2:30 p.m.FS2Xfinity: Iowa 2505 p.m.FS1BaseballMarlins at Orioles1 p.m.FSFRays at Yankees2 p.m.Fox Sun; 620-AMAstros at Royals2 p.m.MLBRed Sox at Mariners (in progress)5 p.m.MLBCubs at Cardinals8 p.m.ESPNCollege b...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Rays journal: Arroyo on DL, Hechavarria returns

Rays journal: Arroyo on DL, Hechavarria returns

NEW YORK — Just when it seemed like SS Adeiny Hechavarria might not play another game for the Rays, he will rejoin them on Sunday.The Rays announced after Saturday's 4-1 loss that INF Christian Arroyo was placed on the DL due to an oblique stra...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Rays-Yankees

Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Rays-Yankees

RHP Ryne Stanek did his job as the opener just fine in getting four outs on Saturday, but for the Rays' unorthodox pitching plan to work it takes a team effort. And LHP Ryan Yarbrough's inability to throw strikes quickly put them in a hole.The experi...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Peering into the crystal baseball to see what Rays could look like in 2019

Peering into the crystal baseball to see what Rays could look like in 2019

The Rays are still talking, as they should, about playing for something this season. The reality is that almost every move they've made, going back to the end of last season, and in some cases further, has been about 2019 and beyond.Clearing out vete...
Updated: 10 hours ago
For starters: Rays at Yankees, trying to break through

For starters: Rays at Yankees, trying to break through

UPDATE, 11:49: Cash said he played Cron at 1B in an effort to get him more involved in the game, indicated he may do so again Sunday (with Bauers off vs. LH Sabathia) and should have done so more as Cron struggled. … Cash reiterated that CF Kev...
Published: 06/16/18
Bucs journal: O.J. Howard poised to take off?

Bucs journal: O.J. Howard poised to take off?

TAMPA — There's always a lot of attention on the rookie class this time of year, rightfully so. There's a reason the Bucs focused on defense, and DT Vita Vea, CBs M.J. Stewart, Carlton Davis and S Justin Whitehead all look like they could have ...
Published: 06/16/18
Ex-Buc Kellen Winslow pleads not guilty to kidnapping, rape charges

Ex-Buc Kellen Winslow pleads not guilty to kidnapping, rape charges

Times wiresVISTA, Calif. – Former Bucs and Hurricanes tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. was jailed without bail Friday after pleading not guilty to nine counts of kidnapping, rape and other charges.If convicted on all counts, Winslow, 34, could face...
Published: 06/15/18
Rays owner Stuart Sternberg frustrated, but optimistic

Rays owner Stuart Sternberg frustrated, but optimistic

NEW YORK — So what does the boss — lowercase, of course, around here — think of this up-and-down, hot-and-cold Rays season so far? Appropriately, a variety of things.In a 30-minute chat with the Tampa Bay Times before Friday's 5-0 l...
Published: 06/15/18