Goodbye, Farewell, Amen: After 32 years, 'Radar' Brantley steps away
By CHRIS GOLTERMANN
(Editor’s Note: A retirement reception for Coach James “Radar” Brantley will be held Monday from 3-5 p.m., in the cafeteria of Ruth Hill Elementary School)
Walter Eugene O’Reilly and James Brantley share the nickname that has made them so recognized — and beloved — in their respective surroundings.
The two, of course, are separated in lives of fiction and fact. O’Reilly was the Corporal clerk of the beloved TV show M.A.S.H., able to appear almost out of thin air while maintaining the inner workings of a medical base during the Korean War.
At times on the show — which ended its run in 1983 with its famous “Goodbye, Farewell, Amen” finale — his character appeared to be the glue that kept all the others together.
The glasses are an obvious match, but the parallels go well beyond. O’Reilly's vehicle was a Jeep, Brantley’s a John Deere Gator. But each got things done behind the scenes similarly as unsung heroes in respective communities.
There was even less doubt of the role Brantley held under the same pseudonym in the Coweta County School System prior to his official retirement as of Dec. 1. It began two years prior to the M.A.S.H. finale in 1981.
Like reruns, Newnan’s Radar could return soon. But for now, it’s a chance to step back after 32 years.
“He was just super with the kids,” said former longtime Newnan head football coach and athletic Max Bass, the first of four that Brantley worked with after arriving from Troy State. “He was such an asset with the program. He really took care of those boys and girls. It was just a real comfort to me to have him there and do those things.”
Both as a longtime physical education teacher at Ruth Hill Elementary and head athletic trainer and equipment manager — among a handful of other major duties — for the last 32 years at Newnan High School, Brantley has been as responsible as any other staff member for overseeing the success of student-athletes, some from their first days of kindergarten through graduation.
At the top of the list was keeping Newnan’s student-athletes healthy and on the field of play. But they also included maintaining and reconditioning equipment, handling paperwork for physicals, organizing the football athletic banquet and handling lettermen’s jackets.
“I’m not sure if my way is the right way or the wrong way to do things, but when I run it, I know it’s all there,” Brantley said of his systems and methods over the years. “I kept up with the stuff so we wouldn’t get in trouble. I’m sure someone else is going to do it another way and that’s fine.”
During an unscheduled trip back to the high school on Wednesday afternoon near dismissal, he opened the door to his training room to find a football uniform. Without hesitating, he quickly grabbed his paperwork and began checking off the player’s items including pants that had been numbered to keep athletes from switching midyear.
“Here’s one ... Jamal Carlisle,” said Brantley of Newnan’s senior All-Region lineman. “I had him from kindergarten through12th grade.”
Even the nameplates above Cougar football lockers were hand cut and painted each year by Brantley before his wife, Susan, a first-grade teacher at Arnco-Sargent, handprinted each name. Seniors get to keep theirs.
“It’s the kids,” he said, when asked what was most satisfying about the job. “People come up to me and they’ll say, ‘They won’t know what to do without you.’ It’s great that they build your ego up like that, but I’ve got news for you. They played football at Newnan High before I got here and they’ll play football after. It’s great to have that. But they’re going to line up and play whether it’s Radar, Joe Blow or whoever.”
If your child played varsity sports between 1981 and last Friday when Brantley made his retirement official, they were in good hands whether they wore navy and gold or an opposing jersey. He’s the fourth to hold the position since Bass initially hired current school board member Harry Mullins in the early 1970s while feeling the need to have a trainer available on campus to treat student athletes.
For the last three decades at Newnan High, there’s only been “Radar,” who’s worked under more superintendents (6) and elementary school principals (8) than Cougars' head football coaches (4) during his tenure.
“I think as a parent of a student-athlete at Newnan High School, or as one who was playing here, there was a comfort of seeing Radar out there on the sidelines,” said Steve Allen, Newnan High’s current Athletic Director. “He always gives 110 percent.”
It took the coaxing of then assistant superintendent Bobby Welch to agree to bring a trainer on board with Bass volunteering to sacrifice one of his assistant coaching jobs in order to offset the hire. One has worked at each of the county’s high schools ever since.
“I give him credit. He gave in to me to do that,” Bass said of Welch. “After seeing what an impact having a trainer in the schools had, years later he gave me back my coaching spot. I can appreciate those kinds of things.”
Visiting coaches from outside Coweta certainly have. Having athletic trainers in all three public high schools the past two-plus decades has been an advantage that others systems can’t match.
“We have a parent who’s a doctor that’s able to help us,” said Douglas County football coach Jason Respert at Monday’s coaches meeting for the All-Region 3-AAAAAA football team. “But he’s not always available.”
Texas is one of the only state’s that requires an athletic trainers to be present at every high school sporting event, a trend that Brantley doesn’t expect Georgia to follow anytime soon. What may be more important, however, is getting students interested in the field to also look into a teaching degree, which would allow high schools to additionally have an athletic trainer on staff.
“[The National Athletic Trainers Association] is our governing body. They want people in the secondary school. What they don’t realize is that money is paid by the states, not by the school systems,” Brantley said. “If you’re going to work in this city, you’re going to have to have a teaching degree. They keep telling the younger [trainers] they don’t need it. They can wind up getting a teaching degree in anatomy physiology, earth science ..something. But [NATA] won’t do it.”
Brantley was hired straight out of Troy State by Bass having held a working interview during spring practice prior to his graduation after having been recommended to Newnan’s football coach by the university’s head trainer ‘Doc’ Anderson.
Of the last 32 years of football games, beginning with a glorious run to the 1981 Class AAAA state finals, Brantley has missed only one during this career.
“My first year we went to the state final. I felt like I had died and gone to heaven,” he said. “And we’ve been trying to get back there ever since.”
When he arrived in July of 1981, Brantley’s predecessor was long gone. He was without much of an idea where to start in a room full of equipment.
“First day, Max walks in and says, ‘You’re the trainer and you’re in charge of equipment',” said Brantley. “And I said, ‘What do I do?’ He says 'you’re the trainer and in charge of equipment'.”
It’s been a year-round position where only the weather seems to change. One year Brantley remembers Bass asking all of his football coaches to jot down their hours to see which had the most and was shocked when he saw his head trainer’s.
“I said coach I’m here after y’all leave and I’m here before y’all get here,” Brantley said. “[Bass said] 'But you DOUBLED my hours'. I said you work football. I work football, basketball, baseball ....”
It’s been a two-way street, however, between the county’s three longtime athletic trainers and area physicians – like the six physicians at Georgia Bone And Joint – working together to keep student-athletes on the field. More often than not, the partnership has kept recovery times to a minimum.
“It’s nothing against the other doctors, but you have sports-related and regular doctors. These people deal with this, the others don’t,” Brantley said. “You go in there with a sprained ankle and they may say you don’t need to do anything for four weeks. The orthopedist may say you need to ice it, stretch it, treat it and you’ll be ok in three days.”
Even in his final football game this year, the hard work paid off watching Cougars' sophomore quarterback Bailey Bryant take the field a week after having to wrap his throwing arm and shoulder in ice.
Between treatment both on and off campus, Bryant managed to play in Newnan’s second-round Class AAAAAA playoff game while nearly guiding the team to a victory despite being knocked to the turf several times.
“I was so proud of him,” Brantley said of Bryant. “He grew up that ballgame.”
Just to hear Brantley go through the routine of ankle tapings is much like watching a master in a craft. At Newnan High’s now extensive training facilities — including five training tables, another three for tapings — an open door meant ‘open for business’ even if some coaches and athletes hadn’t heard the news of Radar’s retirement.
Junior varsity basketball player Sharra Baker, a transfer student, walked through unknowingly into Brantley’s office upon the request of her coach for a pre-game taping.
“Can’t do it. I’m retired,” Brantley said, straight faced, before revealing the punchline. “I’m just kidding. Come on.”
No sooner had Baker left, that young football assistant Dustin Alley arrived with two of his junior varsity players also needing tapings.
“Word travels fast,” Brantley joked.
Alley looked on as the two were wrapped and ready to go in less than 10 minutes, methodically going through the motions again.
“Always tape inside out ... come back low. Anchor the top,” he began. “Split that first about half and half. Put your figure eights in.. heel lock.. back to figure eight.. another heel lock... close it off.”
A former player under current head football coach Mike McDonald during his years at Union Grove before playing at Middle Tennessee State, Alley admitted he had taped three ankles in his career “and they’ve all been terrible,” he said. “I’ve been trying to learn.”
For the first time in 30 years, varsity coaches may have to brush up on their first aid.
As one of the county’s three longtime trainers with East Coweta’s Lloyd Knott and the late Dale Krach at Northgate High, they were known among colleagues as “The Three Amigos.” Knott similarly made his retirement official on Dec. 1, to coincide with an upcoming change in retirement pensions effective in January.
“We go places you don’t see one of us without seeing the others an arm distance away,” said Brantley, who worked with Krach at the school prior to Northgate’s opening and is already feeling his absence following his death in October during the football season. “With Dale gone, that’s going to be a whole different thing..”
Some are hoping Brantley can be allowed to return to work at the school in another capacity that keeps him as close to the field as possible. For now, the athletic staff is on their own to some degree.
"I know I’m going to get phone calls [from coaches] and that’s not going to be a problem,” Brantley said “It’s the same thing with Lloyd. We may be gone, but we’re not gone. It was time for me to [go]. If things work out and we’re able to come back that’d be great. If not..”
If not, there’s always a fishing pole. With sons Asher and Mason currently in college and Susan still a few years away from retirement, Brantley finally has some well-deserved time to himself.
“It doesn’t even matter if I catch anything,” he said. “It’s pure enjoyment. This is all I’ve done for the last thirty-two years. But it’s been fun.”