Thursday night at 5:45 p.m., the Bobcats and area friends will gather in the Orangefield High School gymnasium to pay a final tribute to their beloved Coach, Bill Tennison. Tennison’s coaching legacy will be honored as the district has named the varsity boys and girls tournament, The Bill Tennison Memorial Basketball Tournament, in his honor.

Tennison spent 24 of his 40 years in the teaching and coaching profession in the Orangefield School District where he was also responsible for organizing the Little Dribblers program.

In his baseball hat and orange windbreaker, Coach Tennison touched the lives of many, not only as a coach and teacher but also as a prison minister, deacon, Republican Party activist, Gideon’s International member, F.C.A. sponsor, friend, husband, father and grandfather, the latter three being exceptionally important to him.

Tennison was blessed with a beautiful wife, Darlene, for 55 years. Together they had five children, John, Becky, Jerry, Michelle, and Jim along with twelve grandchildren.
Bill Tennison was nothing but dedicated to his students and athletes. His wife, Darlene, would knit a homemade gift for each of Bill’s athletes every year. She would start knitting in the summer so that they would all have a special gift from the coach at Christmas. Coach Tennison’s family supported his endeavors.

All of Tennison’s children remembered the family tradition of varnishing the gym floor every Thanksgiving. “I remember varnishing the gym floor, sometimes deep into the night with family and friends, and having fun as we rolled the sloshing mop bucket down the ramp to the next person,” Michelle said.

Tennison’s middle son, Jerry, remembers, “holding that ridiculously tall ladder for Dad while he climbed it to change a bulb, wondering how in the world he could work up the courage to climb the thing.” His children also remember their Dad teaching them to overcome their own fears and one way he did that was to have them turn off the gym lights and make their way back in the very gym.

Tennison was always the first to brag on one of his players’ accomplishments, regardless of a win or a loss. He also loved supporting his family.

“Because of all the athletic functions we were brought up attending, as a young child, cheerleaders were my idols,” said Becky. “I used to have dad sit on the couch while I did cheers. EVERY time I did ‘two Bits’ he would do the obligatory ‘stand up and holler.’ No matter if I cheered for five minutes, or five hours. What a man. What a dad.”

Each of them associates the smell of fresh paint with their father, as he liked to keep the locker rooms looking nice for his athletes. The whole family would get to “help’ paint each summer. They also remember how particular he was with his players’ uniforms. Tennison laundered uniforms after each game and practice, even going as far as designing an air drying rack equipped with a signature hanging pole in the gym.

“It was so fitting to hold the funeral in that gym! Dad was that gym and the gym was a part of him. He paid attention to details. The details of how well his girls ran the press, or press breaker, the defense and all the way down to light bulbs, concession stand, bleachers, scorer’s table and varnish on the floor. Naming the tournament after him could not be more appropriate!” Jim said.

Coach Tennison truly cared about each of his players and students. Even though he taught thousands of students, he never forgot a face or a name. He had a remarkable mind and could recall specific facts about games played years ago or where a particular student sat in one of his math classes. Coach Tennison had a double major in biology and chemistry, minored in Spanish and Bible and actually attended medical school for two years. He earned a masters degree in math. Tennison also toyed with the idea of becoming a minister and as fate would allow Tennison was able to utilize the trainings in both of these areas as he often diagnosed and treated athletic injuries, as well as, ministered to others through his beloved Gideon’s and prison ministries.

Tennison also owned a fireworks stand for fifteen years, where his children and grandchildren claim that he popped more fireworks than he actually sold. They all have fond memories of selling fireworks in the “sweltering” heat and “freezing” cold. He also taught driver’s education and was quite famous for his driving abilities.

Tennison was known for coaching girl’s basketball, but he also coached several all-state football players and award winning track stars. Coach Tennison was in the coaching profession for 40 years. Tennison had over 692 wins in his career. He coached in the following districts: Idalou, Sudan, Happy, Morse, Stinnett, Anson, and Orangefield. He did go to the Girls State Basketball Tournament in 1964 when he was coaching the Happy Cowgirls. They ended up third in the state.

The legacy of Coach Tennison will long be remembered in our community. Currently, there is a campaign to name Orangefield’s new gymnasium after Tennison.