02/06/11 — A community says goodbye: Rosewood remembers its coach Tech. Sgt. Les Williams

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A community says goodbye: Rosewood remembers its coach Tech. Sgt. Les Williams

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on February 6, 2011 1:50 AM

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Angela Tyler covers her mouth as tears roll down her cheeks while remembering Les Williams during a memorial service at Rosewood High School.

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Rosewood Little Eagle football player Hinton Cox wraps his arms around the next of his mother Christy Cox during a memorial service at Rosewood High School for Les Williams.

They came to remember a local hero -- the dozens who occupied bleacher seats inside the Rosewood High School gymnasium for more than an hour Saturday afternoon.

They came to cry on shoulders and in hands -- to tell those around them just how much love still exists in their community despite the loss of a man who had so much of it to share with the sons he mentored.

But most importantly, those who knew Les Williams came together to renew the promise of never forgetting all they say he stood for.

Like giving "110 percent" -- never giving up no matter what adversity happens to come your way.

Or treating those you come across as your equal -- competing with class and never letting your team down.

So when members of the Rosewood Little Eagles, the team Williams coached for years before his death last month at a base in Afghanistan, gathered in the parking lot holding balloons meant to soar to the place they believe his spirit now rests, they repeated his many mantras in one voice.

A celebration of life was held Saturday for the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base technical sergeant who was laid to rest at a local cemetery last week.

But those men, women and children who turned out to tell stories, share laughs and shed tears seemed to agree that Williams will be with them always.

Fellow coach Brian Mooring said the team will dedicate next season -- and several more to come -- to a man he characterized as a friend and inspiration.

"He would really listen to you," he said, before turning to those young boys left without their coach -- their hero -- and reminding them that a spirit can live on.

"Coach Les loves you," he said.

And then he told them that the logo on the team's helmets would be changed from an eagle to its wings.

"Because that's what Coach Les has now -- he has wings," Mooring said. "He's gonna be flying with us."

One of Williams' comrades, both on the field and in the Air Force, agreed.

"You will see Les in 2011," Tech. Sgt. Kevin Getchell said. "You will see him in the kids ... when they refuse to give up."

Even the youngest in attendance said the same thing.

Like Sloan Stafford, who told his teammates and their parents Williams would "always be the greatest coach to me."

Or Little Eagle Hinton Cox, who read a poem from the team to the person who "taught us all to give 110 percent every time we touched the ball."

"We know you are soaring like an eagle with the angels right now," the boy read. "But in our hearts is where you'll always be found."

And then there was Gilbert Baker, the man who vowed to help the other coaches in the room fill the void Williams left upon his untimely death -- before challenging those seated inside that gymnasium to live up to the example set by their departed friend.

"I know good and well that Les Williams affected children in this room. He affected the adults in this room. Les affected me," he said, choking up. "So I'm here for you ... because I want you to be a person that leaves a legacy like Les Williams did."