07/07/13 — Longtime W.A. Foster rec leader is honored by former students

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Longtime W.A. Foster rec leader is honored by former students

By Matt Caulder
Published in News on July 7, 2013 1:50 AM

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James Coley sits between a stack of plaques and a group of trophies he was awarded during his 40-year tenure at the W.A. Foster Center.

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James Coley, right, walks into the W.A. Foster Center with his brother, Elroy Coley, during the ceremony held in his honor and in gratitude for his contributions to the youths he served as recreation leader at the center.

Longtime recreation leader James "TC" Coley was recently honored by a group of men who grew up under Coley's tutelage at the W.A. Foster Recreation Center.

They came together to dedicate the center's gymnasium to Coley, 81, who oversaw the after-school programs at the center for 40 years.

Leonard Harvey, 61, spoke at the dedication about what Coley had done for him.

"Without him, we would have had no sense of direction," Harvey said. "He took me to my first college football game, at N.C. Central. He did a lot out of his own pocket."

Harvey said without the direction and guidance Coley showed him, he would probably have ended up in prison or dead.

"Back then, you seemed to have two options, go in the military or try to work and feed your family to survive," he said. "College was on the back burner."

Harvey did go to college, and he credits Coley with getting him there, along with many other young people who came through his programs.

"If I had all the money in the world, I could never repay him. We're just trying to honor him while he is still living," Harvey said.

"He would officiate the games or coach if a coach didn't show up," said Rodney Bailey of Greenville. "He did it all by himself. He had some helpers, but mostly he did it all by himself."

Bailey, 58, who was involved in the effort to have the gym dedicated to Coley, traveled from Greenville to speak about what Coley did for him as a young man.

"You could relax and have fun and feel secure there because of him. He made it a safe place. Like you didn't have to look over your shoulder," he said.

Bailey started going to the center when he was 16 and kept going until he was almost 30.

What he remembers most about Coley was the respect he had for the "little children all the way up to the grandmothers."

He remembers how Coley didn't have to do a lot of "hollering" because everyone listened to him when he called them down.

Councilman William Goodman spoke at the dedication about his personal experiences with Coley after school at the center.

Goodman went to the center just around the corner from where he grew up.

"I have known him all my life," said Goodman. "Normally after school we dropped our books at home and went there."

He doubts he would have ended up on the City Council without the guidance of Coley when he was young.

"If I was mischievous, he'd put me in check, to the point that I was a little fearful that he would spank my behind," Goodman said. "He never spanked me, but he put the fear in me. Back then in the community, people had the authority to take care of a little business."

Goodman said had it not been for Coley he "would have been in trouble all the time."

Bailey said the group of grateful former youths whose lives Coley touched isn't done honoring the man who had such a large influence on their lives.

Nowadays, Coley enjoys a simple retirement, resting in his armchair at his home off of Tommy's Road with his wife, Rosetta.

He said he was pleased that so many former youths had chosen to honor him. He just did the job for the good of the youths, he said, and enjoyed every moment.