“He wouldn’t miss a single game, whether it was jayvee or varsity,” said Clay Jernigan, a county coaching veteran who assisted on head coach Mike Brill’s staff last season. “Sometimes he would come out to the field on Wednesdays and I would tell him, ‘Kool-Aid, we don’t have a game.’ He didn’t care. He was ready to coach anyway.”
Kool-Aid’s legacy at Lumberton is just beginning after all of Pirate Nation observed a collective moment of silence Thursday when news spread quickly that the 54-year-old super fan and honorary assistant coach had died following complications from diabetes.
Brill, along with Chip Watson, was with Williams, who had Down’s syndrome, all of Wednesday night and sat bedside on Thursday afternoon when he passed.
“This town has learned more from Kool-Aid than we can ever teach Kool-Aid,” Brill said. “This guy was my right-hand man. These last 48 hours have been so hard. He had so much kindness and it’s a sad time. One of the last things I said to him was that his parents were waiting at the gates.”
James Granger, co-founder of the Lumberton Football Association, said Williams traveled to every football game with the Pirates coaching staff and had his own seat at the head of the pre-game meal table. Williams attended many practices, had his own “Top 10 Lumberton football coaches” list and helped distribute water to players on game days.
If he forgot his hat before kickoff, he’d grab another from the equipment bag as if no one were watching.
“I’ve only been here 12 years, but from what I understand, Kool-Aid has been associated with Lumberton football for at least 50,” Granger said. “In my opinion, he is right up there with Tunney (Brooks) and coach (Finley) Read as far as Lumberton icons go.”
Williams was noted for his light-hearted ability to make people smile and transform tense moments into laughter. And if you crossed Brill or questioned one of his calls, you’d have to deal with Kool-Aid.
“It’s funny, he fiercely defended Mike every time we would pick on him after games,” Granger said. “When he picked out his favorite coaches, he would always say that Brill was his No. 1 man and Beth (Brill) was his No. 1 woman. He loved Mike.”
Williams walked wherever he went, and knew Fayetteville Road better than most coaches understood the playbook. He would often have lunch at Burger King and stop in to see longtime friend Drew Bullard of Bullard Enterprises. Williams had nicknames for each coach, all neatly taped on headsets.
Kool-Aid’s moniker for Brill?
“He was just a big part of the town, this school and its history,” said Jay Britt, Lumberton’s public address announcer.
In 2007, the Pirates named their fieldhouse that sits a few yards outside of the north end zone after Williams. Granger and Lumberton assistant coach Steve Bollinger pulled down the plastic banner to unveil “Woodrow Williams Fieldhouse” during a ceremony with close friends.
Other than serving as the grand marshal in Lumberton’s homecoming parade last October, seeing his name across the locker room may have been Williams’ proudest moment.
“I can see him now, kind of strutting around with his chest puffed out after we unveiled it,” Britt said. “It’s like he was walking on air. I’ll never forget that.”
Added Brill: “People will never understand how much Lumberton and football meant to Woodrow. They just won’t get it.”
Kool-Aid was especially fond of the players, skipping across to different position stations during practice with his trademark high shorts. It was a segment during which he felt like he was in charge.
“He meant a lot to me and the players,” Lumberton senior Ahmad Smith said. “We’ve been around him since our freshman year. He always talked us up, kept an eye on us, and kept us in line. He will be missed dearly.”
Rising senior Demetri Sheridan says the 2013 season will be played in his honor.
“Kool-Aid was a great inspiration to not only the LHS football team, but to everyone who ever came in contact with him,” Sheridan said.
Tim Worley, a former Parade All-American running back at Lumberton, says he first met Kool-Aid when he was a child on the playground at Bill Sapp.
“He would be on the swings, swinging real high and singing songs and beat boxing with his mouth,” Worley said. “I thought it was really cool, those sounds that were coming out of his mouth. That’s when I learned how to beatbox and I still make those sounds today for the little kids that I’m around every day.
Carey Read, a former center for the Pirates, says his friendship with Williams began in the seventh grade. It continued throughout his high school career, one that ended with a 12-7 loss to Richmond County on Senior Night in 1979.
“The one thing I remember most about him was how friendly he was,” Read said. “It didn’t take anything to be his friend. All it required was a little bit of time and maybe a ride from Bill Sapp to Lumberton and you were good to go. We were close.”
There will be an empty space on the sidelines when football season returns.
“What’s so bad is that there’s is nobody that can take his place,” Jernigan said. “Next season will be empty without him there on the sidelines. Us coaches will have nobody to pal around with.”