An Oneida coaching legend got a posthumous honor Friday, one that will live on in the home of the Indians forever.
School board members officially dedicated the Indians' unnamed stadium to Jim May, who coached at Oneida from 1981 until his death in 1997.
"His influence continues and is felt to this day," superintendent Jeanny Hatfield said during the formal dedication of the stadium. "He was admired by many. He's a remarkable man worthy of this honor."
Every head football coach who has led the Indians since May's death 20 years ago was directly mentored by the coaching legend.
May joined the Oneida Indians program as head coach after posting a 49-33 record in eight seasons at Crossville High School in DeKalb County, Alabama.
He's credited with leading Oneida to glory, including the 1992 state championship. His career was cut short seven games into the 1997 season; May suffered a heart attack on the sidelines during the Indian's win over Cosby. He would die later that night.
"He was there more than a football coach to me," former quarterback Stan Pennington said Friday. "He meant so much as more than a person. He was like a father figure to a lot of people."
Pennington shared a story from his senior season that has stuck with him to this day. Both his grandmothers passed away in a very short timeframe during the end of the regular season playoffs, leaving a young Pennington devastated.
Coach May found him in the locker room.
"He told me, 'What are you doing here? You don't need to be here,'" Pennington said. "We sat there and talked for 30 minutes. Football never came up one time. We talked about life, death, and love. It's something I cherish.
"You could tell that he loved you," Pennington said. "A lot of coaches are not like that.
May's eldest son, Jimmy, served as head coach from 1999 to 2004. He's currently an assistant to Tony Lambert on the Indians staff. He served as an assistant under his father in the 1990's, winning a state title with him in the process. He shared a story of the two driving home together from Nashville after winning the championship.
"It was some three years after my mother passed away," Jimmy May said. "He was really excited for the team and the win, but sad at the time she couldn't be a part of it. That's probably my greatest memory, being with him on that ride home that day.
"She had just been to so many games, and just to finally get to the big game and win it, that was mainly what we talked about," May said.
May gave a tearful speech at Friday's dedication, thanking the fans and community for their support.
"I was thinking about my [late] mom and dad," May said. "Thinking about all the time he put in and how he worked to build success through the years. It's been 20 years, but it feels like yesterday to me."
Jimmy May described his father as a humble man, one who wanted to share awards and not receive them for himself.
"He would've been very proud of it, for our family," May said. "He wanted to see success from the players, in life, to grow up and be great young men and husbands and fathers. He probably wouldn't have liked all the attention, but he'd have been honored by it."
May learned how to be a man and treat other people from his father. He also learned how to treat players like his own kids, which he said was most important for his coaching career.
"I still feel his presence," May said. "I still think about him every day and the advice he'd give me."
Pennington has begun raising money for a sign that will bear Coach May's name, in the hopes of mounting it on the stadium before the 2018 season.
Jim May posted winning seasons in all but four of his 17 seasons at the helm of Oneida's program.
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