ARLEY - The Arley community is banding together once again in a big way, this time to pay tribute to the late Billy Wadsworth by constructing an outdoor basketball court at Hamner Park in his memory.
In fact, the community is not only collecting donations for the project but is also planning to do a majority of the construction work for the court, which will feature four goals as well as an area to play shuffleboard.
Just about everybody in the town of Arley either knew Billy Wadsworth, or had a special and often comical story to tell about him.
Wadsworth passed away on Jan. 18, just 10 days after his 53rd birthday on Jan 8.
The basketball court project was spearheaded by Arley Town Council member Lee Akins and his family as a way of giving back to a man who had done all he could, in his own way, of giving to others.
Billy was uncle to Lee’s wife Emily, and Lee felt in his heart something special needed to be done after Billy’s passing.
A friend had been discussing with Lee the idea of establishing a basketball court at the community park in honor or memory of Billy.
That idea led to a Go Fund Me account set up on Facebook, where people visiting the site can make donations through their PayPal account, as well as an account for donations at all area branches of Traders and Farmers Bank.
“We started getting a lot of donations,” Lee said. “There’s a lot of interest in it.”
Already, $10,200 have been raised toward the project from both these funding collection sources, with a donation recently added to that from State Representative Tim Wadsworth, brother to Billy.
“There are also some additional funds that are coming into play, that haven’t come in at this point,” Representative Wadsworth stated. “This is a community effort.”
In fact, Billy’s family requested that in lieu of flowers, donations be given to the Billy Wadsworth Memorial Fund.
“It will be a very nice thing for our community,” Representative Wadsworth said. “I think it will do something for Billy to honor Billy.”
The plan is to raise at least $21,000, which will go toward the goals and concrete, Akins noted. The Town of Arley is planning to provide assistance with a fence around the court, officials said.
Plans are to have the court established at least by the summertime.
Original plans when Hamner Park was established several years ago was to include a basketball court, and a leveled off spot to the left of the park entrance was set up.
“It already has a place ready for a basketball court. We just didn’t have the funds to do it,” Lee pointed out.
“When the park was laid out five to six years ago, it was designed for a basketball court,” added Arley Mayor Chris Tyree. “That park was designed for a basketball court. Now it’s fixing to happen.
“I just think the world of Billy. He was always around. I saw him a lot. I remember as a kid, I used to go with Billy and his dad to the cattle sale. I have been around Billy a long time,” Tyree added.
“This will be the public court,” he added.
The reason why a basketball court is a fitting tribute to establish in Billy’s honor is his love for basketball.
“He has always had a goal behind his house. He just always loved basketball,” said Lee. “It was just a fitting thing to have a court named after him.”
“There’s not many people in town who haven’t played (Billy) in basketball,” noted Doug Barnett, adding the project was important for the entire community.
“Billy meant a lot to the community,” Barnett said.
“Billy had his own rules on court,” Akins stated. “I remember one time he got a technical. He got 10 free throws. He was pretty much going to win every time,” Akins laughed.
Akins’ wife Emily also played basketball with Billy. “He actually benched me one time,” she recalled.
Billy, who lived behind the Arley Coffee Shop, would be seen walking all over town. He never drove, either walking wherever in he wanted to go in town or asking for rides from those in the community, especially when those rides were going to take him to any type of sporting event.
“Everybody had a Billy story,” Barnett said. “Whether having him ride to ball games with them or just being around town all the time and saying, ‘Hey, what are you doing? What are you eating for supper?’
“I can’t tell you the number of people he asked that,” Barnett said. “A lot of times he said, ‘Hey, come play me in basketball?’ That’s what a lot of people remembered him for.”
Another passion Billy had was helping out the Meek High School Band of Champions by being the designated person who would carry the drum major’s podium onto the football field for the halftime shows each year.
Representative Wadsworth noted the court in his brother’s honor will be a multi-purpose court, for even those who may not like to play basketball.
“Billy was one of these individuals who was a gentle person. He was an individual who loved his community,” said Wadsworth. “He loved all the sports. He loved his band. He loved his church.
“He never did drive, but he never missed a ball game. He never missed church,” Wadsworth pointed out.
“He always found a way of going where he wanted to go,” he continued. “He was always determined to get where he wanted to go.”
Billy worked as a stocker for Williams Grocery then later when the business became the present-day Sons of Arley. In fact, Billy was the last of the Wadsworths to have worked in that business, he noted.
“Billy had some limitations and he had some strengths,” Wadsworth said. “His limitations were in some areas, but his strengths were he knew everybody. He knew every car, every name.
“Bill was autistic, and when you have somebody like that, they have a certain routine, and one of his routines was he liked the band. He was involved with the band when he was young.”
Wadsworth recalled that Billy probably carried the podium onto the field for the band for at least the past 35 years.
“He’d miss watching an Alabama football game and not going to an Alabama football game, because he had to carry that band podium out to the middle of the field,” Wadsworth stated.
Billy’s funeral was not a solemn memorial service at Arley Baptist Church (where he was a member), but rather a light hearted celebration of his life, complete with fun stories and even a live performance of the Rocky theme song by the MHS Band. The band would often play that song as a pep tune during a football game.
“People (at the service) wore red, because Billy was an Alabama football fan,” Wadsworth said.
Not only Alabama, but Billy kept up with the scores of all the teams in Winston County, he said.
“Billy was just passionate in whatever he did,” Wadsworth said.
“He’d call you every night and tell you the score of any ball game,” he said. “Referees knew him at basketball games. Occasionally, he was threatened to be thrown out, because he was very passionate and even had to carry him to the doctor, one time, because his eyes were bloodshot for yelling too much.”
Barnett added Billy would often seek people going to a ball game and ask, ‘When are we leaving?’
Fire Chief James Rickett said, “Everybody took care of Billy and Billy took care of everybody else. In his own way, he would do that.
“When my boys were in the band, a lot of times I would pull the band trailer and I’d always stop over here (at the store) and fill up and Billy would be coming out behind me, ‘Let’s go,’” Rickett recalled.
If the person from which Billy requested the ride was not ready to go right then, Billy would find a ride right then, yet not tell the first person, Cheryl Rickett laughed.
Willard Wadsworth, cousin to Billy, noted that Billy was devoted to Arley Baptist Church, where he attended.
“I’d be at the store and he would say, ‘Take me to church,’” Willard said. “I would take him down there. Regardless of how much time I had, I always took Billy to church, time and time again.”
Tim added that for someone who never drove, Billy never missed church.
“His testimonial at church was I love Jesus, and Jesus loves me,” Tim said.
Billy would often come to an area in the community store where tables were set up and residents would gathe, a place they jokingly called “The Table of Knowledge”.
The morning of Billy’s death, the remaining table regulars wondered why he wasn’t there, Willard further said.
“We kept worrying about why Billy didn’t come in that morning and we thought maybe he had to go to the doctor,” he said.
“I thought the world of Billy, and everybody else did, too. He is really missed,” Willard pointed out.
“Billy always reminded all of us about his birthday,” Willard added with a laugh.
“I was bringing him a balloon and gave it to him, and I did that for two or three years. He said, ‘Can you not tie a little something with it?’”
Resident Brent Harbison also shared a special story about Billy, noting that Billy would often invite himself to supper and ask, ‘Are we having fried taters tonight?’
“Billy was always fun to be around,” said Harbison. “It don’t seem like the town without Billy here. You looked forward to seeing him.”
One parting memory his friends had for this story was that Billy did his part to help the community by taking the menu of the local Arley Coffee Shop around to the different businesses so they would know what theycould eat for lunch that day.
See complete story in the Northwest Alabamian.