Willie Todd doesn’t like to brag about himself.
“My wife says I don’t compliment myself too much but I’ve accomplished a lot,” Todd said. “I’ve had many awards and accolades.”
One of those accolades is having Marshall Junior High name its athletic facilities after Todd, who coached in Marshall for 42 years.
“I went down to the gym area with my wife, my son and my granddaughter,” Todd recalls. “I saw a picture next to the gym door, and I said, ‘This is real nice.’ We took pictures and then my son came back a few weeks later and they put the sign up and I was not even aware of it. He said, ‘Dad, dad, there’s a sign that says, ‘Willie Todd’ at the complex.’ So my wife and I went up there and I was surprised. I was very surprised.
“I’m very humbled, very humbled, and to the community, thank you very much,” Todd added. “I tried to make a difference, but that was quite an honor. I really appreciate it.”
Todd grew up in Hot Springs, Arkansas where his love for sports grew.
“Watching football games growing up and playing baseball, I said, ‘I’d like to do something like that,’” he explained. “I guess I was maybe 10 or 11.”
After graduating from Huron College in South Dakota, Todd moved to Marshall in 1965 and got his first coaching job at Pemperton High School.
“My first year (in Marshall), I wasn’t married,” Todd offered. “The second year, my wife and I got married. We’ve been married 54 years. We love it and we’ve been here ever since.”
When schools integrated, Todd moved to Marshall High School where he continued to coach multiple sports, including as an assistant football coach and a head track coach.
“I thought the combination with the people was a smooth transition,” he remembers fondly. “The community has been just wonderful.”
Throughout his years of coaching, Todd learned the most rewarding part of the field goes far beyond wins and losses.
“Touching the lives of young people, that’s been the most rewarding,” he said. “The Xs and Os and stuff like that are good but the camaraderie I had with the community, the coaches I worked with, the people I coached– it’s amazing that the people I have coached and I have taught in education, and I get calls. They seem to remember me, so I really appreciate that.
“It’s amazing,” he added. “Pretty much everywhere I go, someone’s going to call my name, ‘Hey coach Todd.’ I was at Walmart recently and I was in the produce department and someone from the other area called me name. I was like, ‘Come one people,’ but that’s something I really, really appreciate. The people have been wonderful. I’m very happy that I touched their lives.”
His many years of coaching are full of lifelong memories.
“They just hired coach Haggerty (Marshall’s new head track coach, J.B. Haggerty),” Todd said. “I coached him at Pemperton. I was coaching track and field, and I must say we had a pretty good track team but there was one leg missing. One of the athletes came up to me and said, ‘I know someone who can run.’ I said, ‘Who is that?’ He said, ‘J.B. Haggerty.’ I asked, ‘Where he is he?’ and he said, ‘He’s in band.’ So I went to the band director and I said, ‘I’m looking for a J.B. Haggerty,’ and he waved his hand and said, ‘Here I am sir,’ and he had been running ever since. We keep in touch and I’m so proud of him. I’m happy for him that he has done well and he’s going to continue to do well.”
Todd said he often tried to use sports to teach life lessons and mold the lives of student athletes for on and off the field or track.
“To be a good role model, teach them how to be respectful, be humble, and be the best that you can be,” he said when asked what type of lessons he’d try teaching through sports. “I’ve watched them grow and go into different professions and they call me. They’re all doing very well. There’s so many, that, wow. If I didn’t coach them, I taught them. I did that for about 38 years, so I touched their lives in that respect, in the classroom. It’s quite an honor.”
During the pandemic, Todd and his wife Nellie have found ways to stay safe and occupied.
“It has been a difficult time for us but we’ve found things to do to keep us busy,” he said. “For these months, it’s been staying at home, being safe. There’s not too much you can do. We like to read books and watch television. We work out at home. We have a treadmill and stuff.”
Even though he’s not coaching, Todd has found ways to stay involved with the community and Marshall athletics.
“I’m still involved in the school and I substitute a lot,” he said. “I still keep in touch with the teams and the coaching staff. I’m always going to be a supporter.”
It’s pretty clear that the community is also a supporter of Todd as well.