William “Billy” G. Coward, a resident of Hyattsville, MD passed away unexpectedly at the MedStar Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C. on Sunday, September 12, 2021 at the age of 89.
He was born on October 19, 1931 in Washington, D.C. to the late Thelma Avant Coward and John Elijah Coward. He is survived by his wife of 68 years, Tamara Baron Coward; three daughters, Terry Coward, Donna Coward Holland and Vicki Coward-Rosen; two grandchildren, Brandi Nicole Wynn, Justin Alexander Britt; and, a host of other relatives and friends.
Billy, as he became known to his family and friends, attended public schools in the District of Columbia which included Mott Elementary School and Garnet Patterson Junior High School. While attending Garnet Patterson, he was actively involved in all of the major sports—lightweight touch football, softball, track and lightweight basketball. During his last year of junior high school, the basketball team won the city championship. Upon graduating from junior high school, he won the Walker Memorial Medal as the outstanding athlete in the school.
During the 1946-47 baseball season, he was batboy for the Washington Grays baseball team (also known as the Homestead Grays). This team was a member of the former Negro National League and featured such stars as Josh Gibson, Buck Leonard, Luke Easter, and Cool Papa Bell. In 1946, he was also batboy for the National Negro League All-Star team that played against the Negro American League All-Star team. Many future Major Leaguers such as Jackie Robinson, Satchel Paige, Roy Campanella, Junior Gilliam, Don Newcombe, Larry Doby, Monte Irvin and Minnie Minoso played in the game.
He attended Dunbar Senior High School where he played and lettered in football, basketball, and baseball. In his senior year, he was one of three athletes in the school to receive three letters. After graduation from Dunbar in 1949 he received a football scholarship to attend North Carolina College (now North Carolina Central University). He lettered three of the four years in attendance and, in his sophomore year earned “Player Contributing Most to the Development of the Team” award. In his freshman year at Central he played Junior Varsity basketball under Dr. Leroy Walker who later became president of the United States Olympic Committee.
In 1951, while at North Carolina College, he was inducted into the Alpha Kappa Chapter of the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity. Upon graduation from college in 1951 he returned to Washington, D.C. and utilized his certification as a water safety instructor and senior lifeguard by becoming a lifeguard and water safety instructor at Francis swimming pool in Georgetown.
In October of that year, he was inducted into the United States Army. He took basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina and attended High Speed Radio Operator’s School at Camp Gordon, Georgia. While at Camp Gordon, he served as the physical training instructor for his company and played on one of the basketball teams representing Camp Gordon.
After completion of his training as a high-speed radio operator, he was assigned to duty at Fort Buchanan in Puerto Rico with the 7503rd Signal Corps. He coached and played on the Company basketball team and after the Company basketball season ended, he played on the Post basketball team. Additionally, he was selected as his Company’s Little League baseball team manager as well as being selected manager of the Post’s Little League All-Star team.
He was honorably discharged from the Army on September 21, 1955 and began working in the United States Post Office in December of that year. While working there, he coached the Post Office basketball team. During the following year, while still employed at the Post Office, he took classes at Howard University to become certified to teach in the D.C. Public School System. Not only did he receive his certification to teach but also enrolled in Howard’s Graduate School as a part-time student. In addition to his full-time employment and part-time studies, he continued to work as a water safety instructor and lifeguard at Francis Swimming Pool and also served as a substitute teacher on the junior and senior high school levels from 1958 to 1960.
In September 1960 he resigned from the Post Office and began teaching at Garnet Patterson Junior High School. He also continued to take courses at D.C. Teachers College, American University, Federal City College (now the University of the District of Columbia), Howard University, George Washington University and Trinity College when possible, while continuing to work within the school system. He also drove a cab and sold real estate with two local real estate companies: Collier and Vogel Realty for a year and Lipscomb Realty for five years.
In September 1966 he began teaching at Bell Vocational High School; and, for a period of two years he also served as the assistant football coach, the basketball coach and the track coach at Bell. Three years later he became the head basketball coach as well as the head track coach at Bell. Under his tutelage, the Bell Vocats were the Inter-High Football Champions during the 1970-71 and 1972-73 basketball seasons, as well as runner-up in the City Championship games for both seasons.
In 1972 he also enrolled in a Master’s program at George Washington University and received his Master’s degree in 1973. With his previous graduate courses and credits, he had accumulated a Master’s degree plus 62 graduate hours. Several months later he became the Associate Athletic Director, as well as the basketball and track coach at Federal City College, where he remained for a period of three years. In 1976 he returned to the D.C. Public Schools in an administrative capacity. He was assigned to McFarland Junior High School as Dean of Students. The following year, he became Assistant Principal at Woodrow Wilson Senior High School and remained in this position for a period of two years. In June of 1980 he retired from the D.C. Public School System and became a stress-management consultant with the Control Data Corporation on a part-time basis.
Within a year after he retired from the D.C. Public School System, he began his employment at Howard University as Assistant Director of Recreational Activities, a position he truly enjoyed and loved until his retirement on June 30, 1993. But a life of retirement was not for him: several months later he became Kicking Coach for Howard’s football team and worked in this capacity from 1993 until 1999. During this period Howard won the National Black College Championship in 1993 and again in 1996. In the year 2000 he became Interim Basketball Coach at Howard until the end of the basketball season that year.
On November 23, 2000 the D.C. Public School’s City Championship football game was played at Eastern High School; at half-time of this game, he received an award from the District of Columbia Interscholastic Athletic Association’s Sports and Activities. Several months later in 2001 he was inducted into the District of Columbia Coaches Association’s Hall of Fame. In 2006 the Pigskin Club of Washington began to present the annual William G. “Billy” Coward award to the National Black College Football Champions. Additionally, he was inducted into the Pigskin Club’s Hall of Fame in 2008.
On August 20, 2013 he was honored as one of Dunbar High School’s Living Legends during the official dedication of the New Dunbar High School. A plaque -- with his name (William G. Coward), his year of graduation (1949) and the titles Coach and Educator -- was installed in the floor of the Armory of the school.
After he retired several years ago, he became an author having written and published “An Exposure to Sports: A Reflection of My Involvement in Sports as a Participant, Spectator and Coach.” This is a memoir that delves into his involvement in sports (in one capacity or another) over a period of seven decades.
In addition to his family, Billy leaves to cherish his memory a host of other family members and friends.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made in the name of William G. Coward to the “Amyloidosis Foundation,” https://www.amyloidosis.org, 7151 N. Main St., Ste. 2, Clarkston, MI 48346, (248) 922-9610.