Reed retires 'always a Panther'

by Donna Lampkin Stephens

After 38 years in education, 25 of those in Greenbrier, Tommy Reed is retiring, and while he’s looking forward to it, he already knows what he’ll miss most.

“I’ll miss our student body,” he said. “Greenbrier students are second to none. I hold them very close to my heart, and they know that. When it comes down to it, that’s who I’ll miss the very most.”

Joe Dillard, who had retired as Greenbrier basketball coach two years before Reed took that position, said Reed would be missed by the school and the community.

“He’s meant a lot here,” Dillard said. “He’s got a good personality and fits in real well in the community. He’s just a good guy and a good coach.”

Reed grew up in Leachville in northeast Arkansas, where he played baseball and basketball for the legendary John Widner. From there he went on to Arkansas State, where he graduated in 1974 with a physical education degree. His first job out of college was at Jonesboro Westside, where he spent three years as head junior boys and senior high assistant basketball coach and baseball coach.

He followed that with two years as head boys basketball and baseball coach at Yellville before he rejoined his former coach, Widner, at Morrilton. He arrived at Greenbrier the first time in 1981, where he spent eight years coaching senior boys’ basketball and baseball. While there, he spent a couple of years coaching senior girls’ basketball as well.

Dillard had known Reed since his own 19-year career at Yellville and followed Reed’s career at that school. He said when the Greenbrier job came open, he put in a good word for him.

“It’s kind of like good athletes – you can spot good coaches,” Dillard said. “I liked his style of play.”

Under Reed, the Panthers won the 1984 state baseball championship, beating Tuckerman in the final. They returned to the final game in ’85, falling to Farmington, 3-2.

He left Greenbrier for a year as Benton’s senior boys’ basketball coach before UCA men’s basketball coach Don Dyer offered him the job as his assistant. Reed was at UCA five years, including the 1991 and ’92 NAIA national runner-up seasons.

Reed said the opportunity to coach in college was something he never regretted.

“It was a great five years, but when it was all said and done, I knew high school was where I needed to be, and Greenbrier was where I wanted to be,” he said. “When I got the opportunity to go back, I did.”

He returned to Greenbrier as athletic director and senior boys’ basketball coach, armed with a master’s degree in kinesiology he’d earned while at UCA. After coaching for three years, he moved to administration as assistant high school principal while still serving as AD. He gave up athletic director duties along the way, focusing on the assistant principal’s position, but when fast-pitch softball started at Greenbrier, he pulled out his coaching clothes again.

“Nobody really knew much about fast-pitch, and since I was an old baseball coach, they asked me if I would do it,” Reed said. “I said, sure. I enjoyed doing that.”

Dillard said Reed’s experiences playing recreational softball for years helped him in that sport.

“I don’t think there’s a better coach in the state,” he said.

Reed spent several seasons coaching softball, leading the Lady Panthers to three consecutive state semifinal finishes.

Cindy Hartman, Greenbrier’s long-time volleyball coach, said Reed couldn’t be described in one word.

“He is a hard worker, great coach, very consistent administrator and a wonderful friend to many in Greenbrier,” she said. “I have enjoyed working with him through the years as he served in many roles at Greenbrier as coach, athletic director and administrator. Although we will all miss him, it will be great for him now to be a full-time grandpa, husband and, of course, full-time Cardinals fan.”

All told, Reed coached basketball for 24 years and coached something every year until four years ago. His Greenbrier basketball teams reached the state semi-finals four times.

The coaching/administration double duties kept him busy. Reed recently turned 60, and he said after 38 years in education, he felt like it was time to move to the next chapter of his life.

“I’ve got four wonderful grandchildren that I plan on spending a lot of time with, and a wife of 39 years in August,” he said. “I just felt like it was time to come home and spend some time with them.”

He met the woman who would become his wife when they were both high school students at Leachville. She retired a couple of years ago as an administrative assistant at GHS. Their son, Ryan, teaches and coaches at Carl Stuart Middle School in Conway; daughter Randi Newland lives in Clinton.

The oldest grandchild is 9. On a recent evening, Reed was returning from Clinton after helping a bit with his grandson’s baseball tea

But he said he wouldn’t be hauling out those coaching clothes regularly.

“I just want to be a grandpa and a spectator,” he said.

The highlights of his career, he said, had been the relationships he’d built all over the state.

“I was probably one of the most fortunate people in the world as far as my coaching career goes in that I had so many people who influenced me and took me under their wing, like John Widner, C.D. Taylor, Joe Dillard, people who are very familiar with this part of the country,” Reed said. “Joe Kretschmar at Fayetteville; Gayle Kaundart – you’re talking about a bunch of Hall-of-Famers. They all had great influence on my life, on what I wanted to be, and my coaching.

“I realized that I was very fortunate to have those people as my mentors. I thank the Lord for that. Those are good people to learn from.”

And he’s seen Greenbrier evolve. He’s watched the transition from a small rural school to a student population that has quadrupled since his arrival in 1981.

“Right now I’ve got several students who I coached their dads, moms, aunts, uncles, and that makes a big difference in knowing where these kids come from,” he said. 

He praised the leadership of the Greenbrier schools throughout his tenure.

“I can’t say enough about the superintendents I’ve worked for,” he said. “They’ve been progressive, and even with our growth, we’ve stayed ahead. The school board – we’ve been fortunate to have them, and the leadership of our school is in better shape than it’s ever been.”

He said he remembered that Greenbrier had been his dream job when he was coaching at Morrilton.

“I left once, but I came back,” he said. “I’m going to miss it. I get to work at 6 every morning right now, and I know there’s going to be that empty spot. I’ll find me something to do. But at the same time, I feel like it’s time. I’ve enjoyed what I’ve done, and it’s time to move on.”

But he will return regularly to support the school.

“Always a Panther,” he said. “Always a Panther.”