Stephens follows in father's footsteps
by LaVonte Young
MUNFORD- Following in your father’s footsteps is a challenge most sons would not want to try for various reasons, but in the case of Noel Stephens, he embraced the challenge with his father right there by his side.

“A lot of folks told me coming in that you don’t want to follow your dad’s footsteps,” Noel said. “That was my dream ever since I was in school. I told everybody that after I get out of school I am going to coach at Munford. I am going to grow up, come back and coach here. I took it and ran with it. The field is named after his dad, Leon Buddy Stephens. He coached here for 30 years, I think it is an honor to be able to come back and coach on a field named after your granddaddy and coach at the same place that your dad coached for several years. It is a real honor and a lot of fun.”

The journey to get to this point wasn’t the easiest for Noel. Growing up with his father being a teacher and coach at his school, he had to deal with the perception of others thinking he received special privileges.

“Being the coach’s son, you always got ‘you are playing or doing this because you are the coach’s son,’ but it was actually hard if you were the coach’s son,” Noel Stephens said. “For those very reasons, people think you get favoritism, which in our case it never was. Everything was always fair and equal. Nothing was ever given to us, because of the relationship to the coach because he was our father. He was actually tougher on us than any one else.”

The elder Stephens set ground rules on how to separate school and the playing field from his relationship with his sons as a father.

“I told them on the field you are my player, but when we walk across the threshold into the house you are my son,” Leon said. “Now we did spend some time out in the yard in the pick up truck talking about baseball before we went in, but when we went in it was a different cap.”

Noel now carries those same exact rules in his household when it comes to his daughter and sons playing sports.

“That is one of the things from him since I am a father, because my two boys are playing and my daughter is playing,” Noel said. “I don’t take it with me once their game is over it is over. Say for instance, the coach at the t-ball game called me last night (Wednesday), said don’t be hard on your son. I said don’t worry about it because I am not going to say anything to him about it. One of the things that I learned growing up playing for your dad who also is the coach is what you did there on the field stays there on the field. There were several times we spent time in the driveway discussing mistakes made, but when we got out of the truck into the house it was over with.”

Leon is now helping his son on the diamond as an assistant coach. He said it is different not being the head coach, but his son appreciates the experience and knowledge that his father brings to the team.

“I do ask for some help and a lot of things,” Noel said. “He has been around for 40 years; the experience that he got is only making me better. I tried to get him out there and I tried to get him out there –finally, he said ‘yeah I will do it.’ It has been beneficial and the kids like it. It has been really nice.”

Munford baseball has had a Stephens at helm for 40 of the 50 years that the school has had a team.

“We have been so consistent here (Munford),” Leon said. “Doug Camp coached me in the ninth grade and we didn’t have another ball club until I was in the 12 th grade. We had two years off because we didn’t have a pitcher. Gene Swinford pitched when I was a senior; he was a ninth grader… In 1963 we had a ball club, 64-65 we didn’t have a ball club. From 1966 until I came back we had a team. I was the head coach when I came back in the spring in 1971. We played over behind the school, we finally went up there and re-did our baseball field. After me Bobby Hayes had it one year, Kyle Campbell had it a couple of years, then Noel (has coached Munford for 10 years). We only had five baseball coaches in the last 50 years. We have 40 of the years.”

Noel doesn’t just appreciate the knowledge his dad gives him on the diamond, but he takes some of the same things his dad did with him and applies it to his kids.

“I try to mold myself as a parent the same way he did us,” Noel said. “Growing up he was very disciplinarian, if you messed up he would correct you. Don’t tell a lie, because the worst whopping I ever got was about telling a lie about a screw driver. Just being a good father figure and that is what I am trying to carry over to my kids.”

Discipline was a must in the Stephens’ household; if his kids didn’t follow a rule, there was going to be consequences.

“I didn’t warn them,” Leon said. “I told them and they either did it or they were punished. If you lied to me, you got a whipping. The whipping consisted of going in the bathroom, stripping down to your underwear, grabbing the side of the tub, then, I came in to make sure I beat that lying out of them. Then when I got through with them I made them tell me thank you. If anybody gives you anything you are supposed thank them. They didn’t get many, but when they did I made them thank me.”

Leon said teaching his kids in the classroom was probably tougher than coaching them.

“It was probably tougher on them me being a teacher than me being a coach,” Leon said. “They were in my Algebra classes. Noel missed the A honor roll because his average was 89. 5 in Algebra in my class. I wouldn’t round it up, if you didn’t make a 90 you are not going to get a 90. That was rough. I would send a test paper home and parents would sign them and I would give them five bonus points because the parents saw it. If it was a bad grade the parent would get on to them at home. I wouldn’t sign his, I let his mother sign it and he failed to get one signed and that could have been the difference. You make rules and expect them to be adhered to.”

Noel agreed that it was tougher being in his dad’s class, and he also thought he should have gotten the extra credit he needed to make an A.

“In the classroom I was always afraid of when he went over stuff in the classroom. He would go over it a fine tooth comb,” Noel said. “He explained it where everybody could understand it and we didn’t move on until everybody got it. If I came across something that I didn’t understand or know that good whenever we got home I was scared to ask. I wouldn’t ask for help at home because I was afraid that he would get on to me because I wasn’t paying attention. I personally think it was harder in the classroom than it was on the field, because everybody watched you. Ever nitpicking thing you did they went to him and told him.”

Both Noel and his younger brother Chris had success on the playing field. Noel earned a spot on the All-State team and played in the North-South game. On the gridiron, Chris made The Birmingham News All-State as a quarterback and he was an All-State punter for The Birmingham Post Herald. Leon coached his sons in all three sports that they played.

“It has been great to coach your kids, teach your kids, being a parent to your kids and coach with your kid,” Leon said.

© 2013