Hayes more than a county all-star

Susan Harber, The Daily News Journal, March 25, 2019

Hayes left an indelible imprint on our county in athletics, teaching, community service and politics, along with an all-around positive influence that will remain forevermore.

I love studying the history of football, beginning with the first game of intercollegiate football in 1869, Rutgers vs. Princeton.

My husband, Charles Dwayne Harber, played the game for seven years and was awarded a state honor in football as a defensive and offensive tackle in his time. Rules and dynamics have evolved since he played the game.

The reality of football is that pain and injury can follow and persist over time. Yet many in Rutherford County have taken part in this athletic expression and done well.

One of the best in this sport was Joe Black Hayes of Murfreesboro, who played football for the University of Tennessee for four years where he was a starting guard.

Hayes was born in Murfreesboro to fireman Wiley Buchanan Hayes (1890-1943) and Maggie Lee Gray Hayes (1896-1966) on September 20, 1915, in Murfreesboro. Hayes’ parents and multiple relatives are buried in Evergreen Cemetery with a long legacy of familial roots in Rutherford County.

This included his maternal grandparents Mary Alice Cantrell and John Henry Gray, as well as his paternal grandparents John Thomas Hayes and Emma Tatum, who are all laid to rest at Evergreen.

Hayes’ maternal grandparents James Cantrell (1849-1928) and Martha Jane Summers (1849-1945) are also buried at Evergreen.

Joe had four siblings: John Thomas, Bucky, Jack and Emma.

Hayes graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1939 with a degree in agriculture and wed Elaine Catherine Cothran of Eagleville just two hours after graduation on June 5, 1939.

Elaine was of Scotch-Irish heritage and the daughter of Joseph Cothron (1881-1978) of Versailles and Alice Puckett (1883-1961) of Rutherford County. Alice was the daughter of Nathaniel Puckett and Mary Frances White, who owned land at Hudson Place near Versailles and the Puckett Store. Joseph was a baseball player in Versailles at Taylor School and lived to age 96 in his family home. The Cothrans were seventh generation and prominent in the Versailles community.

Joe Black Hayes and Elaine had three sons: Joe Black Hayes Jr. (born 1941), Rodney Hayes (born 1946) and Larry Cothron Hayes (born 1948). Both Joe Jr. and Rodney live in Murfreesboro. Larry and Rodney were former lettermen for the Blue Raider football team in the mid-1960s.

Elaine Hayes died in 1991, and Joe Hayes wed Mildred McDonald at Blackman Methodist. After 13 years of marriage, Mildred died in 2004.

Joe Black Hayes started school at East Grammar in 1922. He attended Crichlow through fifth grade and was then a student at McFadden. He graduated from Central High in 1934.

By 1937, he was captain of the football team at University of Tennessee his senior year under the famed and revered Coach Robert Neyland, who was later a World War II soldier retiring as brigadier general. Neyland emphasized to his team “those who make the fewest mistakes win.” Neyland Stadium in Knoxville carries this coach’s name today.

Hayes was a letter winner from 1935-1937 in football, wrestling and track and field. He was later a wrestling coach at Smyrna High in 1973.

In Hayes’ first year (1935) of playing UT Vols football, he was led by head coach W.H. Britton, as Neyland was in military active duty for that year. The games were played in the Shields-Watkins Field in Knoxville. The team had four wins and five losses.

In 1936, Hayes played under Robert Neyland with six wins, two losses and two ties.

By 1937, Hayes was again playing under Neyland in the Southeastern Conference, and the team had six wins, three losses and one tie. Their rival Vanderbilt beat the Vols in 1935 and 1937 but lost the 1936 game.

Hayes had an active career in teaching and coaching.  In 1940, Hayes was assistant football coach and taught agriculture at UT Martin from 1941-1943.

He served in the Navy from 1944-1946 during World War II and was stationed at the Millington Naval Base. After his discharge, he returned home as the Giles County Assistant Extension Agent in 1946.

From 1946-1948, he was athletic director and football coach for Cumberland University in Lebanon. During this time, he received a master’s degree from Peabody in health and sciences. In 1950, Hayes returned home to Murfreesboro as assistant under Charles Murphy, who was head coach of MTSU from 1947-1968. Murphy Center on campus is named in his honor.

As assistant from 1949-1954, Hayes was a line coach, defensive coordinator and a key player in winning six OVC championships over 10 years with a 133-57-7 record. During this time, the Raiders played four bowl games.

By 1950, Hayes started the first-ever wresting team at MTSU and coached the program through 1954. He was a wresting official in Rutherford County for 24 years. Further, he founded the track and field program in 1955 at MTSU.

Hayes was a busy man pouring his heart and soul into the elevation of college athletics.

Hayes retired from coaching sports in 1969 and completed his teaching career in 1981, but he did not sit down and instead positioned himself for the next chapter of his illustrious and productive life.

Hayes had a big interest in politics and desired a leadership role in public service. He was a key member of the Rutherford County Commission (1968-1990) and served on the Board of Zoning Appeals (1976-1990) where he was chairman from 1978-1986. Hayes was on the Planning Commission as chairman from 1986-1999, and he was chairman of the Rutherford County Conservation Board from 1970 until 2001. Moreover, Hayes was on the St. Clair Senior Center Board (1984-2000) and chairman from 1991-1997.

Hayes received many honors for his achievements. He was in the University of Tennessee Hall of Fame (1989), Cumberland Athletics Hall of Fame (1992) and MTSU Hall of Fame (1997), and received the American Red Cross (50 years) designation in 1996. In 2009, he was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.

Hayes died quietly on Dec. 9, 2013, at the age of 98 and is buried in Evergreen Cemetery. He left an indelible imprint on our county in athletics, teaching, community service and politics, along with an all-around positive influence that will remain forevermore.

Contact Susan Harber at susanharber@hotmail.com.

Comments are closed.