The Columbia Peace & Justice Initiative held its second annual Legacy Luncheon earlier this month, honoring beloved high schools sports leader Bernard Childress.
The annual luncheon honors an outstanding Black community leader, who has impacted the Maury County community. Last year, Christa Martin, former Columbia vice mayor and government steward of almost 30 years was honored at the luncheon.
The luncheon drew hundreds of community leaders from city elected officials, to state elected officials and leaders in the field of athletics and education.
A Columbia native, Childress, now retired, served as the executive director of Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association from 2009 to 2022. He is the first African American to serve in a TSSAA executive position. He began with the organization as an assistant executive director in 1995.
Many spoke of Childress’s influence on their lives at the Nov. 1 event, including Maury County Public Schools Athletics Director Chris Poynter, who was once a student of Childress in MCPS.
“Heroes are remembered, but legacies never die,” Poynter said, remembering his middle school principal always dressed professionally in a suit. “There’s no one more deserving than you.”
Poynter explained that seeing Childress’s professional and caring demeanor was like a “living reflection,” or example.
“I thought, yes, you can do this too,” he said.
Poynter also explained that Childress’s example propelled him to be his best and go the extra mile, which ultimately resulted in his efforts to secure $28 million in upgrades to the school district’s athletic program.
Columbia Mayor Chaz Molder also spoke of Childress’s influence as an educator on his life as a middle school student at Whitthorne Middle School, describing him as a calm and inspiring figure, who exuded natural leadership ability. Molder honored Childress by declaring Nov. 1, 2023, Bernard Childress Day in Columbia.
President of the CPJI Board of Directors Trent Ogilvie said he remembers Childress as someone he always looked up to as well growing up as a student in Columbia.
“I always looked up to this well-dressed gentle giant, who was always calm, cool and collected.”
When he missed honor roll by one point, Ogilvie said Childress encouraged him not to give up, but to work for extra credit until he achieved his goal. The lesson stayed with him for the rest of his life.
“I’m thankful for his contributions,” Ogilvie said.
Childress said he was humbled in receiving the Legacy Award, emphasizing that he could not have made it as far without his deep faith in God and courage to follow his direction.
“You’ll find me many times in my recliner reading Scripture spending time with the Lord,” he said.
“Proverbs 3:5-6 says, ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart; and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct your paths.’ That’s my favorite Scripture verse. I carry it with me all the time. Because there’s simply no other way.
“You don’t choose to be a role model. You are chosen.”
Childress said his greatest joy in his career is helping and encouraging youth to reach their potential.
“I think we should pray for our youth … and reject all of the negative pressure on them today,” he said.
Childress also thanked his family and wife, Pinkie, of 45 years for supporting him, during a demanding career that drew him away from home many nights.
Childress was instrumental in numerous milestones that have shaped the statewide association, including the InSideOut Initiative, a partnership between TSSAA, Tennessee Titans and the NFL Foundation.
Prior to joining the TSSAA, he served as a teacher, assistant principal and coach at Columbia Central High School his alma mater. Childress graduated from CCHS in 1973, when he was selected for the all-state basketball team his junior and senior years. He received a Bachelor of Science degree from Belmont University, where he was an all-conference basketball player for three seasons and served as captain his senior year.
He retired from TSSAA in 2022 to spend more time with his family.
“For every decision, I talked to her and we prayed together. She’d tell me, ‘You’ll make a great decision. Whatever decision you make, I’m with you.’ That meant the world to me,” Childress said about his wife.
At the conclusion of the banquet, Childress ended with motivating words.
“Always strive to be kind, gentle and compassionate to others. God loves you unconditionally even through struggles and disappointment. Put God first. Set goals for yourself, and if you fall, get back up.”
Kerri Bartlett is editor of The Daily Herald. To receive The Daily Herald newsletter in your inbox everyday, please visit www.columbiadailyherald.com.