Solomon Crenshaw Jr.
For The Birmingham Times
Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin has a reputation of being a sharp dresser. Almost as sharp as the man about whom he would speak on Saturday morning.
Woodfin’s athletic shoes didn’t seem to match the dress blue suit he wore. But the shoes were a tribute to Emanuel Bell, the Wenonah girls basketball coach who passed away on January 31.
Woodfin’s shoes honored Bell and his walk in life.
“It was through that walk that he touched so many of us,” the mayor said. “Coach Bell knew that there was more to victory than trophies. Victory was the end result of a solid foundation, built by hard work and layered with an overwhelming amount of what I call super compassion.”
Saturday’s home-going followed a Friday visitation in the auditorium at the high school with which he was so closely associated. Saturday’s service was in the gymnasium at Lawson State Community College, a fitting scene for the games that Bell coached and won.
One speaker called the large gathering a “sellout.” While there were tears, the event was upbeat, very fitting for a man who could scarcely be found without the smile that seemed to always be on his face.
Family filed in and took their seats on the left and former Wenonah and AAU girls basketball players nearly filled the right side of the court. Others in attendance sat in the rafters on either side.
A repeated theme was “Faith Not Fear.”
“That was the motto that helped him become Wenonah’s dynasty-maker, leading the girls varsity basketball team to five state championships, four in a row,” Woodfin said. “It was also that motto — Faith Not Fear — that kept him strong during his latest obstacles.”
Those obstacles included Bell’s two-year battle with Stage 4 lung cancer.
“It was through that walk that he touched so many of us,” the mayor continued. “Coach Bell knew that there was more to victory than trophies. Victory was the end result of a solid foundation, built by hard work and layered with an overwhelming amount of what I call super compassion.”
Bell’s compassion for the girls he coached was repeated time and again during the service.
Dr. Willie Goldsmith, the current Wenonah principal, called Bell
an icon who will forever live in the school’s history. He thanked the family for sharing the always-jolly coach with them. He also noted Bell’s signature attire.
“He was a sharp dresser,” he said, recalling having first seen Bell when Goldsmith was a faculty member at Jess Lanier High in Bessemer. “I said, ‘Who’s that guy over there with that gold silk suit on? That thing was sharp, sharp, sharp.”
Former Wenonah Principal Regina Carr-Hope said it’s a mistake to say Bell lost his fight with cancer. “Coach Bell did not die from cancer,” she said. “He beat cancer. He had a heart attack. He beat cancer.”
Carr-Hope called Bell her “work husband for 17 years.” The coach always invested in people, said the former principal, who recalled how the coach always had to have a gold or white towel with him as he directed his team.
Jay Roberson, the former District 7 representative on the Birmingham City Council, said a champion is person or team who defeats their rivals and wins the title. He added that another type of champion, one who serves others, makes a difference in the lives of other people.
“Emanuel ‘Tubb’ Bell, ladies and gentlemen, was the epitome of both of those champions,” Roberson said. “He was victorious and won. But also Coach Emanuel ‘Tubb’ Bell was a champion for others.”
Woodfin said it was appropriate that Bell was being remembered during Black History Month. He cited the familiar names that are honored in February – Martin Luther King Jr., the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, Rosa Parks, Harriett Tubman, Ralph David Abernathy and A.G. Gaston.
Coach Bell belongs on that list, the mayor said, because he had the trait – bravery – for which they were known.
“They always pushed forward even in the most dire situations,” he said. “They always pushed forward even in the most dire situations. They always prepared for the worst but knew the best is yet to come. They made sure to uplift their community and encourage those who lacked belief in themselves.”
Trellice Moore, a former Wenonah Lady Dragon and player on Bell’s Alabama Roadrunners AAU squad, challenged her fellow players for Bell to do everything that he taught them. She then referred to the coach’s signature towel.
“At times I want you to get that towel and wipe your face with it, wipe your mouth with it,” she said as laughter began to build. “I want you to cough in it (and) wipe somebody else’s face with it. Then I want you to take that towel and throw it across your shoulder, put your hands up and keep turning it up for Coach Bell.”