By Sports Editor Brian Hoffman
Family, friends and former players and coaches came from all over last Friday as the field at Robert A. Patterson Stadium was officially named for former William Byrd coach Jeff Highfill. A reception was held in the school prior to the game and a ceremony took place at halftime of Byrd’s 37-0 win over Northside to honor the retired Terrier football and soccer coach.
Jeff and wife Katie had 40 members of their extended family at the game, including daughter Owen and her family and son Jeff, Jr. and his wife and baby. Jeff, Jr. came all the way from Arkansas, where he’s serving the United States government as a member of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
“I have seven siblings, three brothers and four sisters, so you always have a bunch when they get together,” Highfill said with a laugh.
Jane Layman, who served as athletic director at Byrd for many years, came from Atlanta for the ceremony and many others came from near and far to honor Highfill, including former Roanoke County School Superintendent Bayes Wilson, who recently turned 90 years old.
William Byrd principal Tammy Newcomb presented Jeff with a plaque and a banner was unfurled that read “Robert A. Patterson Stadium, Jefferson W. Highfill Field” with a dog paw in the middle. Highfill expressed his appreciation and high regard for the late Patterson, a long-time principal at Byrd.
“I owe a lot to people like Bob Patterson, Bayes Wilson and Dale Foster,” said Highfill. “This would have never been possible if they hadn’t gone to bat for me. To have my name tied with Bob Patterson and William Byrd High School is very special to me. I spent a lot of my time here and this is a big thing for me.”
Indeed, Highfill spent 38 years as a teacher and coach at the Vinton school. Jeff concluded his 38 years as head football coach at Byrd in 2018 with a record of 211-184-1. He also won 446 games as soccer head coach at Byrd over 35 years after starting the program, giving him 657 wins coaching Terrier athletes. Never is a long time, but that’s a record that probably never will be broken.
It was an emotional time for Jeff last Friday, but he said it was more emotional when he took off the white and orange saddle shoes he wore on the sidelines, a Christmas gift from son Jeff years ago. He took the shoes down from the mantle to wear one more time Friday night.
“I was more emotional coaching that last game,” he said. “It’s been while now but I still miss it, especially on Friday nights.”