Obituary: William Baillie, inspirational PE teacher

William Baillie, PE teacher. Born Girvan, 8 October, 1923. Died: Ayr, 3 September, 2016, aged 93

PE teacher William Baillie inspired generations

Inspirational is the single word which best-described Bill Baillie, who has died after a short illness. In 25 years as Head of PE at Cumnock Academy, he established a basketball programme which dominated the schools game in Scotland – he encouraged and produced literally hundreds of age group internationalists across a wide range of sports and influenced a raft of his pupils to follow him into Physical Education teaching, while he played a key role in the early development of George and Craig Burley and Billy Dodds.

When, in 1963, he had returned to the Academy, to take over the PE department from Scottish rugby internationalist Jock “Stiffy” McClure, Bill knew he was succeeding a legend – his own legend over the next 25 years would surpass that he had inherited.

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On his retirement, Basketballscotland gave him a special presentation, at a Sportscotland gala dinner. Bill wasn’t there – his own retirement holiday, with his beloved wife Jennie, had taken him out to Singapore to see daughter Louise, so he sent youngest daughter Norma – herself a PE teacher – to accept the award.

Norma found her table and introductions were made. On finding out who she was, the other guests began to recall her father. “I was at Jordanhill with him”, said one. “I golfed with him” said another. “I coached against him”, said a third, and so on, until only the guest on Norma’s left had not introduced himself, although, Norma admitted – he looked somehow familiar.

Eventually he said hello: “My name is Graeme Souness, and I must be the only so-and-so here who hasn’t met your Dad.”

Bill Baillie was born in Girvan, only son, after three daughters, of Bill and Elizabeth Baillie. Bill Sr was a mine manager and young Bill spent his childhood following the coal around Ayrshire, once attending three different schools in one year. Eventually, the family settled in Muirkirk, where Bill went to Muirkirk Junior Secondary School, then onto Cumnock Academy, for Years Four, Five and Six. McClure had built a great reputation in boys gymnastics, and the young Bill Baillie was soon in the demonstration squad. He also set several schools athletics records which survived until surpassed by George Burley.

Bill had already decided he wanted to be a PE teacher so, in 1942, he embarked on his first year at the Scottish School of Physical Education at Jordanhill College. At the end of that year, however, he received his call-up papers and promptly volunteered for aircrew duties with the RAF. He spent the years from 1943 to 1947 as a Sergeant-Navigator, before returning to Jordanhill to complete his studies.

Graduating in 1950, he and new wife Jennie, a Glasgow girl he had met at Dennistoun Palais, returned to Cumnock, where Bill began work as a peripatetic PE teacher, travelling around small primaries in the East Ayrshire coalfield. He didn’t have a car in these early working days, often fixing up a lift with a milk truck to get him to one of the schools, and just as often, having to walk back to Cumnock at night from one of the isolated mining villages where he taught. In 1952 he was given his own school, Prestwick High School, where he would teach until succeeding McClure at Cumnock in 1963, when “Stiffy” finally got his dream job at Ayr Academy.

Bill was a clear case of a new broom sweeping through the school. He abolished the rule whereby only the First XV at rugby qualified for sports “colours”, he pretty much made PE compulsory – you might get to sit-out a class if you had a broken leg, but 
forgetting your kit was not an accepted excuse.

But, his major change was to widen the number of sports played. Cumnock had that good gymnastics reputation, rugby was played and while the school had regularly produced Scottish Schools football internationalists, Bill also introduced badminton, softball, volleyball and, crucially – basketball. When he arrived, the gymnasium was too small for basketball, so, he arranged to play league and cup games at nearby St Conval’s RC High School, then, with the move from the Barrhill site, in the middle of Cumnock, to the Ayr Road site, he had a games hall/PE complex the envy of most. He had had input into the design, ensuring it could take four badminton courts, for example.

Here, basketball in particular boomed, until Cumnock Academy teams dominated Scottish schools basketball and the Scottish age group teams. For instance, in 1976, when Scotland scored a first-ever win over England at Under-15 level, the entire starting five, plus two of the next three off the bench, were from Cumnock Academy.

But, even better was the occasion in the mid-1980s, when Scotland lined up for the tip-off in a full international with Wales, with an all-Cumnock starting five, surely the ultimate thrill for any PE teacher. The key to Cumnock’s dominance of the sport in schools at this time was the close relationship between school and the Cumnock Curries national league side, which saw their American players regularly in the school, coaching the kids – all of whom, however, had learned the basics from Bill, who always took the First Year team, before handing them on to his fellow coaches; all staff members, many, such as international basketball referee Ian McCulloch, one of the Deputy Head teachers at the school, from departments other than PE.

Sadly, with his retirement in 1988, the link was broken and basketball in Cumnock withered, in spite of lots of Cumnock alumni taking the games into other schools and coaching Scottish international teams. He even had the thrill of seeing two pupils, Jim Morrison, who would captain the short-lived Rangers basketball team, and David Wallace, make their full Scotland international debut while still Cumnock pupils, while another, Jim Mitchell, who followed Bill into PE teaching, got his first cap within weeks of leaving school.

As an Academy pupil he had, although he was not a great swimmer, played in goal for the Cumnock Miners water polo team. Bill was fair and scrupulous to a fault in obeying the rules, so Allan Turner, a former Scotland baseketball head coach and himself a water polo player, was shocked when Bill admitted he had compensated for his comparative lack of swimming ability, by perching on a handy water pipe which passed along the wall at the deep end of the old outdoor pool at Cumnock.

“I didn’t put it there, so I didn’t count using it as cheating”, Bill explained.

He was a formidable, low-handicap golfer and had a term as president of Cumnock Rugby Club.

In retirement, he and Jennie travelled extensively. He tried scuba diving for his 70th birthday, but, sore knees prevented him from kneeling on the pool floor to pass a crucial exam. For his 80th birthday, he received gliding lessons, stunning the instructor by wanting to loop-the-loop on his first lesson. He was a considerable photographer and relished DIY.

He had enjoyed his garden in his first Cumnock house, in Holland Crescent, and admitted to withdrawal symptoms, after moving to a smaller flat in Richmond Terrace, which didn’t have a garden.

He and Jennie, finally, due to failing mobility, moved to the Warrick Court sheltered housing complex in Cumnock. Jennie died in 2014. In spite of the blow of losing Jennie, Bill maintained reasonably good health until his final, short illness.

He is survived by daughters Annette, Louise and Norma and two granddaughters.

He had a picture, taken for a newspaper, which showed one year’s worth of Cumnock Academy schools internationalists, in athletics, badminton, basketball, cross-country running, golf, hockey and volleyball. He was immensely, and rightly, proud of that breadth of sporting accomplishment, which he had encouraged.