MORRISTOWN, Tenn. — The first coach hired at Walters State Community College has announced his retirement.
Bill Gardner, who spent 48 years at Walters State as a coach with the baseball, men's basketball and golf programs, submitted his retirement paperwork in late June, with his final day at the college coming on June 30.
Gardner was the only coach to take two different programs to the NJCAA National Tournament while at Walters State, as he made an amazing 29 national tournament appearances while also guiding the Senators to a 1984 JUCO World Series appearance in baseball.
In 2013, Gardner coached the Senators to an NJCAA Division II Golf National Tournament runner-up finish, and the following year, Walters State broke through for a national title, the only team national crown in the golf program's history, in Plymouth, Indiana. This past season, the Senators finished runner-up again at the same Swan Lake Resort to conclude Gardner's coaching career.
Gardner also tutored the only individual national champion in school history, as Ryan Cabbage won the 1995 NJCAA national title.
"The game of golf has taken me to so many places that I never could have dreamed of going to, and Walters State has given me the opportunity to live out my dreams," Gardner said. "Who would have thought a boy from Fall Branch could get to do the things I've been able to do? I'm just appreciative of everyone here at Walters State, from the administrators, to the players and to all the other coaches. It's been a great ride."
Prior to his coaching career, Gardner was an accomplished baseball and basketball player at Tusculum College in Greeneville, where he had a Hall of Fame career in both sports. He went on to play four seasons in the Boston Red Sox farm system before retiring from playing in 1969. He is a lifetime member of the Professional Baseball Players Association of America.
Gardner joined Walters State not long after, and he certainly left his mark on the college. The only golf coach in the school's history, he led the program to 24 national tournaments, 22 TCCAA (TJCCAA) and NJCAA Region VII titles and three top two finishes in the NJCAA National Tournament since starting the program in 1988.
Gardner coached the Senators program to a national runner-up finish in 2013 and 2019 and won the NJCAA Division II national championship in 2014, earning the Dave Williams Award presented by Eaton Golf Pride as national coach of the year in 2013 and 2014. His team also claimed the Farmers Insurance Academic National Championship for NJCAA Division II in 2014.
Gardner received multiple TJCCAA, TCCAA and NJCAA Coach of the Year awards. He is a member of the Tusculum College Sports Hall of Fame (1985), Golf Coaches Association of America (2014) and the Tennessee Community College Athletic Association Hall of Fame (1997).
"To have been able to work alongside Coach Gardner the past 21 months is something I will always treasure," Walters State athletic director Derek Creech said. "He is a true legend in the college coaching world and will be missed at Walters State. We wish him nothing but the best in his retirement."
A national search for the new golf coach at the college has begun and is in its early stages.