Local youth softball coach passes away

By WESLEY HALLMAN / Sports Editor

Jeff Gillespie, director of the Birmingham Vipers club softball program, interacted often with rival Tommy Barnhill, director of the Birmingham Bandits club softball program.

The two rivals squared off against each other year in and year out on softball fields across Shelby County.

Barnhill, who passed away Feb. 1 following a four-month long battle with cancer, had a lasting impact on Gillespie, who called the Columbiana resident one of his dear friends.

“Tommy was well-liked,” Gillespie said. “I couldn’t tell you one person that didn’t like Coach Barnhill.”

Barnhill, who was an American Softball Association district commissioner, taught pitching lessons for 35 years and coached countless girls how to play the game of softball.

Gillespie said Barnhill, who was his daughter Whitney’s first fast-pitch softball coach at the age of 7, has been a close friend for more than 10 years.

“He was a super guy,” Gillespie said. “He was a great guy to be around.”

Gillespie said Barnhill was one of the most knowledgeable fast-pitch softball instructors in the state of Alabama.

“He had an incredible knowledge of pitching,” Gillespie said. “In the state of Alabama, he was an ambassador for fast-pitch softball.”

Gillespie said approximately 350 people, including many of Barnhill’s past players, attended his vistation Friday, Feb. 3. Barnhill had a memorial service Saturday afternoon at Lewis Field at the Columbiana Sports Complex.

“He will be missed greatly,” Gillespie said.