Central Texas Cruisers Track Club coach Billy Spiller instructs his young athletes during a recent practice. Spiller is sending 13 athletes and a relay team to the Junior Olympics next week in Detroit.
By Matthew Girard
Killeen Daily Herald
HARKER HEIGHTS – Those closest to Central Texas Cruisers Track Club coach Billy Spiller can't even fathom the possibility.
Phrases such as There's no way or I won't believe until I see it are the most common responses among Spiller's former pupils, but after 28 years of teaching the youth of Killeen about life through the sport of track, the longtime coach is ready to turn over the reigns of the club to someone younger.
I've seen a lot of kids come and go, but it's just gotten to the point now where it's come time to stop doing this and just live for myself, Spiller said at a recent Cruisers practice at the Harker Heights High School track.
In his 28 years, Spiller has helped scores of youths (ages 6-18) realize their track dreams by providing a team-oriented summer club that he does on a voluntary basis. Under his watchful eye, Spiller has seen 36 different members win individual titles in the AAU Junior Olympics since starting the club in February 1980.
One of those national title winners, former Kansas University football standout and Ellison star David Winbush said he doesn't see Spiller quitting any time soon.
I don't know, because I don't even know how old coach Spiller is, said Winbush, who is now the offensive coordinator and track coach at San Antonio Reagan. I saw him at the Roo Relays a couple of months ago and he looks the same as he did when I left Killeen. I don't think he'll know what to do and I think he's got another 10 years in him.
Richard Daniels, who also was a national title winner in 1995 with Winbush under Spiller, said he won't believe it until he doesn't see the coach out on the track.
He's done it for so long, said Daniels, who now coaches track at Killeen High. Every summer you can find him at a track. He can say that he is going to stop doing this for a little while, but he will be somewhere around it.
Initially, Spiller started the club to help his son Billy Jr. – who eventually helped lead the Killeen Kangaroos to the 1991 Class 5A football championship – keep training after moving to Killeen.
Through his work with his son and other athletes, Spiller was one of the driving forces behind the rise of the area's successful track programs.
I started doing AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) with him, but I joined the military and wanted to still help train him, Spiller said. As the years progressed, the kids in the neighborhood would come around and run races, so we decided we would just keep it going.
In what could be his last trip to the Junior Olympics, 13 individuals and one relay team will be headed to Detroit for the 2008 AAU Junior Olympics July 25-Aug. 2 after qualifying for the national meet at the AAU District 9 Track and Field Championships in Round Rock a week ago.
In his two years (1995-96) with the cruisers, Winbush said Spiller helped take his game to the next level.
Everybody talks about how speed kills in football, but in Killeen, to be a fast kid was nothing out of the ordinary, Winbush said. But when I went and worked with coach Spiller in the summer of '95 he took my speed to a whole other level.
After winning the national championship with him in my first year, it gave me so much more confidence, not only on the track but on the football field as well.
Daniels, who also helps coach the Cruisers on occasion, said the club is still a large part of his life.
It's been big for me, Daniels said. We won nationals, but the biggest thing is the friendships that I got and the mentorship that I got from coach Spiller. A lot of people look up to him and I'm one of those guys. Sometimes we thought we were too good, and he brought us back down to real life.
Spiller said his faith has allowed him the opportunity to keep the club going all these years.
I'm a God-fearing man and I put Him first in everything I do, Spiller said. Coming out here and watching these kids run around, it allows me to understand that I have a purpose in life, and this is one of my purposes. If I can just reach out and touch one child, I'm satisfied.
Along with Winbush and Daniels moving into coaching, Spiller has had five other former athletes join the coaching ranks of the Killeen Independent School District.
I have a bond with coach Spiller that I feel fortunate and lucky to have, Winbush said. I'm so glad that I'm in touch with coach Spiller today.
He's always there to help you. He believes in discipline, which is something that I adopted from him, and he is always someone you can go back to whenever you need help. He's priceless.
In the female division, Trinity Smith (800 meters), Tajanaye Spiller (shot put), Chyna Otis (shot put), Cheyenne Pearson (1,500 and 3,000), Brittany Adkins (200), Jasmine Jones (shot put), Aliayah McDonald (400), Kiara Davis (triple jump), Maya Williamson (400 and 800), Donna Gilbert (800) and Tye'sha McFarlin (long jump and triple jump) will represent the Cruisers.
On the male side, Marvin Jackson (200 and 400), Darian Brown (shot put and discus) and the 1,600 relay team of Jackson, Elias Madrid, Bobby Barnes and Wilbert Presley Jr. will compete for the Cruisers.
Spiller said getting to see kids working hard to achieve their goals is what he enjoys most.
These kids come out here and work very, very hard, Spiller said. For these children to come out here and work hard and not complain, who am I to complain about taking them somewhere.
The true champions are the ones who are out here and working hard no matter if they come in first or last.
Contact Matthew Girard at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7569.