Billy Bancroft’s resume is covered in a patina of diversity and excellence, a finish so refined that he resides in the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame. In a state whose sporting heroes are often compared to Bear and Bo and Willie and Satchel, Bancroft somehow manages to fit in.
He played and coached football at Howard College, now Samford University, in the twenties and thirties, once drawing a 7-7 tie against the mighty Alabama Crimson Tide and coaching in the inaugural game at Birmingham’s famed Legion Field. He managed two Southeastern League baseball teams, Selma and Gadsden, with distinction. He won state championships in multiple sports at Anniston High School. He played second base for the Birmingham Barons and hit a game-winning double against Dizzy Dean in the 1931 Dixie Series at Rickwood Field.
Bancroft’s biography at the Alabama sports hall, however, doesn’t mention the Anniston Rams. It’s a subtle, yet glaring, omission.
In 1946, Rams President Loy Gunter and Anniston leaders recruited Bancroft to relocate to Calhoun County and assume two jobs — coach Anniston High’s football team and serve as the Rams’ business manager. It had been only a year since Bancroft had returned from Europe, where he served as a Red Cross director during World War II.
Bancroft’s version of the story is steeped in a bit of wartime romanticism. “While I was stationed in England,” he told a reporter for The Anniston Star in 1974 before his hall of fame induction, “I made myself a promise that when I came back I was gonna get myself a bunch of boys and have a football team,” which he did.
Under the leadership of Manager Tommy West and Bancroft’s front-office skills, the Rams won the 1946 SEL championship, but the optimism of the following spring failed to blossom. The Rams tumbled to the bottom of the league standings, losing 15 of their first 23 games. The team president quickly lost patience.
Gunter fired West.
Bancroft became interim manager.
In three games, the former SEL manager went 2-1, beating Vicksburg, 8-6, and Pensacola, 9-2, before Gunter hired longtime minor-league pitcher George (Pete) Hader as West’s successor. Hader won his first game as Anniston’s manager — throwing a five-hitter, to boot — but lasted only a month. His arm turned lame. He sliced open his thumb in a baserunning mishap. The Hader-led Rams went 13-18 before Gunter made another switch.
Hader was out. Bancroft was in, again.
The ’47 Rams finished 56-84. None of their three managers posted a winning record. But in his two unexpected stints, Bancroft somehow coaxed a 35-51 combined mark from an injury-prone team with a roster not as talented as its predecessor.
Two years later, in May 1949, Rams Manager Charlie Baron abruptly resigned. Gunter made a familiar decision and enticed Bancroft — by then no longer the Rams’ business manager — to return to the dugout.
Bancroft managed the Rams one final weekend against Pensacola, losing 6-5 and 22-0 (yes, 22-0), and winning 9-6. His full-time coaching job at Anniston High prevented him from accompanying the team on a multi-city road trip, so Gunter elevated the Rams’ new business manager, Zach Schuessler, as interim manager for the rest of the season.
After 12 seasons at Anniston High, Bancroft returned to Birmingham and served as the boys’ advisor at Woodlawn High until retiring in 1970. Years later, in the winter of 1989, former Anniston Star sports editor George Smith asked Bancroft, then in his mid-80s, about the 12 years he lived and worked in Anniston and his association with the Rams.
“All of my memories of Anniston are pleasant ones, nothing but pleasant ones,” he said. “Anniston is a wonderful place, and the years were good to me.”