BLUEFIELD — Christmas has been a blessing for Bill Dudley.

First, the Bluefield Barons’ founder and head coach learned that his children could be ready to come home soon. On Tuesday, he added another prize, having been awarded the Mideast coach of the year award by

“I thought that was pretty cool,” Dudley said. “It’s a national honor, which says a lot for what we have all done.”

Dudley led the Barons to a 12-1 record and a No. 8 final ranking among the hundreds of semi-pro football teams in America. During the last half of the season, Dudley — whose Barons won 12 games in a row, including the Alliance Football League title — worked with a heavy heart. His wife, Brenda, gave birth to twins that weren’t expected until January.

While his wife remained in Roanoke with Wes and Kaylee Bell, Dudley drove back and forth between the hospital and the Barons. After a few close calls, Dudley said signs are pointing toward the family being able to return to Bluefield in the near future.

“They both weighed under two pounds, and that kind of changes the way you look at things,” Dudley said. “They’re the heroes. Just the fact that they’re doing as good as they are.

“The week of the (AFL) championship game, they weren’t sure Kaylee Bell was going to make it, but she pulled through. That was nothing short of a miracle.”

Dudley is already looking ahead to next year. The AFL — which was selected as the best new semi-pro league in the South region — has met and made a few changes that Dudley hopes will help alleviate some of the last year’s problems, such as forfeits and the Barons having to play one team that showed up with just 11 players.

In addition to Bluefield, Dudley said the AFL will have a pair of teams apiece in Knoxville and Nashville, along with teams in Johnson City, Tenn., Loudon, Tenn., and possibly Asheville, N.C.. Dudley said tryouts will start in mid-February. He expects a big turnout, and has even been contacted by a woman about playing for the Barons.

While Dudley was proud of his award, he deflected the credit to his collection of assistants, a group he calls ‘the best in the country’.

“It’s been a strange year, but there have been a lot of blessings,” Dudley said. “We’re looking forward to getting the babies home and look forward to getting back to work with the Barons. We need to fill some holes, and now that we know a little bit more about what we’re doing I think we can do a better job this time.

“I think the biggest thing is we have the best assistant coaches in the country. They did a wonderful job for me. A lot of these teams have one or two coaches, but we had a good bunch with a lot of experience. They deserve a lot of credit, they’re probably the ones who voted for me.”

A tough few months appear to finally be turning positive for Dudley. He was surprised, but pleased with an reward for a job well done.

“I think it’s pretty cool. I didn’t know a lot about (the award) until (assistant coach) Chris Austin saw it this morning and told me,” Dudley said. “I guess it’s a good thing. It’s neat. There’s a lot of teams out there.

“It’s nice to see Bluefield get some recognition for something positive.”

—Contact Brian Woodson

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