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Guinnee remembered for 'heart of gold'

Bill Althaus
Former Truman boys basketball coach Billy Guinnee, who passed away on May 29, was remembered by family and his many friends at a visitation Wednesday night in Independence.

No one who attended the Wednesday night visitation for former Truman High School boys basketball coach was surprised to see the line of people that extended from the Speaks Suburban Chapel front lobby far into the parking lot.

“Billy affected the lives of many people – not just his players,” his wife Jami Guinnee said after the three-plus hour visitation. “Billy was the type of person who cared as much about the students in his class as he did his basketball players.

“I can’t begin to tell you how many of his students over the years – and tonight, too – told me how they would go to him for support, and he was always there for them.”

Then, in a rare moment of insight from a grieving wife, she added the one quality that made her husband so special, to so many people.

“To the outsiders, he was Mr. Badass with his shaved head and beard, but inside, he had a heart of gold for his family and anyone he came in contact with,” she said. “He loved his family, he loved coaching and teaching and he loved people. And by the number of people we have visited with tonight, I believe they loved him, too.”

Guinnee, who was part of the Truman boys basketball program for 25 years, died of a heart attack May 29 while playing basketball with his son in the family driveway.

Guinnee, 58, won 200 games while coaching at Truman – 12 years as an assistant to Steve Broughton and 13 as a head coach. He retired in 2016 and was replaced by current coach Rod Briggs.

One man who was by Guinnee’s side for all 13 years that he was a head coach, and three years he was an assistant to Broughton, is Jim Page, who helped Jami with much of the planning this week.

“I first met Billy when he was with Steve and coach Billy Morse at the Big Eight Tournament at Kemper Arena,” said Page, who is now Steve Cassity’s assistant on the Truman girls basketball team. “I can say this with love, because Billy would understand – but he had these horrible hair plugs and I’m wondering who this guy is. Well, he turned out to be my best friend over the next 16 years.”

Guinnee had a fiery competitive side, and was famous for getting technicals on the bench while coaching his junior varsity team.

“In Steve’s last game at Truman, he retired from coaching so he could watch his son Jared play basketball at Grain Valley, Billy got two technicals in the JV game and was thrown out,” Page said, chuckling. “He didn’t think he was going to get the varsity job, and he went out in a blaze of glory with his JV team.”

But Guinnee was given the varsity job, and when a coach is ejected from a game, he must sit out the next game.

“So guess who got to coach the varsity team in Billy’s first season as a head varsity coach?” Page asked. “Me. It was against Raytown South and Bud Lathrop and we lost by six. I remember going down to the locker room after the game and Billy said, ‘Good job.’ That meant a lot to me.”

As the line of visitors got shorter and shorter, Page and many former Truman players who were coached by Guinnee and Broughton sat in the back of a pickup truck sharing memories.

“The one thing I would want everyone to know about Billy is what a wonderful, wonderful human being he was,” Page said. “He would do anything for anyone. He was misunderstood because so many people saw him go crazy on the bench – but he really toned that down when he became a varsity coach.

“I still can’t believe this happened. I can’t believe I’m not going to be able to talk with him, watch him play with his kids – something that was so important to him.

“I didn’t know how many people loved and respected Billy until I saw how many people paid their respects today. I guess they feel like I do – we loved the guy.”

Guinnee was buried during a celebration of life Thursday in Odessa. He is survived by his wife Jami, sons Gunnar and Dayton and six siblings, among many others.