Rings are an important part of Crimson Tide athletics. When Alabama won its first national championship under former Coach Paul Bryant, he made sure that members of that team received rings commemorating the event. It was the first time a football team in the state of Alabama had won the national championship and been awarded rings.
Every other Alabama football national championship team since has been awarded rings. And rings have also gone to team and individual national champions in other sports, as well as to Southeastern Conference champions, NCAA participants, bowl teams, etc. And all members of the A-Club, the lettermen’s association at The University, have the opportunity to wear rings signifying their class.
Bill Oakley came to Alabama in 1978 as a member of the Crimson Tide baseball team. That first Bama baseball team went 18-35. Four years later the Tide had a 41-10 record. And Oakley, who would go on to work for the PGA In Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, was proud of his A-Club ring.
Oakley said, “In spring, 1992, I was working for the PGA TOUR at a golf tournament in the Miami area. Given the inclmate weather on Tuesday of that week, I decided to leave my large A-Club ring in a drawer in my hotel room. When I returned to the hotel that night, I was unable to locate the ring. A thorough search of my room, briefcase and rental car also turned up nothing. I called hotel security, but they said that there had been no suspicious activity reported and that nothing had been turned into their Lost & Found Department. I contacted the local police department, but they were willing, if desired, to only file a missing property report for insurance purposes. They were unwilling to investigate the possibility that the ring might have been stolen. In fact, they said that if it were stolen, that there was almost no chance of my ever getting the ring back.”
Fast forward to Bill’s son, Will Oakley, growing up as a football player in the Jacksonville-St. Augustine area, becoming a record-setting wide receiver at Nease High School. And Will became an Alabama football player.
Also living in the Jacksonville area is Huey James, who describes himself as “an avid fan, as well as an Alabama memorabilia collector.”
On September 2, James was watching Alabama against Hawaii and noticed a third quarter pass completion, John Parker Wilson to Will Oakley. The name rang a bell.
As a collector, James had purchased an old Alabama A-Club ring. Inside was engraved the name of Bill Oakley, but James had been unable to find out who Oakley was.
James said, “In the summer of 2005 while surfing items being sold on Ebay I came across an Alabama class ring which happened to have the year 1982 on the side and “A Club” on the top. I knew 1982 was the last year the “Bear” coached and placed a bid on the ring. A few days later I was notified I was the high bidder and after sending payment for the ring it arrived several days later.”
And that was the end of the story until Will Oakley made his reception.
James continued, “Since I recalled the name in the ring I had purchased was Bill Oakley I got online and pulled up the bio of Will Oakley and found that his dad’s name is Bill. I also found out Will, his son, had graduated from a high school near my home and was someone I had followed in high school because I knew Alabama was interested in him. The following Monday morning I looked in the phone book and found Bill and Glenda Oakley lived very near my place of employment.”
James wrote Oakley and the two got together within a week of the Hawaii game. It was, indeed, the ring that had been stolen in Miami.
Oakley said he had thought about the ring often, but never expected to see it again. He said he “thought many times about the hard work and dedication of our freshman class that took the program from an 18-35 record to 41-10 my senior season. It wasn't so much the metal that I missed, but the friendships and memories that went into earning the ring itself.”
Oakley tried to repay James the cost of acquiring the ring, but James refused to take payment.
“Bill offered to pay me for the ring, however I know how much that ring means to him and it was an honor to return the ring to its rightful owner,” James said. “Besides, I now have something much more valuable to me, a new friend!”
How did the ring happen to end up for sale on the internet?
It had been purchased a number of years earlier in a Fort Lauderdale flea market by someone who deals in old class rings, etc.
Oakley had James and his wife as his guest for lunch in the A-Club Room in Bryant-Denny Stadium prior to the Ole Miss game and to a family tailgate following the game. Oakley said, “I've told numerous people about the "missing ring" and the effort that Huey made in taking the initiative to track me down and return the ring to its rightful owner. That's what being part of the Alabama family is all about.”