It was an honor to have called him coach

Published 11:42 pm Friday, April 6, 2018

Just call him “Coach.” When you are a coach as deep-down as LaGrange’s Coach Dick Shrewsbury, no other name is needed. It’s just “Coach.”

We are honored to sit here on the “front porch” this Saturday morning and reflect on the life of Coach Shrewsbury, who left us just a week ago. The only way we know to celebrate his greatness is to tell how our story, and his, intertwine.

I am sorry that I never actually got to play for Coach, but I at least was courtside with him for a time — and I watched him and his Granger teams from the stands for a hundred cold LaGrange nights.

I was there in about 1971 when Ray McKenzie beat Newton County at the buzzer with a turnaround 15-footer from the right wing.

I was there a year or so later when a slick guard named Gray roamed the backcourt with Kyle Clinkscales, the Kyle who would dribble through his legs before shooting a free throw, a ploy that ultimately led Coach to give Kyle some “time off.” I was glad the young man came back a few games later, even though I missed seeing that “go-behind-your-back-then-through-your-legs” move when he got to the line. Many of us – including Coach Shrewsbury – lived through Kyle’s tragedy a few years later.

Of course, I was there with Steve Sauter, Kirk Kilgore, Ken Boatright, Terry Proctor, Phil Lankford and “Cool Hand Luke” a couple of years later. We thought that would be another of Coach’s state championship teams, but it didn’t work out. Sometimes that’s the way of coaching.

I mentioned not actually playing for Coach Shrewsbury. Due to some reservations my good mama had when we got to junior high, my school-playing “career” ended early. But the desire to play was too great, so, as a junior, I slipped out and tried out for that classic 1973 team, along with about a hundred others. About halfway through the scrimmage that fateful night, Coach Shrewsbury and Coach Rogers called me over to the side. I was in the shower a few minutes later, and I think it was the toughest shower I can remember.

The next day we were playing ball in the LaGrange gym in a pick-up game, and the two coaches were sitting way up in the stands watching. Coach Shrewsbury called me up to talk to him after watching for a while, and he shocked me by offering me a “spot.” No, I wasn’t getting a uniform, but he wanted me to go with the team, to keep stats for him. I guess it was kind of what Coach Dale does for Shooter in the movie “Hoosiers.” Coach saw something he didn’t like at all, and I’m pretty sure it was the look on our face when he had called us over to the sideline the night before. I hadn’t shown Coach any tears that night, but he knew. I think what he did for me that day tells you about as much about the coach as anything I can think of.

We traveled with Coach Shrewsbury and with Boatright and the others for a year; and the next fall Mama died, and I moved away two months into my senior year. As I left the LaGrange High office after making my sad withdrawal, Coach, appropriately, saw me leaving and hollered out to me, “Bowen, what am I gonna do for a stat keeper?” he said, showing, in his Shrewsbury way, a little more “love.” I told him that I had to go to see if I could play out in Texas, which I did for that final year of high school and a year of junior college. But it wasn’t even close to playing for Coach Shrewsbury.

I would come back to see Coach a time or two, once after I had started coaching. He graciously pulled up a chair in that old gym and gave me one of the best interviews I can remember. I’d like to go back there again. It was an honor to sit with a man who helped shape us and fanned that flame that always burned deep-down inside.

It was an honor to have shared a tremendous love for basketball with him, and to have roamed together those foot-stomping sidelines for a good part of our lives.  And it was an honor – above all, I think – to have called him “Coach.”