What would be the odds of having four of the most legendary LHSAA small-school basketball coaches found to be sitting side by side at one of the most rural locals in the state? Astronomical? You would think so, but when longtime rivals Saline and Atlanta get together it really isn’t that uncommon of a site, although one that still brings awe and amazement when considering the legacy that each has left.
Over a quarter of a century ago when you thought of LHSAA small school (Class B & C) basketball you immediately thought of William Britt, Talton Barron, Paul Collins, and Tom Collins. Just like Washington. Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt are considered the four greatest President’s in America and have their faces etched in stone, these four are living examples of the Mount Rushmore of Louisiana “small school” coaches.
Regarding Britt, who during one period won four straight Class C state championships and was runner-up in three others, he is still recognized all over the nation as well. That is because his Saline boys’ teams set a national record for wins over a four-year period (224) that will most likely never be broken. It can’t be with today’s National Federation of High School rules that allow a maximum number of only 45 games to be played in a season. During those years, Britt’s teams used to average 55-60 wins a season.
The other three weren’t far from producing those kinds of gaudy win records either. When Barron was at the now-defunct Chatham High School for roughly a decade, it was nothing to see the Eagles post 40 wins or more every year. Same for the two Collins brothers, Paul and Tom, who were unique in coaching circles with one leading the girls’ teams and the other the boys at the same time. Even more special is that they stand alone in LHSAA annals for the number of victories achieved by members of the same family and also the number of state titles won.
Combined, the four are accountable for easily over 1500 wins and more than a dozen state titles but most importantly, countless young men and women benefitted from their life lessons. Winning games and state titles was just a by-product. They taught classes and coached basketball because they wanted to educate kids and help them become good and productive parents and adults. They did it because they loved teaching the kids, loved the atmosphere they were in, and loved the relationships they made. They still do. That is why almost two decades later since they all walked away from the sidelines they still come back to simply watch.
How they are appreciated is evident anytime someone gets a chance to catch up to any of them. This past Tuesday with them sitting side by side swapping “war stories” often someone would come up and introduce their own kids to them. And why not? Who wouldn’t want their kids to meet a legend – x four?
In reality, though the guess is that wasn’t why they wanted to say hello. Most likely it was because they wanted their kids to meet the person that played a big role in them being who they are today and for the former coaches to see that they had become good parents just like they wanted them to do.
There is an old saying that you can take a coach away from the game but you can’t take the game away from a coach.
Never were more true words ever spoken regarding these four legends of the hardwood. The only difference is that it wasn’t only basketball that they coached but the game of life as well.
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