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Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2014

Black History Month: Coaches find their game is as leaders, mentors

Sunday, February 22, 2004

(Photo)
Lee Brooks, Sikeston girls basketball coach, huddles with his team.
SIKESTON -- During the 1960s, basketball was the only sport offered to students at Howardville High School in New Madrid County, Lennies McFerren recalled.

The 1966 graduate used his athletic skills to further his education and went on to play basketball at Three Rivers Community College and Southeast Missouri State University.

From there McFerren began working first as an assistant boys basketball coach in 1975 for Charleston High School, and then as head coach in 1977. After 19 years, he took a coaching job at New Madrid County Central High School, where he currently works as the athletic director and assistant principal.

Today sports remain an outlet of adult success for young people in the area. In the midst of Black History Month, some of the area's longtime black coaches recall their careers, noting how student athletes have changed over the years and how the students' opportunities are greater now than ever before.

"Back then basketball and sports were the only tickets out of the area for players," noted McFerren, or "coach Mac" as he is referred to by students. "Now they have the opportunity, but they don't take advantage of it."

Throughout the 1980s Danny Farmer, who was coached by McFerren his senior year in high school, coached the Scott County Central Bravettes basketball team to five state championships, and last year Farmer led the Charleston boys basketball team to a third place finish in the state.

"Now days it's a lot harder to get kids to want to win because there's so much to do," Farmer noted. "You have to coach differently today because of the changes."

McFerren blames TV as a distraction for athletes.

"They've gotten into the rap scene and all the things that go into that," McFerren said. "They're standing on the corner and doing all the things the other students do."

He continued: "When Danny Farmer played, there was a totally different type of student competition to deal with. A player would run through the wall for a coach. Today they're not running through anything because they have so many other things on their minds that they feel they need to do."

Unlike players 20 years ago, even the kids with talent walk away from the sport today, Farmer commented. However, having a successful team depends on a lot of variables, Farmer said. "Mentality has a lot to do with it," Farmer said. "You've got to have good players and dedication -- and it's not easy to be dedicated. It takes a lot of dedication and hard work to win."

In the late 1980s the Charleston Blue Jays went 33-0 and won the state championship under McFerren. In 2000 and 2001 New Madrid County Central boys took first in the state in back-to-back championships with McFerren leading them to victory.

"There are some schools that still have the tradition of disciplined players and winning," McFerren pointed out. "But even a school that doesn't have the tradition anymore can get it back if given the right coach, the right players and the right determination."

Sikeston girls basketball coach Lee Brooks, whose team recently won the Chaffee Invitational Tournament, said coaches often act as surrogate parents to their athletes.

"Your team is like a family," Farmer agreed. "There's a lot of togetherness and you work together."

Farmer went on to say that playing sports carries over into a student's career and life skills are learned through sports.

"They're the lifeblood of a school," Brooks noted about sports. "They keep graduates coming back. All the things that you taught them like being aggressive and never quitting come into play in real life."

Unlike McFerren and Farmer, it took Brooks a little longer to get into the coaching scene. Brooks graduated from Matthews College on a basketball scholarship, but went into the radio and music industry for 24 years before deciding to try his hand at coaching in 1991.

Every once in awhile, former students -- many of whom have college degrees -- will call and chat with their former mentors.

"And that's what coaching is all about -- when you have that friendship that's everlasting," McFerren said. "They call and thank you for being there. It's the most gratifying part of being a coach."

And in the end, it's definitely not the state championships or the winning, it's the kids that are the most important, Farmer said. "What matters is letting them know that they can win if they want it."