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State championships not the highest goal of coaching
There are only 25 Blacks listed on the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) list of state boys’ and girls’ basketball tournament head coaches.
Louis Boone, who coached Washburn to the 1994 state boys’ title, is one of 17 Black coaches who have appeared in the 100-year history of state tourneys. Winning the tough-from-top-to-bottom Minneapolis City Conference along the way during that championship season was a great preparation for Washburn’s ultimate state championship run, he admits.
“Some of our biggest battles were right in the city,” he remembers. His squad finished 27-1.
However, the MSHSL the following year decided to eliminate the two-class system that had existed since 1971. “It made it harder for city schools to compete or get into the tournament,” Boone believes. But the change didn’t stop fellow city school North, which won the next three state titles (1995-1997).
North was led by Robin Ingram, the first Black coach to win more than one state boys’ title. He retired in 2000 after 11 years as head coach.
North’s three-year run at the time tied Edina (1966-68) as a state record. “It was a long shot, but luckily I got a few good ballplayers along with Khalid El-Amin, and we were able to duplicate what Edina had done,” Ingram points out proudly. “That was exciting for me.”
Patrick Henry later would set a new record with four consecutive state championships (2000-03), coached by another Black coach, Larry McKenzie.
“I was fortunate to coach with Al Nuness at my alma mater Central High School in the ’70s as an assistant,” continues Boone. “Then it closed, and [I] went over to Washburn a year afterwards. I was a head coach at Washburn for 20 years. I’m a city guy.”
“I’m an old Northsider and went to North High School,” Ingram adds proudly.
Now retired, Boone and Ingram both taught and coached in Minneapolis schools.
“You want to see city schools be successful,” notes Boone. “We felt that we were representing the city as well as Washburn High School.”
North “was the only place I wanted to coach,” admits Ingram, who also coached golf at the school. “I did the best I could for [the] community.”
Adds Boone, “The goal always was to try to win a state championship, but you have to hone into more than winning. If someone would ask me what my record as a coach was, I could not tell you, because that really was the last thing on my mind. It always was about the kids.”
Investing time into a young person’s life was more important as a result, believes Boone. “I know how you are measured by wins and losses, but if I was coaching today, I would not lose sight that the kids are in it for a reason, and you hope it goes beyond just winning and losing.”
Our three-part series on rightly recognizing Black accomplishments in Minnesota state basketball tournament history began with reflections from MSHSL Associate Director Lisa Lissimore and retired basketball official Jim Robinson.
“When Black coaches are out in public, they are recognized for their work by the community,” says Lissimore. “As a result of Faith Johnson [Patterson’s] success, Willie Taylor’s success, and Ahmil [Jilad’s] success, there are more and more coaches of color getting into the game, particularly on the women’s side. You have Dana [Joubert] Hayes over at Blake, Percy Wade at Bloomington Kennedy, [and] Chris Carr at Eden Prairie.”
As the girls’ state tournament director, Lissimore points out, “It used to be a tournament where I would see one African American coach. Now it is at a point where I see anywhere from two or three.”
Reggie Perkins (Washburn) and Vern Simmons (St. Paul Johnson), whose boys’ teams finished second and third respectively in this year’s state tourney last weekend, “have run programs that are special,” adds Robinson. “They expect their kids to do the right thing, and they are part of how their kids enjoy playing basketball not just for winning, but for the love of the game.”
“That’s why we should be doing what we do,” concludes Boone. “It’s nice for people to recognize what you’ve done, but that’s not the end-all of what these kids receive from you.”