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Living Legends
Alexander Wolff
December 25, 1995
When the most successful coaches in high school hoops faced off, everyone was a winner
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December 25, 1995

Living Legends

When the most successful coaches in high school hoops faced off, everyone was a winner

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Life at the Top
When the dust settled at last week's legends' tournament, the pecking order of the winningest coaches in high school basketball remained the same. Here's how the legends stacked up:

Coach

School

Years

Record

Top Finishes

Bill Krueger

Clear Lake

38

1,075-248

Two Texas state titles

Robert Hughes

Dunbar

38

1,073-184

Three Texas state titles

Morgan Wootten

DeMatha

40

1,067-159

Five mythical nationa championships

Ralph Tasker

Hobbs

49

1,067-275

11 New Mexico state titles

It can't be done in some recruit's living room or in a weekly lunchtime schmooze with the press or in the spotlight as a high-profile ESPN-tity. If you're a high school basketball coach, the place you make your mark is in the gymnasium.

Call his school, ask to be patched through to the gym, and the coach will most likely pick up the phone himself. That's true even when you're dealing with the four winningest coaches of all time, all of whom are still brandishing clipboards.

"Got beat in overtime last night," says Bill Krueger, coach at Clear Lake (Texas) High, his voice betraying the anguish of every call that didn't go the Falcons' way. "Didn't hardly sleep at all."

"Hold just a moment?" says Ralph Tasker, coach of the Hobbs (N.Mex.) High Eagles. "Got a boy up on the rubbing table."

"I just met with the parents of a boy who's trying to become academically eligible," says Morgan Wootten, whose balcony office at DeMatha Catholic High in Hyattsville, Md., looks out onto the floor where his Stags practice and play.

"Swept the gym this morning when I came in," says Robert Hughes, whose team at Dunbar High in Fort Worth isn't merely the Wildcats, but the Flying Wildcats, thank you very much. "Soon as we get off the phone, I'll be sweeping some more.

"This is not the big time," Hughes adds, hardly needing to. "All the games I've won, they don't mean diddly here."

The games these men have won now total 4,286—1,075 for Krueger, 1,073 for Hughes, 1,071 for Wootten and 1,067 for Tasker—following the Legends of High School Basketball tournament, held last week in Fort Worth in their honor. The numbers would almost certainly be higher had the lour not spent the weekend trying to add to their victory totals at one another's expense. The four have been so tightly packed at the top of the wins list that if you turned your head during any of the past few winters, you were liable to find that they had swapped places, do-si-do style.

If each coach were a scratch 'n' sniff, he would smell like an admixture of custodial dust, mimeograph fluid, Ben-Gay and old sneakers. "We've seen it all," says Krueger. "The long hair and the short. The Chuck Taylors, and now these shoes that cost 150 bucks." Indeed, after beginning their careers in the Norman Rockwell tableau of the '40s and '50s, none batted an eye when, at Fort Worth's Wilkerson-Greines Activity Center last week, every spectator had to pass through a metal detector.

But Krueger, Hughes, Wootten and Tasker also stand stoutly for some things that haven't changed. All have entertained college offers, but each chose to pass them up, preferring the more subtle rewards of working with boys who are at an age when a coach is most likely to make a difference. "I've never asked a boy to come out for basketball," says Tasker, who can't abide the thought of recruiting. "And I wasn't about to start begging them to play." All regard the full teaching loads they've carried, in addition to their coaching duties, without regret. And even as Cassandras wail to the contrary, all remain basically optimistic about Kids These Days.

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