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Thursday, September 11th, 2008 by

NAIA Basketball Coaches’ Hall of Fame inductee Bill Elder, author of All Guts and No Glory, remembers Coach Don Haskins, who died September 7, 2008, at 87:

My first thoughts when I learned of the passing of Coach Don Haskins, long-time basketball coach at the University of Texas at El Paso (known as Texas Western for many years), was that he was a true American hero. He was well known nationally for establishing a stellar coaching record of 719 wins and 354 losses, winning a NCAA National Championship, and being inducted into the NCAA Basketball Coaches’ Hall of Fame.

Despite the significance of these accomplishments, I think that Haskins’ greatest achievement was having the courage to start five black players at a predominately white institution during the 1965-66 basketball season. Many colleges (especially in the South) had not even integrated their athletic programs at this time, much less considered starting five black players. For many of the schools already integrated there seemed to be an unwritten rule related to how many black players should be permitted to start a game. The rule was that you should not start more than “three black players at home and four on the road.” It was in this culture that Coach Haskins chose to do the right thing and start his five best players, regardless of skin color. In today’s culture this does not seem like a big deal but in the 1960s it was a radical decision.

Coach Haskins’ decision not only proved to be the right one on the court where his Texas Western squad defeated the all white University of Kentucky team coached by the legendary Adolf Rupp for the national championship, but it also proved to be one of the most socially meaningful decisions in the history of sports. The victory drew attention to the egregious racially exclusionary polices practiced in the world of college athletics and changed the face of the recruitment of black athletes across the nation.

Coach Haskins was a man of exceptional courage and integrity and will be greatly missed.

Bill Elder’s All Guts and No Glory recounts his efforts to desegregate college basketball in northeast Alabama in the 1970s. All Guts and No Glory is available from NewSouth Books, Amazon.com, or your favorite local or online book retailer.

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