Donnie Seale, Bruce Galloway, Vernon Thompson, Cecil Travis and Chad Gammons. Those names won’t mean much to a lot of folks, but that was the starting lineup for the 1987-88 Eden Morehead basketball team.
I thought about those guys after I heard the news that Howard West, a legendary high school basketball coach, has resigned after one season at West Forsyth. At age 72 he hopes to continue to be a head coach, but if he doesn’t, his long career coaching the game has been nothing short of exceptional.
In March of 1987 I was fresh out of college and landed my first newspaper job at the Eden Daily News. And who was my first basketball coach that I covered while getting paid but Howard West, who was building a dynasty at Morehead.
I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my English/Journalism/Communication degree from Averett College, but starting out as a sportswriter seemed logical.
As I got to know West I often told him how I wanted to do what he was doing – be a coach and a teacher. He said I could write my own ticket to being a high-school basketball coach because I could probably teach English.
I thought about it, but never took the plunge so here I am some 32 years later trying to hang on as a sportswriter. I have been able to coach my two children over the last 10 years or so in their middle school years, but what West has done is what I call 'real' coaching.
Getting to know West and his wife, Ellen, through these years has been nothing short of great. One of Ellen’s highlights back in those late 1980's was when Morehead went up to Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Va. and beat Coach Steve Smith and his star-studded team.
“When we got back from that game our house was toilet papered and Howard had to put me on his shoulders so we could clean it up,” Ellen said laughing. “Those were good times.”
West later left Morehead for Reynolds High School, and I soon followed and landed a job at the Winston-Salem Journal. I ended up covering Winston-Salem State mostly so our paths didn’t cross that much over the years.
After he won three state titles at Reynolds and nearly won four in five years, he left Reynolds and began the program at Reagan. He later went to Forsyth Country Day and this past season coached at West Forsyth.
All West did was compile 805 wins during a career that, to me, has gone by in a blink of an eye.
He’s coached players such as Warren Martin (Tunstall High School in Virginia, who played at North Carolina), Seale, who went on to play at N.C. State, Reyshawn Terry and Mike Copeland Jr., who both played at North Carolina, Othello Hunter, who went on to play at Ohio State as well as the Holcomb-Faye brothers, Whit and Travis, who played at Radford and East Carolina. Travis is currently the Parkland boys’ basketball coach.
West recalled so many other players he's coached through the years.
“I’ve been blessed with a lot of good players and a lot of good teams,” West said after I called him to wish him well.
West welcomed a new assistant coach to his staff at West Forsyth in James Wilhelmi. West said he loved getting to know Wilhelmi, who is a former WSSU head coach. After being let go at WSSU after last season Wilhelmi has stayed in the area and it was no surprise to me that he landed on West's staff.
“James really helped me this year and I appreciated his input,” West said.
West and I have played golf a few times through the years, and says he will work on his game a little more. He was actually at Maple Chase Golf & Country Club this morning at the range. "Ellen said to get out of the house for awhile," West cracked.
He’s also hoping to stay in the game either as a head coach again or as an assistant.
“Oh, he’ll help somebody because he loves being in that gym,” Ellen said.
Yes, when you have 805 career wins and three state championships there’s no question West knows the game of basketball.
That first year as a sportswriter when I covered that Eden Morehead team is something I'll never forget. And I'm glad Howard and Ellen were there to help me along the way.