High School Basketball Coach On 50 Years Of Winning

She's been hailed the nation's "winning-est" high school basketball coach. Leta Andrews, the 73-year-old coach of the Lady Pirates at Granbury High School in Granbury, Texas, was honored with the title by the National Federation of State High School Associations. And, after nearly five decades of coaching, she has no plans to retire just yet. As part of Tell Me More's focus on Women's History Month, host Martin speaks with Leta Andrews about her career and "tough love" approach to coaching.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

So, March Madness begins today. Don't be surprised if your colleagues are a little scarce at lunchtime as they huddle over their brackets, which is to say, picking their favorites to win this year's tournament. So on this occasion of March Madness and in recognition of women's history month, we decided to visit with the winningest high school basketball coach of all time, male or female.

Last December, she passed the national mark of 1,333 victories set by a retired boys coach in Fort Worth, Texas. And she has no intention of giving up. Her name is Leta Andrews. At 73, she's been coaching for almost five decades and was inducted into the National Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, Tennessee last year. But she's lost none of her fire, still coaching the Lady Pirates at Granbury High School in Granbury, Texas.

Ms. LETA ANDREWS (Coach, High School Basketball): You didn't (unintelligible). You just (unintelligible) oxygen here. At 73 years old, I think I can play point guard better than that.

MARTIN: That's from a CBS News profile of Leta Andrews late last year. And we are lucky enough to have Leta Andrews with us now. She was kind enough to interrupt her busy schedule and she's with us from Dallas. Welcome. Thank you so much for joining us.

Ms. ANDREWS: Thank you, Michel. I'm pleased that you asked me to be on your program.

MARTIN: So, how did this start? When you started playing basketball, it wasn't that common for girls to play any sport.

Ms. ANDREWS: Very true. It was common that girls do not sweat and girls are to be studious in the classroom and little homemakers. And I grew up thinking I would be an entertainer of singing. And I grew up in the country, Michel. And every day I would entertain the farm animals by singing. And finally one day my daddy told me, he said, I think you need to start playing some basketball and there was one over next to the barn and I picked it up and played with it a little while. And from that day on it became glued to me and you can see where I am today.

MARTIN: He encouraged you and then - and your sister and your brother to all play sports when you weren't, obviously, you know, working on the farm. And I just wondered, sometimes when dads encourage their girls to play sports, other guys give them the business for that. And I just wondered whether his friends ever gave him the business for encouraging you all to play sports.

Ms. ANDREWS: Well, I think my daddy was a very wise man, and the fact that he did not want us to always stay on the farm. He thought that through athletics, that would open some doors for us and it's amazing how it did materialize to prove him correct.

MARTIN: How did you get into coaching?

Ms. ANDREWS: Well, when I got my first degree, I got it in elementary education. And I did my internship of practice teaching and I went home one day and I was married by now and I told my husband, I can't do this all my life. There's something else. I want to do more, and that is teach and coach. So I went back to school, got a secondary teaching certificate in kinesiology and English and then went to the high school level, started teaching and coaching and it was a love that I had from way back when and it still is with me today.

I have such a passion for the sport. I have such a passion in working with young people. I never let a day go by that I don't study the game. But I would have to say that probably the greatest gift is that I can see my young ladies learning the value of sports. To me, athletics is a lot like a democracy. There's rules, there's regulations and you have to abide by all of that. So I love seeing my young ladies capitalize on that phase of sports.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. I'm speaking with Coach Leta Andrews. She is the winningest high school basketball coach in the country. It goes without saying that she's been inducted into the National Basketball Hall of Fame. She's 73. She's still coaching. You know what? I'm going to play that little clip again that we had at the beginning. Just the first part of that clip. I'm just going to give people a little bit of a flavor in case they missed it, of your style. Here it is.

Ms. ANDREWS: Do not let that girl pin you. Same old. Same old. My gosh. She's pushing her everywhere.

Unidentified Woman #1: Whenever a coach isn't yelling at you, that's when they don't care.

Unidentified Woman #2: (unintelligible)

Unidentified Woman #1: And she always yells at us. So obviously she still cares.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Would you say tough love is your style, coach? What would you - how would you describe it?

Ms. ANDREWS: It is a tough love. Even in a family relationship, you have to have a tough love for your own children. And that does go to say, these young ladies come on into my program, I would adopt every one of them because I grow to appreciate them and love them. But you've got to have discipline. They've got to make a commitment and they've got to want to learn to grow and work hard. And I expect all those ingredients to come from my athletes.

MARTIN: Do you think that the players today - the young players today have the same work ethic that you did when you first started playing and coaching?

Ms. ANDREWS: Some do and some do not. Some have the patience that I have. And I hope I never want it more than what my young ladies want it. But I'm beginning to see that turn. My passion is so much greater than the athletes of today. There is so much competition in the sports arena today, and the fact that the young ladies have so many more opportunities. I always said that when the cell phones became so freely around every individual in a school system, in a sports team, that it's an interference.

Michel, you won't believe, but when we load up on a bus to go on a road trip, I take all the cell phones up and keep them till we get back to Granbury.

MARTIN: Really?

Ms. ANDREWS: Yeah, I do, because if there's an emergency, those parents know how to get a hold of me. And if the girls have an emergency, I have a phone with me and they're welcome to use it. But I see too much texting. There's not enough team building, there's not enough interrelation, socializing with their teammates and I think those are the valuable things that you get from a team sport.

MARTIN: What about other coaches. Told that perhaps before you enter the history books, that there's some of the male coaches did not appreciate that you were as successful as you are. Is that true?

Ms. ANDREWS: Well, I have bumped into that. They have to deal with it, not me. I hate losing, Michel. I'm a very poor, poor loser. So in order to be successful, you've got to work and work hard. Prosperity is about hard work. And so many men coaches, I mean, since I've even won the award, I work with a lot of people that can't even say, congratulations, Leta. You know, they can't bring themselves to do that.

But, you know, that shows me how immature they are. Not to think that I haven't worked hard for 49 years, Michel, and given so much of my time, so much of my life to my programs and I try not to even give them the time of day. I just move on and I'm a happy-go-lucky person. Yes, I've tasted many roads of success and I plan to taste some more, too, Michel.

MARTIN: Yes, ma'am. I hear that. But I'm told, now, is this true? That you also caution your players that they are not to wish the other team good luck before a game? Is that true?

Ms. ANDREWS: Well, yes. I don't tell them not to go do it. If they want to go shake the hands of our opponents that we're getting ready to play, that we prepared and worked hard

MARTIN: To beat into the ground.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ANDREWS: Yes. Exactly.

MARTIN: But, really, you don't encourage all this, what, you know, all this bonding ahead of time?

Ms. ANDREWS: I can't understand the person that ever said it doesn't matter whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game. Let me tell you, he wasn't even proud enough to sign that statement. It does matter whether you win or lose. To me, there's one outlet and that is to win, to be successful. And so as we prepare for our competition, I've never made that a habit of my young ladies going over and shaking the hands of the opponents, the coach, the officials. I still respect them. I respect the team we're playing. I respect the coaches. But when the game's over, we can demonstrate sportsmanship and we do, but not before the game, Michel.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Yes ma'am. I will keep that in mind. And I do want to ask if you have any wisdom to share, particularly because we live in a time when I think people aren't telling girls anymore, women, for the most part, what they can and cannot do. But we still don't see women participating in public life to the same degree that men are. We still see many women who feel that they have to choose between having a career and having a family.

And you've managed to do both those things. You managed to excel in your field and also to have a family. And I'd just like to ask if you have any wisdom to share.

Ms. ANDREWS: I agree that a woman can do both. I feel like I have never neglected any phase of my career or my family. I feel like I've given them all just as much as they've needed. And if I were to say, I think what one wants to do, the sky is the limit, but then again, I always realized that I was a wife, too. And I never wanted to shuck that responsibility. I wanted to own up to my commitment to those vows and make it all work. And it's hard, it's very hard. It's tough at times. It'd be easy to feel sorry for yourself or to make excuses, but we don't whine in our family. We don't make excuses. We just do the very best that we all can.

MARTIN: All right. Leta Andrews is the nation's winningest high school basketball coach. She's been inducted into the National Basketball Hall of Fame. She's been coaching for almost five decades and she doesn't plan on stopping anytime soon. And she was kind enough to join us from Dallas. Leta Andrews - coach - thank you so much for joining us.

Ms. ANDREWS: Thank you, Michel, and I appreciate you having me with you.

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