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2. Gene Ring is Dead

Gene Ring is Dead

A few days ago I learned that my High School basketball coach Gene Ring had died four years ago. I was so disappointed that I was not able to attend his funeral to pay tribute to his impact on my life. The first time I laid eyes on Gene Ring, it was a meeting in the Broad Ripple High School gym. He was our new basketball coach; thirty to forty boys sat on the bleachers, eager to hear from this Indiana legend. He spoke with passion as he paced back and forth, “We’re going to play fast break basketball. We’re going to work harder, run faster and jump higher than our opponents.” Then we got our first taste of an idiosyncrasy that would become part of knowing him. “We’re going to get up in there, get up in there. We’re going to play hard, defend hard, get up in there, get up in there.” The more excited he became, the more he would repeat himself and start his stucco exhortations. He had a look in his eye that at the same time excited you and made you want to wet your pants. I was fourteen years old and a lowly freshman, so he didn’t pay much attention to me. The next year I was still a freshman, I was academically ineligible, I was 6-3, and he pulled me aside. “You could be a good player boy, but you are screwing up. Go to class, study, do your homework. Come on boy, get up in there.” I wanted his approval. I sensed he believed in me. Not many did. I was a classic underachiever. On the basketball court I was confident, but in the classroom I was a lost. I missed school too much and even got suspended for leaving the school grounds. I chose to change. I started to get passing grades and I kept growing in stature and I became very focused. Fast forward to my senior year. I am 6-6 and a lot is expected from my teammates and me. Coach Ring called me into his office for a pre-season pep talk. He had nick-named me “Hoss.” (This was 1964, and Bonanza was the number one program on television.) He started his now familiar pacing in front of me, “Hoss, this is going to be a big year, a big year for you, for the team, for our school. We are going to win a lot of games, and you are going to make that happen. And Hoss, whenever we lose a game, if ever we lose a game, its your fault, its your fault.” Once again those conflicting feelings of excitement and fear were mixing up inside me.


A few weeks later we were playing one of our most fierce rivals. My legs were cramping. They reeked of liniment, the only known treatment for cramps in those days of canvas converse sneakers and short basketball shorts. At half time I had four points. Ring was fuming. I heard him rumbling down the hall way to the locker room. He burst into the room, took one look at me and lunged for me. I think that time I did wet my pants. The assistant coach pulled him into another room. The second half I scored twenty-five points. Now, that’s coaching. That’s discipleship. I had a great year, we lost more games than we had planned, but we were playing very well going into the Indiana State Tournament. Ring had a special speech he would give at tournament time. “Listen up boys. It’s tournament time. It’s tournament time.” “We know that coach,” we would think to our selves having heard it before. He continued, “I want your complete focus. First, throw those books out the window. I don’t want you distracted by books. Second, no skirts. I don’t want you thinking about skirts, talking to them, and if I see you walking down the hall holding hands with one of them, it’s Katie barred the door boys, Katie barred the door.” We never new what Katie barred the door meant, but we didn’t want to find out.


Our first game in the State Tournament was against the other best team in the sectional. In those days there was no seeding of teams, it was catcher’s catch can. I don’t know that that means either, but I know you know just like I know. The other team gets way ahead, and then in the middle of the second half, we pull even and then go slightly ahead. Ring is going crazy, “Don’t let this be your last game, Hoss. Do you want this to be your last game?” I think it was a rhetorical question. The game went down to the wire. We got a couple of controversial calls that went against us, and we lost. Ring chased some of the officials to their locker room. I don’t know what happened, but they ran for their lives. I sat in front of my locker in tears because we lost. We lost in our last chance, and it was my fault. Ring comes into the locker room, walks over, and sits down beside me. “ Hoss, you played great tonight. That wasn’t your fault.” It was amazing how affirmed I felt at that moment. He had used the pressure to get my best. When it no longer was needed; he let me off the hook.


Gene Ring loved me, and I loved him. I still love him. Jesus said, “When a disciple is fully taught, he will be like his teacher.”[1] I did become somewhat like him: focused, passionate, an over achiever. He taught me that determination and discipline pays off, and as a leader, pastor and writer, I have benefited from his influence.


I don’t advocate being as wild and wooly as Gene Ring, but I do recommend you being as passionate and caring. Remember, what you do with others makes a difference for a lifetime. I never met my father. He died, and I found out for years. Coach Ring rescued me from a droll life. I was headed for a life of disappointment, but I have lived a life of joy and achievement. Thousands of people have heard about Gene Ring. They know what an impact he had on me. His impact has been multiplied and used for the advancement of the kingdom. God used Coach Ring. I am not sure if he was a man of faith. I do know that he had faith in me, and for that I am thankful.

[1] Luke 6:40