‘Winningest Boys HS Coach in Country’ passes at 96

By Don Diehl

A legendary high school basketball coach and educator with local ties has died in Fort Worth, Texas where he was remembered last month with a “celebration of life” service.

A graduate of Sapulpa’s Booker T. Washington High School, Coach Robert “Bob’ Hughes, Sr., also is being remembered across the nation. At the time of his death on June 11, 2024. Hughes held the record as America’s “Winningest High School Boys Basketball Coach” ever. He was 96.

Coach Hughes with his championship team from Dunbar High School, Fort Worth, TX. Image courtesy of stopsixcni.org

It is not clear in the obituary information or Wikipedia, but we believe Hughes graduated from Booker T. circa 1946. Brian Bingman, former Sapulpa mayor, remembers when the city council here passed a resolution honoring Hughes’ achievements and member John Anderson may have traveled to Texas to hand deliver a copy of the citation.

Hughes was born in Bristow, Okla., May 15, 1928. The “all-time winningest” record was achieved from Feb. 11, 2003. to Dec. 7, 2010. Hughes became known as the most successful boys’ high school basketball coach in the United States with 1,333 wins.

Hughes himself was a basketball player and for a time travelled the country with a Harlem exhibition team. He was hesitant to enter coaching at the high school level. An interesting distraction to the massive amount of news stories about Hughes’ passing is that only coach Leta Andrews of Granbury High School in Texas had more wins. She compiled a national record of 1,416 career victories in girls’ high school basketball before retiring in 2014. [Just a Texas sidenote].

“A member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame for his storied career, Hughes was a husband, a brother to seven, a father to four, a grandfather to five children, a great friend, a respected coach, and a respected representative of Fort Worth, and notably, the Stop Six community,” reads his obituary.

“Coach Hughes is preceded in death by his beloved wife, Jaqueline; and son, John C. Hughes.” Another son, Robert L. Hughes, Jr. in currently coaching at the same school from which his father retired.

The public remembrance ceremony took place at the Wilkerson-Greines Activities Center in Fort Worth, held on his namesake Robert Hughes Court, “the very spot where he secured many victories in his incredible career,” reported Alanna Quillen with NBC Universal.

“Hughes spent decades leading the boys team at Fort Worth’s Dunbar High School, becoming the all-time winningest coach in the history of high school boys basketball.” she records.Hughes won five state championships – two of them at Dunbar, where he logged 32 years as the head boys basketball coach making 30 consecutive playoff runs before retiring in 2005.

His achievements besides being inducted in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, includes National High School Hall of Fame, and Texas Sports Hall of Fame. The latter recognized Hughes as “someone who opened doors for Black athletes across Texas.

“His contributions to basketball will live on in the lives of the young men he coached and at the Naismith Hall of Fame,” sports writers agree.

In 2017, Hughes related to the local NBC affiliate the keys to his coaching success: “Well, like the old Joe Lewis said, ‘If you have to tell ‘em who you is – you ain’t,’” Hughes said. “I just had that gift of being able to communicate with kids.”Hughes joined the Army after high school.

At 6 ft 6 he was recruited for a special unit that just played basketball; it was the first integrated team on which Hughes played. When he left the Army, he played basketball at Texas Southern becoming an All-American. He started playing for the barnstorming Fabulous Harlem Magicians in 1954 and was selected by the Boston Celtics as a supplemental NBA draft pick in 1955.

He did not make the Boston team but returned to the Magicians and met his wife, Jacquelyne Johnson. while playing in a tournament in Memphis. Achilles tendon woes later that season forced him to give up playing basketball and he returned home to Oklahoma to attend and graduate from the University of Tulsa.

Hughes was hired by Douglas Aircraft as a mechanic after graduating from Tulsa, and worked there until his former coach at Texas Southern called to ask if Hughes had ever considered coaching. Hughes was not initially interested, but Adams persisted and Hughes was hired at I. M. Terrell High School, in Fort Worth, Texas (an all-black high school) during segregation. Hughes led Terrell to three PVIL state championships and one runner up in the five years from 1963 to 1967.

After segregation ended and I. M. Terrell was shut down in 1973, Hughes began coaching at Dunbar High School in the Fort Worth Independent School District. There he won two state titles, finished as state runner-up three times, and took the team to the final four 12 times between 1977 and 2003, including ten final fours in the 17-year run between 1977 and 1993.

In 32 seasons at Dunbar, Hughes had only one assistant coach, Leondas Rambo, who retired with Hughes in 2005. Between Terrell and Dunbar combined, Hughes won five state basketball titles, and retired in 2005 as the then all-time winningest high school basketball coach, passing Morgan Wootten in 2003.

“If you can’t work hard and put out the best, you probably need to go home to your mama,” Hughes was known for telling his players.

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