Mike Byars left Dunbar in 1997, he was part of the class that had the dubious distinction of becoming the first group of seniors under legendary coach Robert Hughes to never make a trip to the state basketball tournament during their career.When
Byars continued his college career at Miami and Northwestern State and then professionally overseas for several years. But his Dunbar legacy had a hole in it.Consider the hole filled. Consider his Dunbar birthright redeemed, not that it needed to be as Byars was already considered one of the best players in school history.
He brought the life and legacy of the greatest coach in the history of high school basketball to the big screen.Byars — the writer, director, producer and sole financier — premiered the movie at a packed black-tie gala at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth Thursday night. In attendance was Hughes, his son Bob. Jr., the current coach at Dunbar, and the rest of the Wildcat family along with Fort Worth civic and school district dignitaries and Dallas Mavericks legend Michael Finley.
“I wanted to do this because I want people to know who he is and what he did not just for me, or players, but for Stop Six and Fort Worth,” Byars said. “Coach was more than just coach here. He was everybody’s hero. Some people viewed him as a dad or an uncle or a grandfather. He meant someone to everyone here in east Fort Worth. He is somebody who should be cherished.”Hughes, who turns 91 next week, suffers a little memory loss as he deals with the effects of aging, but he remains striking, tall and as dignified as ever.
The self-proclaimed Sultan of Stop Six, who once told me I got demoted to the Cowboys beat from covering Dunbar, no longer had the fiery bite that allowed him to make 17 trips to the state tournament, winning five state titles and more games (1,333) than anyone in high school basketball history during a 36-year career between I.M. Terrell and Dunbar.
Hughes was hard on his boys and ruled with an iron fist. His discipline was rooted in love. It wasn’t just about basketball. He was teaching boys, who had to avoid gang violence to get to school and the gym, to become men.
He wasn’t always kind to the media, other coaches or basketball officials because of a life of dealing with racism, discrimination, and criticism before, during and after integration.
He was always fighting for his boys, his school, his rightful place, his teams.
But he was caught smiling Thursday night.
As much as Hughes deserved to be inducted in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, an honor that came in 2017 after so many years of waiting, his best and most worthy accomplishments were the lives and achievements of his players.
They are now a fraternity and a brotherhood that represent what Hughes did on and off the court as a father figure.
Byars’ documentary chronicles Hughes’ journey from growing up in rural Oklahoma to a stint in the military before coming back to star in college at Texas Southern, only to see his NBA basketball dreams with the Boston Celtics end because of a torn Achilles. He then reinvented himself and lived out his true destiny as the winningest high school basketball coach in history and molder of men.
The premiere on Thursday was a homecoming and a family gathering that tugged on the heartstrings as players laughed, cried and remembered the man who started it all and meant so much, not just to Dunbar but the entire Fort Worth community.
Hughes and Dunbar put Fort Worth on the national map long before cattle drives in the stockyards, the mechanical bull at Billy Bobs or even Heisman Trophy winner LaDainian Tomlinson at TCU.Now Byars has immortalized him on the big screen with an emotional and endearing documentary ensuring that his legacy and impact will carry on for generations to come.
Robert Hughes Sr. (born May 15, 1928 in Bristow, Oklahoma, United States) is the United States’ all-time winningest high school basketball coach. From 1973 to 2005, he coached at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in the Fort Worth, Texas Independent School District. He previously coached at I.M. Terrell High School in Fort Worth (an all-black high school) during segregation. After segregation ended and I.M. Terrell was shut down, Mr. Hughes began coaching at Dunbar. Combined, he won five state basketball titles. He retired as the all-time winningest high school basketball coach with 1,333 wins, 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. Hughes attended Texas Southern University and was drafted by the Boston Celtics. His son, Robert Hughes Jr., is the current coach at Dunbar High School. He has two daughters. One, the Rev. Carlye Hughes, is rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Fort Worth. Another, Robin Hughes, is a professor and executive associate dean in the School of Education at Indiana University. Hughes Sr.’s wife of 57 years, Jacquelyne Sue Hughes, died in 2014. Hughes Sr. was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on March 31, 2017. He lives in Fort Worth.
Robert Hughes says it was more relief than joy when he became the nation’s winningest high school basketball coach. “Hot dog and hallelujah,” Hughes said after Fort Worth Dunbar (30-1), ranked No. 1 among Texas’ Class 4A schools, defeated Fort Worth Poly 71-62 Tuesday night for his 1,275th career victory. Hughes, 74, has lost 248 games for an .837 winning percentage over his 45-year coaching career. He went into the game tied with Morgan Wootten, 71, who retired in November after 46 years at DeMatha High School in Hyattsville, Md. Wootten finished with a record of 1,274-192 (.869). The closest person to Hughes and Wootten in the record book is Ralph Tasker of Hobbs, N.M., with 1,122 victories. Tasker retired in 1998 after 57 years of coaching. The closest active coach has 1,100 victories. “I’m glad it’s over with. I tried to play it off like it wasn’t there. It really surprised me how much interest this has all generated,” Hughes said. The victory wrapped up regular-season play for Dunbar, whose next game will be in the playoffs. Hughes stood for the entire game, mostly with his arms folded, barking out plays in a drill sergeant-like manner. Even with the game in hand in the final minute, Hughes unfolded his arms and stared at his players in disbelief at a turnover that led toa basket for the other team. After the game, blue and white streamers shot down from the ceiling and onto the gym floor. “It’s been a great ride and thank you,” Hughes said as he was presented with a trophy and plaque after the game, which drew a standing-room-only crowd in the 7,200-seat arena. “There a lot of positives to breaking this record,” Hughes said. “It’s great for the kids, the school, the community and all followers of high school basketball. It definitely outweighs all the minuses.” Bill Farney, executive director of the University Interscholastic League, congratulated Hughes “not only on winning on the court but teaching young men how to win in life.” Hughes has had just one losing season, but even that team made the playoffs. This will be Hughes’ 36th team to advance to the postseason, but the last of his four state titles came 10 years ago, and was the only championship he’s won since starting at Dunbar in 1973. Hughes shrugs his shoulders when fans call him a legend. “At the coffee shop, they still ask for my dollar or they tell me they’re going to call the cops,” he said. Hughes was a mechanic at Douglas Aircraft in 1958 when he was recruited by a former coach to lead the basketball team at I.M. Terrell High School, where Fort Worth’s black students attended. After desegregation, most of the 3,000 students went to schools closer to home, and I.M. Terrell closed. Hughes then went to Dunbar. He said he plans to coach there for at least one more season. “I still love coaching, and I’ll still do it as long as my health holds up,” Hughes said. “But I’ve told some of my former players to let me know when I need to call it quits. They promised they’d leave three or four fishing poles outside my door in case I’m in denial. When that happens, I know it will be over.” Hughes has been offered several college coaching opportunities over the years, but turned them all down. He preferred to remain a head coach — and be in control — than be an assistant college coach.