Coach Ron Berry of the Millsap Lady Bulldogs and Mike Krzyzewski, head coach of the Duke Blue Devils, aren’t two names you’ll often hear mentioned together. Yet the two share a common work-related trait - winning.
Though their stages are quite different, both men are making their mark in their respective fields. Krzyzewski for capturing his 1,000th collegiate career win against St. John’s in front of a sold-out crowd at Madison Square Garden; Berry for his team defeating Hillsboro on the road and claiming his 800th victory in Texas high school basketball.
In just his second year at Millsap, the 62-year old coach says it’s “surreal” to him that he’s been coaching as long as he has.
“I can’t believe I’ve been coaching this long. Until I look into the mirror, I still think of myself as a young man,” Berry said. “Eight hundred wins - it’s a milestone; I knew it was coming. I have good health and I’m in pretty good shape so I’m looking forward to win 900.”
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Berry got his start more than 42 years ago, and his most recent stint was at Midland High School prior to coming to Millsap.
It was while he was in Midland that he and his wife, Rulene, learned their daughter had cancer. The two moved back to Parker County to be close to her when Berry was approached to take the job in Millsap.
“[Coach Mark Osina], who was athletic director at the time, said he needed me to take the girls team and so I did,” Berry added. “Two weeks later, he left to take the men’s coaching job at Weatherford College - I said, ‘thanks a lot.’ Millsap then offered me the athletic director’s position and so I took it too.”
Berry said he’s pleased with the progress the athletic department has been making in the last two years - their most recent hire, a new football coach, Jake Johnson, formerly the defensive coordinator at Richland High School.
“We’re really starting to see things turn in our athletic department,” Berry said. “Our boys basketball program is headed in the right direction and coach Josh Jones has done a great job.
“Most of our programs have been struggling but are getting better. That’s my goal and the goal of Superintendent David Belding - to see the athletic program be successful here.”
As for win No. 800, Berry said his team is still young and they only have one senior they will lose next year.
“The kids are competing well,” he said. “But more than games won, I remember players I’ve gotten to coach.”
He recalled a couple of players from the time he spent coaching the Stephenville Honey Bees. Yoland Phillips, who ended up playing at the University of Texas, and Robin White, who played at Abilene Christian.
“Every place I’ve had the opportunity to work with extraordinary young ladies,” Berry said. “It’s when they remain in touch with you after they graduate - you know you’ve touched their lives. To me, that’s more important than any wins or losses. It give you purpose for life.”
In his coaching career, since his start in Wellman, located in the panhandle, Berry has coached at Poolville, Morton, Irving, Stephenville, Canyon and Frisco, to name a few, but his philosophy has always remained the same.
“Embrace the kids, embrace the grind and compete,” he said. “Be fundamentally sound and consistent. I can’t imagine another game that means more to me than this.”
Coach Samantha Morrow, of the famed Mansfield Lady Tigers who won four Class 5A state titles and is now at South Grand Prairie, recalls Berry fondly.
“He gave me my fist job,” she said. “We worked well together and he taught me so much about organizing practices, etc... I still run many of the same defenses we ran back at Stephenville.”
She calls him a “great person and a true friend.”
“I know if I called him up today for help he would be there,” she said. “He is an amazing role model for people. To win that many games is amazing. It seems like only a few years ago we were winning games together with the Honey Bees. He will always hold a special place in my heart.”
Belding echoes similar sentiments, saying they are all “very proud of Coach Berry and excited that he is working at Millsap ISD.”
“Winnng 800 games during a coaching career is a huge accomplishment,” Belding said. “This achievement displays his commitment to excellence. Throughout his career, he has helped his players work together as a team and develop their individual talents to experience a great deal of success.”
Belding said he believes his larger legacy is the impact he has on his athletes as people.
“He develops the character and leadership of his players which will help them as adults even more that winning basketball games,” Belding added. “He invests of himself into the players as people, helping them mature and see beyond themselves. I've seen the difference he has made with the students here in Millisap ISD.”
Belding said that the bond Berry has with his athletes is special.
“He listens to his players and provides guidance that helps them make good life choices and develop into leaders,” Belding said. “ He has many former players that continue to stay in close contact with him because of the mutual respect that is created, a respect that lasts a lifetime. In my opinion, this is the larger legacy Coach Ron Berry will leave: having made an impact on the lives of the athletes he was able to coach in a manner that helped them be better people and leaders.”
Berry said his biggest supporter has been Rulene, who has acted in the capacity of “team mother” over the years.
But most important, Berry said was keeping his priorities “right.”
“First, your relationship with God; second, your family; and sports, a close third,” he said with a smile on his face. “If you can keep that straight, I think everything will fall into place.”
Lance Winter, 817-594-9902, Ext. 102