Other Voices

My dad, coach Robert L. Hughes, taught us the wisdom of athletics

Former Dunbar High School boys basketball coach Robert Hughes Sr. scouts a 2009 Dunbar game against O.D. Wyatt High School. Hughes retired in 2005.
Former Dunbar High School boys basketball coach Robert Hughes Sr. scouts a 2009 Dunbar game against O.D. Wyatt High School. Hughes retired in 2005. STAR-TELEGRAM/

March brings the smell of roses, cut grass and light spring rains for many folks.

For me, March ushers in the smell and shine of hardwoods, leather and athletic shoes — and sheer madness.

I was born during the first week of March — just in time for high school basketball playoffs in Texas.

My father was coaching in the championships when I was born.

He phoned my mother, who chose to deliver in Tulsa, to find out how things turned out — with specific interest in length and size of feet.

I have scouted basketball games since I learned to walk. I believe my mother told me that occurred around 7 or 8 months.

Walking early was encouraged. It meant more time for hand-eye coordination.

I really learned the game of basketball around age 2 from numerous scouting trips with my father.

I can still deliver a well-informed scouting report, and I have the quirky yet astute ability to tell what position or sport someone plays by not just the height but by swagger, disposition and gait.

My father, who coached basketball for more than 50 years and still thinks he is coaching, related everything we did to sports and still does.

He purposely married my mother for love and for athletic recruiting purposes.

He was smitten by my mother’s smile but also by her height. She was 5-10, with an athletic build, and smart. He is 6-6.

It made good athletic sense to him. After all, if he could convince her to have five, he would have a basketball team.

My mother stopped that madness at four.

My father pushed all of us to play sports. We had no choice.

Sports were part of the curriculum. You had to perform on the court or field, and you had to perform in the classroom. End of story. You excelled in everything.

The lines were blurred between what folks now seem to separate — academics and athletics. They were both curricular activities — nothing was “extra.”

Each curricular activity developed the mind and body, and both made up the souls of our existence.

We were expected to play at least two sports. I played four and was even a college cheerleader at almost 6 feet tall.

Sports and academics were like the air we breathed and as normal as waking up in the morning.

Everything we did included repetition — doing homework, working at home, working on the court or on the field. We lived in an athletic framework.

Repetitions, work hard. Perfect practice makes perfect. Eat, rest and repeat.

That athletic framework pushed us to see the world differently.

To this day I become annoyed when athletic thinking is least employed.

I have never understood the ideology of more than one winner — in some spaces everyone wins a “smiling trophy” and no one ever loses.

How do you get better if you are always congratulated as if you’re just as good as the best players?

I have always been bothered by the mantra of “student first.”

Why can’t there be a marriage between sporting and academics instead of a separation? Why should one have to choose? Why not excel in both?

They both require excellent reps. They stimulate different parts of the brain and exercise different parts of the body.

I certainly don’t get the incessant need for fanfare for the smallest of accomplishments.

Even in my own profession, academics, we spend a lot of time rewarding ourselves for everything.

The sporting framework constantly reminds you not to brag and not to expect a trophy. You don’t ask or tell anyone how good you are — folks already know.

I guess that is why so many academic rituals don’t sit well with me — like going up for tenure and requesting letters of recommendations for awards.

In the sporting realm, athletes are ostracized for the slightest of celebratory acts even after having earned major awards, championship games or accomplishments.

I am so happy that no one saw me dab, do the NeNe, whip and Dougie after having earned tenure.

Actually, no one cared, because it is OK to award ourselves and celebrate everything that we do in the “academy” (#professorsSogreat).

Many athletes are taught to live by the old Joe Louis mantra: “If you have to tell them who you is, you probably ain’t.”

But I wish that every once in a while athletics could take a lesson from university faculty.

We are quite accomplished at self-promotion and bragging, yet no one says a word.

Robin Lee Hughes is a professor and executive associate dean in the School of Education at Indiana University. She is the proud daughter of Robert L. Hughes, who led Fort Worth’s I.M. Terrell and Dunbar high school basketball teams to 35 district championships and five state titles and is the “winningest” boys high school basketball coach of all time. He was elected Saturday to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

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