Fort Worth Dunbar High School and its guests lionized former coach Robert Hughes on Friday in a ceremony commemorating his contributions to education and achievements as a basketball coach.
It was the coach, however, who brought the special treat.
For just a moment, those assembled in the school auditorium got a peek into Hughes’ locker room before games as he implored students not to waste their energy and good health.
The world isn’t waiting on you. Get out there and work. Bust your… tails.
“How can you let anyone outwork you,” said the 87-year-old to students, all too young to know him at his retirement in 2005. “Push yourselves to be the best.”
Hughes didn’t say it, but everyone who knows him also knew there was no better example of work than the coach himself. The guy who often worked for no compensation because of the demands he made of himself, particularly being in the gym every day, seven days a week during the academic year.
He did so even after the UIL ordered players be off Sundays and five consecutive days around Christmas break. Hughes went there by himself to work.
“The guy was a disciplinarian,” said former point guard Derrick Daniels, a 1988 Dunbar graduate who was the first of only two four-year starters in Hughes’ 47 years. “It was like clockwork. You knew what you’re going to be doing at this time, this hour. Everything was repetition. His teams exemplified that. Everything was repetition.
“I think I can vouch for a lot of players who played for him. He practiced on being perfect. That’s what he did.”
It was that type of structure that kept young people — many of them at-risk students — centered and focused, said Lindell Singleton, director of the soon-to-be released Relentless, a documentary that covers Hughes’ career.
Someone to be a light, “to be there to show them a different choice was available.”
Hughes, Singleton said, was a hero. Someone who is “wise, someone who does great deeds and someone who is protective of others.”
Singleton said a common refrain he heard in his interviews with former players was “a debt of gratitude to Coach Hughes that I cannot repay.”
Hughes’ deeds on the court are unmatched at the high school level. He has more wins than any boys coach in the nation, and he won five state titles at I.M. Terrell and Dunbar. In 2003, the season of his last state title, Hughes was selected national high school coach of the year.
In addition to Singleton, other speakers included Tarrant County Commissioner Roy Brooks, the Rev. Ralph W. Emerson and Fort Worth City Councilwoman Gyna Bivins, who announced that Cass Street, which runs into the school campus at Ramey Avenue, will soon be changed to Robert Hughes Lane.
Daniels said Hughes’ demands were such that “if you couldn’t adjust to doing things every day and doing them the correct way, you weren’t going to be part of the program.”
Hughes’ labor was one of love and sometimes that was tough love.
It was a different day of doing things, when a single mother, Hughes remembered, would send her son to the coach’s house for a disciplinary issue. He would take care of it, sometimes with, as Daniels recalled, Hughes’ “board of education.”
“It’s a joy to come back here,” Hughes said. “I had a great time as a teacher and a coach. It’s like Christmas Eve to a kid.”
Said Daniels: “I had a chance to learn from one of the greats. As a kid, we were just looking at the basketball part, but once I got older and started working and building relationships, a lot of the things he was instilling in us at the time were life skills.”