By Evan Grice
When it comes to sports, no matter what it is, the ultimate goal is to be victorious and claim the win on that given night.
But, if you ask some coaches, victory has absolutely nothing to do with whether his or her team has won.
This column is one that is deeply personal to me, and tells the story of a coach who measured victories by the amount of lives he touched, and the special moments he shared with those he loved.
This coach was my uncle Charles R. Williams Sr.
At 8:55 p.m. on December 15, 2009 at Freeman Hospital West in Joplin, MO my family’s coach got the greatest head coaching job he could have ever asked for, to help coach angels in heaven.
Now while it might be premature to some mentioning when my uncle died, there’s much more to the story which happened in the days following his passing.
Before I get too far ahead of myself, here’s a little background on the man we affectionately knew as Uncle Charlie, who racked up more than his fair share of victories long before he became a coach.
My uncle’s roots were based in Oklahoma, as he was born in Tulsa before getting his bachelor’s degree from Midwest Christian College in Oklahoma City. He would later receive his master’s degree from the University of Central Oklahoma.
Charlie was a proud member of the United States Army and Oklahoma National Guard, serving more than 20 years before retiring in 1985, six years before that he married my Aunt Kim right here in Oklahoma City and would eventually give her what she called the best 30 years of his life.
Ironically enough Charlie and Kim would have three kids together in my cousins Chucky, Trisha and Cody, which has now turned into three grandchildren in Gavin, Haleigh and Desileigh, who was born just before Thanksgiving.
If there was one thing Uncle Charlie loved more than being a father, it was being a grandfather. I’ve always thought he would rank walking my cousin Trisha down the aisle at her wedding higher than he would any of his four national titles he won while coaching college athletics.
Speaking of coaching, that was something he wasn’t just good at, he was brilliant at.
In total, Charlie’s teams won more than 1,400 games which included women’s volleyball, baseball, and soccer. But, his true love in the sports world was always the game of basketball.
706-444 was his overall record coaching men’s and women’s basketball in the college and high school ranks. Included in this package was four national titles (3 men’s 1 woman’s) in the National Christian College Athletic Association.
Charlie was also a three-time NCCAA national coach of the year, a seven-time regional coach of the year and a five-time conference coach of the year.
There was also the small occurrence of him being elected to the Missouri Coaches Hall of Fame and the Joplin Sports Authority Hall of Fame.
I sometimes think of how Uncle Charlie’s coaching style would fly these days, because he had only one rule if you ever wanted to play for him.
You had to be willing to have a team devotional before practice. He always said who you become off the court, is much more important than who you are on the court.
One of the funniest stories I ever heard about his on the court antics involved how he would go about getting a technical foul.
Charlie was such a kind-hearted individual that he would ask the ref to give him a technical foul only after appearing to have yelled and berated the official.
Of course no such foul language was used during the exchange, and shortly after the “T” being issued, Charlie always politely thanked the referee and the game would continue on with everyone showing a smile on the court.
Some of Charlie’s best memories as a coach though never involved sports.
He would always talk about how he got such great joy out of holding the hands of elementary school kids as he would walk them back to class after teaching them that day in P.E. class.
The other teachers around him also noticed it as they would say he looked as happy as the kids did, if not more.
At the school where Charlie taught during his final days, there was a board on the wall made in which all of the students left one word to describe their coach.
Words like “Gentleman”, “Friend” and “Kind -hearted” were some of the phrases used along with many other heartfelt comments left by faculty and students.
Days after learning of his sudden passing, I struggled to cope with what had happened just like every member of my immediate family.
At his wake, which was held the night before his funeral, I was given a powerful reminder of how sports can unite people of all walks of life.
But, this paled in comparison to the event that was to forever shape my life the next day at his ceremony.
With a standing room only crowd of family, friends, former players and many others gathered at College Heights Christian Church, I stood up and walked towards the podium said a simple phrase.
“My name is Evan Grice, and Charlie Williams was my uncle.”
Over the next few moments, much to the shock and surprise of my family, and myself I spoke from the heart about our coach and what he meant to us all.
Before I said my final words, I paused and looked at my cousin Chucky, who was as close to his father as anyone and I said “Chucky, if you grow up to become half the man your father was, then you have become a hall of fame coach in life.”
Charlie would later be buried with full military honors at his graveside ceremony.
It was an honor that was fitting for a man who did so much for so many people, yet asked absolutely nothing in return.
Less than a year later following this speech, I was working at my first journalism job in Canyon, Texas as a sports writer. The irony here is that I said I would never have anything to do with journalism, let alone work as one.
This Sunday will mark the three year anniversary of my uncle’s passing, and for the first time in that span I won’t be near a basketball court like I have been the past two years. Instead, I will be by the side of my beloved girlfriend, who will be recovering from knee surgery.
I guess Charlie wanted me to be some place other than a sporting event this year.
He always did have a sense of humor, and always put family first.
In the three years since my Uncle’s passing, my Aunt Kim has remarried to a man named Chris, whose heart is just as strong as his Christian spirit.
As for the rest of us, we have continued to push on together and try to make the most of each day, knowing that the spirit of our coach still lives on through us.
To those who are still looking for some kind of a meaning to close this story with, I leave you with this simple question to ponder.
What if I told you a coach’s greatest victory, never came in a game situation?