The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

September 8, 2008

Haskins’ memory lives on in Enid

By Cass Rains, Staff Writer

The memories of Enid native son Don Haskins are alive and well in the community where the Hall of Fame coach spent his youth and discovered his love for the game of basketball.

Haskins, who died Sunday of congestive heart failure at age 78 at his El Paso, Texas, home, was credited with helping break color barriers in college sports when he started five black players in 1966 to win a national basketball title for Texas Western against an all-white and heavily favored University of Kentucky team.

Haskins was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Bas-ketball Hall of Fame on Sept. 27, 1997, and Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame on Aug. 9, 1999. He is the main subject of the Walt Disney Pictures movie “Glory Road.”

Perhaps one of the greatest honors in Haskins’ career was the naming of some Enid basketball courts in his honor. The courts, dedicated Oct. 13, 2005, as Don Haskins Basketball Courts were the work of several Enid residents who wished to see the coach honored at home.

The project of renaming and creating the courts, located at 6th and Maine, took about a year, said one contributor.

“He was really something,” said Scott Fitz-gerald, a former News & Eagle reporter, of Haskins. “He never forgot Enid. He really loved his hometown.”

Fitzgerald, who grew up in El Paso, said he remembers the day Haskins and the 1966 team returned home after the championship.

“When Haskins stepped off the plane in March 1966 and thrust his finger out to signify No. 1, I was 10 years old and started crying.” Fitzgerald said. “It was the first time I cried from being overjoyed.”

Fitzgerald said he thanked Haskins for that moment when the coach returned to Enid to have the courts renamed in his honor and to be inducted into the Enid Public School Foundation Hall of Fame.

“During my introductory speech at the court dedication, I thanked Haskins for that moment and said what a joy it was to share those memories with my Enid family,” Fitzger-ald said. “That afternoon, I went home and flopped in bed. I wasn’t exhausted. I was beyond being spent. I was numb and nearly in a state of disbelief.”

A year before the dedication, Fitzgerald said he wanted to honor Haskins in Enid.

“Something inside of me snapped and said, ‘You’ve got to do this,’” Fitzgerald said. “I just started putting some notes together and calling people.”

Fitzgerald worked with members of the city’s Park Board to get the courts renamed and raise money for renovations. Along with Ron Janzen and Jerry Allen, who helped to raise funds for the renovations, the men accomplished their goal.

“We were able to get this thing up and rolling, right off the bat almost,” Fitzgerald said.

Janzen, who was working as a city parks consultant at the time, said he remembers Fitzgerald’s enthusiasm to get the courts named in Haskins’ honor.

“It seemed like such a good fit and it was something the city was doing to make improvements,” Janzen said. “I felt like it was something Don Haskins certainly deserved.”

Park Board chairman Jerry Allen said once Fitzgerald’s idea got out, people were willing to contribute to the cause.

“Scott had the idea and I had the wherewithal and the way to get my foot in the door to raise funds,” Allen said. “Once we explained what the project was, people just opened their pocketbooks and gave us the money.”

Open to the public and players of all skill levels, Allen said the park sees segments of the entire community using the courts.

“It crosses all walks of life, all age groups,” he said. “I think the sport itself just crosses a lot of racial barriers.”

Although Haskins had been honored many times before, Allen said the legendary coach appreciated being honored by his hometown.

“He was just excited about his basketball courts being named after him,” he said.

Janzen said he saw Haskins’ excitement at the ceremony.

“He seemed just like a really nice gentleman and he just seemed tickled to death this was done for him,” Janzen said. “There’s always something special about getting your name put on something in your own hometown.”

Allen recalled seeing the coach reunite with friends, former teammates and players at the dedication.

“He was just a very dynamic man. He had a lot of presence about him,” Allen said. “Although he was stooped and he was aged and he didn’t move very fast, he just had a lot of charisma. You just felt good being around him.”

During the dedication, Has-kins was able to reunite with longtime friend Herman Carr.

Haskins and Carr, who attended Booker T. Washington High School in the days of segregation, played one-on-one basketball every day until dark.

Haskins and Carr’s relationship is considered a contributing factor to Haskins embracing black players as a coach.

The two hadn’t seen one another since 1948 when Carr left to join the Army and Haskins graduated high school and was on his way to Oklahoma A&M; to play with Hall of Fame coach Henry Iba.

Carr himself called the reunion “spectacular.”

“It was good because at that time I hadn’t seen Don in a long time,” Carr said from his home in Denver. “It was something spectacular to see him again.”

Carr said he and Haskins met while the two were in high school and “came up together” playing one-on-one games.

“We just met up on the school ground one time and we just became friends from that. Playing basketball, playing one-on-one together,” Carr said. “We became pretty close. He loved basketball and I loved it. It’s sad to see him go.”

But who won all of those till-dark games?

“We probably broke even,” Carr said with a chuckle. “I think he’s better shooter than I was, but I had a hook shot he couldn’t stop.”