A Lone Star legend is hanging up his whistle. The dean of basketball coaches in East Texas, Robert Loper of Frankston, is retiring after 50 years as coach and educator, he said this week.
"It is time," Loper said. "Fifty years is a long time. Basketball and teaching has been very good to me; and I just think it is time to step away."
He added, "Still, it is hard to step away."
Loper will finish out the school year.
"It will take some time to adjust," Loper said. "I may do a little gardening. I will have to try and find a hobby. Coaching basketball keeps your mind sharp. I will need to find something."
Loper has been married to his wife, Betty, a retired educator, for 43 years. Their 44th anniversary is in June. They have three daughters - Christy, Cammy and Amy and four grandchildren.
Loper grew up in Jacksonville near Lon Morris College. He watched many LMC games.
As a youngster, Loper followed the great Lon Morris teams of O.P. Adams and then played at Jacksonville High School, graduating in 1961.
After graduating from Jacksonville, he attended LMC and then Stephen F. Austin State University. While in Nacogdoches, he decided to become a basketball coach.
Loper's career started at Neches (1966-67), followed by stints at Gary (1967-71), New Summerfield (1971-73) and Bullard (1973-80). He was actually an assistant under coaching legend Vernon Harton the first year at Bullard before becoming head coach the next season.
After the 1980 season, he then decided to return to his hometown of Jacksonville where he became the junior high coordinator and assistant to coaching great John Alexander.
His first group of eighth-graders was eventually part of the 1984 Jacksonville High School team that earned a Final Four berth at the state tournament.
Loper then decided to get back on the varsity sideline.
Loper started coaching at Frankston in 1980. He has led the Indians to 12 district championships in the last 17 years. He also led Bullard to three district championships.
Through the years, which included coming back from a heart attack in 2008 (when he did not miss a game), he has complied 867 varsity wins, 610 at Frankston the last 28 years. His Frankston teams made the playoffs 19 times.
Those wins are boys varsity only. The total does not include the girls varsity games he coached while at Neches, Gary and New Summerfield. Thus, it is likely Loper has more than 1,000 victories.
He has had some great squads over the years, two in particular - the 1977 Bullard Panthers and the 2002 Frankston Indians - standout.
In 1977, the Panthers were so close to possibly winning a state title. They lost to Terry Teagle's Broaddus squad by one point, 54-53, in the Class 2A regional final held at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville. Teagle, who went on to play at Baylor and have an 11-year NBA career, led Broaddus to back-to-back state championships.
"That Bullard team was 30-4, a very good team," Loper said.
In 2002, Frankston made it to the state title game and lost in the final three seconds to Little River Academy in Austin, 49-48.
"It was disappointing to come so close, but it was an honor to play in the game and it was enjoyable coaching that group," Loper said. "That was a great team, too."
He coached against his grandson Ryan, who played for Edgewood High School, twice - winning both times (2004 regional quarterfinals contest at a packed Wagstaff Gymnasium in Tyler; and the 2006 Frankston tournament finals).
Loper added he will remember the 2015-16 team that earned a trip to regionals and finished with a record of 24-8. The team - featuring Kendrick Rogers, Justice Bean, L.A. Bradford and Dylan Hokit - won the District 18-3A championship and advanced to the Class 3A Region III Tournament before falling to eventual state runner-up Winnie East Chambers.
"I will remember this team, not only because it was my last team, but how they continued to get better and better as the season progressed," he said. "Kendrick Rogers missed 16 games, but this team stayed together."
Loper is so appreciative of the backing over the years.
"My family has been very supportive," Loper said. "You have to have that support if you are coaching this long of time.
"I've been very fortunate to have great kids and a great staff (many of his former players) over the years."
Over the years, Loper's teams were noted for how they played with tenacity and determination - a never say die attitude. Also, his teams were always fundamentally strong. His teams were a joy to watch.
Basketball fans everywhere will miss Loper.