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Tuesday, February 11, 2003
Updated: February 12, 11:18 AM ET
Dunbar's Hughes becomes winningest HS coach

Associated Press

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Robert Hughes says it was more relief than joy when he became the nation's winningest high school basketball coach.

"Hot dog and hallelujah," Hughes said after Fort Worth Dunbar (30-1), ranked No. 1 among Texas' Class 4A schools, defeated Fort Worth Poly 71-62 Tuesday night for his 1,275th career victory.

Hughes, 74, has lost 248 games for an .837 winning percentage over his 45-year coaching career. He went into the game tied with Morgan Wootten, 71, who retired in November after 46 years at DeMatha High School in Hyattsville, Md. Wootten finished with a record of 1,274-192 (.869).

The closest person to Hughes and Wootten in the record book is Ralph Tasker of Hobbs, N.M., with 1,122 victories. Tasker retired in 1998 after 57 years of coaching. The closest active coach has 1,100 victories.

"I'm glad it's over with. I tried to play it off like it wasn't there. It really surprised me how much interest this has all generated," Hughes said.

The victory wrapped up regular-season play for Dunbar, whose next game will be in the playoffs.

Hughes stood for the entire game, mostly with his arms folded, barking out plays in a drill sergeant-like manner. Even with the game in hand in the final minute, Hughes unfolded his arms and stared at his players in disbelief at a turnover that led to a basket for the other team.

After the game, blue and white streamers shot down from the ceiling and onto the gym floor.

"It's been a great ride and thank you," Hughes said as he was presented with a trophy and plaque after the game, which drew a standing-room-only crowd in the 7,200-seat arena.

"There a lot of positives to breaking this record," Hughes said. "It's great for the kids, the school, the community and all followers of high school basketball. It definitely outweighs all the minuses."

Bill Farney, executive director of the University Interscholastic League, congratulated Hughes "not only on winning on the court but teaching young men how to win in life."

Hughes has had just one losing season, but even that team made the playoffs. This will be Hughes' 36th team to advance to the postseason, but the last of his four state titles came 10 years ago, and was the only championship he's won since starting at Dunbar in 1973.

Hughes shrugs his shoulders when fans call him a legend.

"At the coffee shop, they still ask for my dollar or they tell me they're going to call the cops," he said.

Hughes was a mechanic at Douglas Aircraft in 1958 when he was recruited by a former coach to lead the basketball team at I.M. Terrell High School, where Fort Worth's black students attended.

After desegregation, most of the 3,000 students went to schools closer to home, and I.M. Terrell closed. Hughes then went to Dunbar. He said he plans to coach there for at least one more season.

"I still love coaching, and I'll still do it as long as my health holds up," Hughes said. "But I've told some of my former players to let me know when I need to call it quits. They promised they'd leave three or four fishing poles outside my door in case I'm in denial. When that happens, I know it will be over."

Hughes has been offered several college coaching opportunities over the years, but turned them all down. He preferred to remain a head coach -- and be in control -- than be an assistant college coach.