Thanksgiving weekend was a relatively light one on the Texas high school basketball scene. As players mostly enjoyed the final leftovers of turkey, a handful of games and tournaments took place. One such traditional tournament was the Fantasy of Lights Tournament in Wichita Falls, where in the Boys Division I championship game, Sunrise Christian Academy out of BelAire, Kan., topped Mansfield Timberview, 48-41.
But if you want to talk high school basketball around the Wichita Falls area and what made news last week, consider the headliner to be the Nocona victory over Saint Jo on Nov. 24 by a count of 47-26. Say what?
A little primer: Nocona is under the tutelage of J.D. Mayo, who is in his first year at the helm of the Indians after patrolling the sidelines for 33 years at Dallas Skyline before a messy parting at the end of the 2008-09 season. The significance of the Saint Jo win was that it was Coach Mayo’s 700th career victory against 351 losses.
So it is at this time of Thanksgiving before tournament action churns up again this coming first weekend in December that some thanks are given to J.D. Mayo, as our friendship grew way beyond high school when he was the junior varsity coach at Spruce High School in Dallas in the mid-1970s.
Mayo has always been one to put others first and to live a life of genuine humility and service. Others including the likes of Dallas Morning News sports columnist Jean-Jacques Taylor have talked about how Mayo years later will refer to those he once taught — including Taylor when he was at Skyline — as Mr. or Ms. I can verify that, because whether seeing Mayo in person or fielding a call from him, he refers to me as Mr. Baugus, a title that leaves me somewhat uneasy, especially coming from the likes of someone I believe it is my place to call Mr.
But these are just words, and kind as they are, they begin to tell nothing of the more visible deeds and actions of someone like Mayo.
It is a story that I am sure I have worn out Mayo with, but one special memory from my high school days came when I received a sports writing award and was honored to walk across our high school stage during Senior Day. As I was returning to my seat, he was stationed against one of the auditorium walls, and as I walked past him he made it a point to shake my hand, congratulate me on the award and comment, "We are all proud of you."
What made this even more significant is that I really did not know Mayo very well, which made his gesture even more meaningful and something I carry with me to this day. I often remind him of this little story, and while he understandably does not remember it, to me it speaks volumes about his character.
Another trait I have admired through the years in Mayo is that he never felt the need to pat himself on the back. I am biased, of course, but believe he was the greatest ambassador for the Dallas Independent School District of anyone I could imagine. I am sure that he had numerous opportunities through the years to move along to another more glamorous position, yet he elected to continue making his mark at Skyline.
Mayo, of course, was the coach and mentor for former NBA great Larry Johnson. It was humbling to hear Johnson speak about Mayo earlier this year at a 60th birthday that Mayo’s wife held in honor of her husband. Johnson recalled his hardscrabble upbringing and the influence that Mayo had in helping mold him from a kid to a young man to an adult.
In the most tumultuous year of his life, the J.D. Mayo I know has remained steadfast in his Christian faith and walk with the Lord. He offers no hints of bitterness about his situation at Skyline, but instead spoke glowingly about his new opportunities in a small Class 2A town where he was welcomed with open arms.
While the expectations and skill levels of the players he now coaches in Nocona are a world’s apart from Skyline, Mayo’s primary objectives will undoubtedly remain the same. He will mold young men, teach them about life and will have them prepared as well as possible for when they graduate and move into the "real world."
It is something he has been doing for decades and will continue to do as long as he is alive. It defines coach Mayo and his priorities. It is why he can do nothing but succeed as he always has.
R.V. Baugus is editor and publisher of Tex Preps Basketball magazine and www.texprepsbasketball.com.