Needing just five more victories, 73-year-old Leta Andrews of Granbury, Texas, (pop. 6,808) is on the brink of becoming the winningest high school basketball coach in history.
During the 2005-06 season, she set the girls' record when she reached victory No. 1,218. That night she was presented a crystal plate by Robert Hughes of Dunbar (Fort Worth, Texas), who holds the national boys record with 1,333 victories.
She thanked him, then quickly added, "Coach Hughes, now I'm going to start chasing you."
Hughes, who retired at age 76, told MaxPreps this week, "I really didn't think about it (her comment) one way or another. I really wasn't hopped up over setting (his) record. We really never discussed it with the team. I've enjoyed it more after I got out of coaching. It's odd that two people less than 50 miles apart would go 1-2 in victories."
When his record does fall, Hughes said, "I'll probably act like Bobby Knight when Pat Summitt went by him. It won't bother me, to tell the truth. It is mind boggling and real special."
Andrews was dead serious.
She related, "When I made that comment, my second thought in private moments was if the Good Lord wills it and I stay healthy I can do it."
Andrews has been a highly-decorated coach for many years. Here are some of the many honors she has received at Granbury (Texas)
*Only the fifth coach to make the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame.
*Member of the Texas High School Basketball Hall of Fame and the Texas Sports Hall of Fame.
*Received the inaugural Morgan Wootten Award For Lifetime Achievement in Coaching High School Basketball.
*Chosen as the 1993 Outstanding American Coach/Teacher of the Year by the Walt Disney Company.
*Named the NHSCA National Coach of the Year in 2007.
*Coached the McDonald's All-American Game in 2004.
*Granbury, which actually is her hometown, has saluted her by naming the basketball court in her honor, putting her name on the city water tower and even placing her face on the cover of the area phone book.
Andrews calls the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame "the utopia. When you're recognized throughout the whole USA, I just thank the Good Lord. It was a very special moment of time."
She said the Walt Disney award "still warms my heart. I was in a group of teachers that were so, so good. I still wonder how I was chosen."
Coaching the McDonald's game "was very special because I got to work with real athletes. It was a very rewarding moment for me. I've never had anything (talent) like that in my career. I had a number of All-Americans say how they'd have loved to have had a coach like me."
In her 49th year as a head coach, Andrews says her philosophy is "to help young ladies to be the best they can be on the court, in the classroom, as a wife and a mother."
Her husband, David Andrews, says the key to her success is that "She loves what she does, loves her kids and they love her back. She chews them out, then puts her arms around them at the end of practice. She is not satisfied with second-best."
Then he added, "What I like about her best – she's a dang good cook (favorite meal includes pinto beans, corn bread, salmon patties and deviled eggs)."
Her remarkable career started with a lot of hard work growing up on a farm in Granbury with her parents, Clyde and Alba Rains, and sister Shirley, who was one year older. As a young girl she had dreams of following in the footsteps of famed country singer Dolly Parton.
"That's a neat story because I could sing all the time," Andrews said. "I thought I was a pretty good singer, but my daddy wanted me from the word go to be a basketball player. He played baseball, but had to quit school in eighth grade. It was a makeup for something he lost. His first love was basketball. I had so much respect for my father. If he told me to jump off a mountain top, I would have jumped."
So, Leta and Shirley both played basketball, leading Granbury to Class 2A state runner-up honors in 1954 and 1955. It was 6-on-6 during their era and Leta still is the only girl to make All-State one year as a guard, then as a forward the next year. Leta can thank Shirley, who somewhat overshadowed her, for her tremendous competitive spirit.
"She was taller (5-8) and I was a peewee (5-5)," Leta related. "She had a physical body anybody would die for. She made me such a strong competitor. We both were strong. Strength is self esteem and neither of us lacked self esteem. I always looked up to her."
Even though they attended different colleges, Leta and David were married after the first semester of their freshman year. Her parents, who both had only an eighth-grade education, gave her the wedding gift of a lifetime – a paid-for college education, including a Master's degree. She and David ended up graduating from Texas Wesleyan.
"My mother and daddy gave me a livelihood," she said proudly.
Leta and David have had a strong partnership for 54 years. He began driving her school bus on road trips in 1962. Whenever he isn't available, she drives the bus. They both love the sight of that yellow school bus. It always spelled out "home" even though they have moved five times during their careers.
After six years of coaching football and basketball, David elected to get a principal's license and become a full-time administrator. That way the family, which includes daughters Linda, Sharon (Sissy) and Lisa, always was able to stay together. All three girls played for their mother.
"I try to help her coach once in a while," he said. "She lets me talk for a while, then says, ‘That's enough.'"
Leta calls her husband "very objective. He is probably my worst critic. I listen to him because he always thinks before he talks."
The rule was that there had to be a job opening for both of them and David's move was easier because he stayed at the junior high and elementary level where more jobs were available.
"He's the one who got the job and I always followed him," Leta stressed. "I was always happy. In the state of Texas you retire to your best three paying years. We moved for money increases."
Those moves took the family from Tolar, where they started in 1962, to Gustine, Comanche, Granbury, Corpus Christi and back to Granbury. She reached the pinnacle at Corpus Christi when her 1989-90 Calallen team posted a 39-1 record and won the Class 4A state title. Along the way, she acquired two legendary mentors – Kentucky's Adolph Rupp and UCLA's John Wooden.
"I studied with Adolph Rupp, but my friendship was with John Wooden," she pointed out. "With John Wooden it was very, very rewarding. I went to a clinic in the early 1960's in Waco and sat at his feet. I struck up a conversation (and found out) our philosophy is so much alike. I wanted to do it just like he did."
They returned to Granbury in 1992 to take care of Leta's aging parents, who both died in 2005. Ironically, that was the same school year that she broke Jim Smiddy's national record for girls victories. Her parents' names had been inscribed on two seats in the Granbury gym and as the celebration started she gazed at those seats with tears in her eyes.
"I knew they were seeing me do what they had wanted me to do," she explained. "It was a very touching thing, because I had such wonderful parents."
That night Rick Mauch, sports editor of the Hood County News, asked her, "Leta, will you still be there when my daughter gets to the high school?"
She laughed and replied, "I may go fishing as soon as I get this win. What else can I do? Sit in the stands and have to buy a ticket? I might just get a wild urge and stick around until your granddaughter gets to the high school."
Mauch noted that Andrews' favorite band is the Eagles and her favorite song is their hit "Take It To The Limit." He believes that nicely sums up who she is on the court.
Though she retired from teaching in 2001, she still has a full-time job as girls athletic director and runs two camps for a total of 220 girls each summer. Leta estimates that she has sent more than 100 players to college basketball programs and close to 25 of her players have gone into coaching at some level.
"What's ironic," David says, "is that kids go through her program, go to college, come back and say, ‘Thank you, Mrs. Andrews. All these kids (their college teammates) complain and they don't work as hard as you worked us.' When they look for jobs, usually if Leta calls, they get the job."
Leta explained, "I hope I have a lot of creditability. I'm going to tell it like it is. I'm going to go all the way to help my girls. I haven't helped some of them. I have to be honest, because, I've got to be able to sleep at night."
Among her best-known protégés are Gia Perkins, a 5-8 guard from Granbury who plays for the Chicago Sky of the WNBA; 6-2 Amy Acuff, a four-time Olympic high jumper who played at Calallen; and 6-4 Kelly Cerny, another Calallen player, who currently is an assistant coach at Fossil Ridge (Keller, Texas).
Perkins calls her former coach "very much of a disciplinarian. She knew her basketball. She was tough and hard-nosed and had a lot of structure. She was well known and gave me a chance to get recruited (by Texas A&M). I think it (her record) is amazing that's she's able to leave her name out there."
Perkins pointed out that at times Andrews also would do "silly stuff. She would come out to practice wearing a wig and a crazy outfit."
Acuff said that Andrews "was really influential and made a big impression on me. She was very strict and expected a lot of us in intensity of what we did. That (intensity) was the key to her success. You end up feeling really loved when someone puts that much into you."
She believes that when her coach chewed out players she "got the adrenaline up – that extra ounce of intensity."
Acuff also saw the lighter side of her coach, which gave her great balance with her players.
"She was a prankster," Acuff said. "One time she was driving on a country road. Everyone was kind of sleepy. The bus was quiet, calm. She slammed on the brakes. Everybody sat up at attention (expecting the worst). She yells out, ‘There was a bug in the road!'
"Obviously she wins a lot, but it (her longevity) is a testament for her love of the sport and making a difference in people's lives. Winning is just a side effect."
Cerny, who was the Texas Gatorade Player of the Year in 1992, drifted into coaching accidentally. She calls Andrews "a very demanding coach. She expected probably more than you realized what you could give. After some games we had to run because of our mistakes even though we won by 30 points.
"She taught us a lot of life lessons, but you don't really realize it until you are older and in teaching. There are so many things I look back on now that I have taken from her. She is the spunkiest person I know and has more energy and life. You get energized when you are around her."
As Leta nears the greatest coaching record in high school basketball, David looks back and laughs, "I had no clue and she didn't either."
The stage is set. The Granbury gymnasium has the countdown going with the numbers 6-5-4-3-2-1 placed where all can see. As each victory is achieved a big red 'X' goes over that number. With a 1-2 start, only No. 6 is X'd out so far. But there is a tournament starting Thursday in which the Pirates have a chance to post four more wins over a three-day period. The end is in sight.
Because she has a young team which is facing a lot of pressure due to the impending record, Leta admits her initial feeling will be that of "great peace" when it finally is surpassed.
"It will be tremendous satisfaction, a very humbling moment. A lot of players and former students are calling and saying they can't believe I'm still coaching. It's wonderful to hear from them. I try to respond to all of them, but the day isn't long enough."
Leta Andrews knows that if her blood ever is closely examined it surely will be purple and gold, which would match Granbury's school colors.
Will she ever retire?
"I'm getting to the point where I never really ask her," David says.
Leta concedes, "That thought has crossed my mind every now and then, but it flees just as quickly. I could do Meals on Wheels or help elderly people – things to give back. I wouldn't expect anything but a hug."
As far as her record is concerned, Robert Hughes agrees, "It's a done deal. It's going to happen sooner or later.
"But," he cautioned, "somewhere in the boondocks there's a young man or young lady who is going to shatter all of our records."