Granbury girls hoops coach achieves another milestone

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by ANGELA K. BROWN

Associated Press

Posted on December 8, 2010 at 10:14 AM

Updated Wednesday, Dec 8 at 2:33 PM

GRANBURY (AP) — After nearly 50 years of coaching, Leta Andrews still runs up and down the bleachers with her players during practices and carefully reviews video footage after every game, no matter how late it is.

She became the nation's winningest girls high school basketball coach years ago, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations, and on Tuesday night she broke the record held by a boys coach. Her 1,334th win came as the Granbury Lady Pirates beat Midlothian 64-45.

"This is awesome," Andrews, 73, told a standing and cheering crowd as she held a bouquet of roses. Her team and more than a dozen former players stood on the court with her. "I look back on my career, and some people think I'm crazy, but I have the best job of anybody in the world."

During the game, several seniors in the stands whose chests were covered with purple paint and a yellow letter spelling out the coach's name — the last student with an exclamation point — chanted "Leta! Leta! Leta!"

"She's an amazing lady who's dedicated to basketball, and it's also a huge deal because we're a pretty small town," said Jordan Strain, 17, whose chest bore the letter T.

Andrews doesn't like the spotlight, but she's had to get used to it throughout her career teaching and coaching at schools in several Texas cities, including Granbury since 1992. She has led her teams to 16 state final four appearances and one state championship, and she has been inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame and the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame.

She's known as a no-nonsense coach who makes her players say "yes, ma'am" and "no, ma'am" and scolds them if she thinks they're too distracted with boyfriends. Andrews has incorporated military-style workouts into practices and sometimes requires the team run laps and shoot free throws after losing a game.

Yet she's just as quick to give a hug as she is to shout one of her memorable sayings, such as: "I'll be a dog flitter!" or "Katy, bar the door!" And after each game, Andrews is the one who washes the team's uniforms.

"It's the respect that you have for her, so you want to live up to her expectations," said Lilley VanderZee, a 6-foot-3 sophomore.

Catherine Matthews, 17, was planning to play softball in college next year so she almost didn't play basketball this year but changed her mind after Andrews kept winking at her in the hallways.

"I love basketball so much and would have missed it," Matthews said. "She definitely makes you a better athlete all around. And she pulls even more out of you than you thought you had."

Andrews sticks to the basics but says basketball has changed through the years, especially for girls, whose teams went from six members to five members in the 1970s. She also remembers a time when other coaches were less supportive of girls' sports.

"I've worked for people who said, `It's OK if you win, as long as you don't win more games than I do,"' she said, referring to boys' coaches. "It just created an extra enthusiasm for me. I loved playing when I was in school and I had success, so I wanted the ladies to be successful."

Early in her career, Andrews sought advice from college coaches, including Kentucky's Adolph Rupp, North Carolina's Dean Smith and former Texas Tech women's coach Marsha Sharp and former Texas women's coach Jody Conradt.

Andrews said a coach who became "an unbelievable mentor" was John Wooden, who led the UCLA men's team to 10 NCAA championships during his 27 seasons before retiring in 1975. He died in June at age 99.

Barbara Harrington, Granbury's school board president who has kept the team's game statistics for 15 years, said Andrews' dedication to her players, work ethic and kind heart have made her an icon in the town of about 8,000 some 40 miles west of Fort Worth.

Community pride is evident on the Granbury water tower, which proclaims Andrews as the nation's winningest high school coach. When the message was painted a couple of years ago, the city lacked funds to correct it by adding the word "girls" before coach, so officials decided to leave the tower alone in anticipation of her next milestone.

Andrews said the water tower and media attention did not put more pressure on her to break the record or think about how much longer she will coach. Instead, she keeps working her players hard during practices and spending her free time with family — including her husband of 54 years, who drives the bus to away games, and her three daughters who played college basketball and have been teachers and coaches.

"My family has always been supportive of my career," she said. "They understand that serving others is what I'm on the face of this earth to do."

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