It was an afternoon of thanks, memories, humble remarks and honor for a tremendous athlete, coach and Hall of Famer Nolan Richardson who can now add the honor of having gym named after him.
During a dedication ceremony on Saturday at Bowie High School, members of the Bowie High School Memory Lane Committee unveiled the gym’s name change – to the Nolan Richardson Gym. The El Paso Independent School District Board of Trustees approved the name change in the Spring.
Richardson is the only coach in national history to win a junior college national championship, the NIT title and the NCAA Championship. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2014; and in 2015 was inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame.
But despite all the national recognition, Richardson, 74, said the naming of the gym in his honor was the greatest.
“Today is a very very very important event in my life…you know I started Bowie High School in 1955 and then I started coaching for them for 13 years.” Richardson said, “It’s incredible. I’ve won all kinds of awards in my career but never one so important as this one. Anytime you get a chance to live, and you are able to witness and your grandkids are able to witness it’s a beautiful thing, it’s a beautiful gift. You know a lot of things are done after you are gone.”
Bowie Principal Michael Warmack, said Richardson was a testament and great example of what a Bowie High School student could achieve.
“We are really honored this morning that we get to honor one of our own who has set a wonderful example – of someone who has done great things,” Warmack said. “And it doesn’t come easy. It takes a lot of hard work and it takes a lot of dedication.”
Former El Paso Herald Post Sports Writer Ray Sanchez spoke about the first time he saw Richardson hit a home run while playing for the Little League Baseball in 1950.
“You have to remember the time, segregation was rampant,” Sanchez said. “Discrimination was widespread and I faced some of it myself being Hispanic…but it was nothing like Nolan was about to overcome.”
Sanchez went on to recall that in 1950, Bob Haynsworth came from Georgia, “One of the most segregated states in the Nation” and settled in El Paso, where he decided to start a little league baseball team.
“And Bob Haynsworth decided to open it to all races, even though he had come from the South,” Sanchez said. “And there among all those kids as Nolan Richardson – standing out like a lamp post. I mean he was bigger than most of the kids. He was Black and beautiful and all I could do was smile when I saw that. And then, when he stepped out and hit a home-run over the fence, I thought, ‘I’m going to give him his very first write up in the El Paso Herald Post’ …Oh, if I had only known then what was to become – to see this young man develop into one of the greatest athletes in the history of El Paso; and one of the greatest coaches in the history of our nation.”
Sanchez added that reporting on Richardson and interviewing him for books he’s written about him, has been his greatest pleasure in his life.
“I’ve been lucky that I’m still here to take his photo and I’m still alive to honor him today.”
Susan H. Oliva, executive director of the Children’s Advocacy Center in El Paso, said she knew Richardson because of his work with the center.
During her speech Oliva listed off the many organizations Richardson had given to throughout his time in El Paso and Arkansas and other communities including Candlighters of El Paso, the Child Crisis Center, El Paso Diabetes Association, Operation Noel, the Opportunity Center for the Homeless, the PC Junior Golf Tournament, Reach for the Star Foundation, Rio Grande Cancer Foundation, St. Pius X Food Pantry, the Ronald McDonald House, Special Olympics of Texas, University Breast Care Center, the YWCA, Champion for Kids, The Humane Society of the Ozarks, The Humane Society of El Paso, The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of New Mexico and El Paso, and many many more.
“I know Nolan Richardson as a hero,” Oliva said turning to him. “Yes, you are a hero. You care about our community, you provide assistance to many organizations. Everyone can get a piece of the pie. Coach Richardson may not live in El Paso, but his heart never left El Paso.”
Given Richardson’s long list of accolades and generous donations to charity, members of the Bowie Alumni Community and the Memory Lane Committee, spent months advocating for the name change. The change, they said was meant to reflect the success the students could achieve once they reach their potential.
Richardson said that having the gym named after him was a great honor because Bowie High School was where he got his start.
“It was in 1955 – the first year that schools were desegregated, and I was able to come from Douglas school to Bowie High School,” Richardson said. “So that’s how long I’ve had this love affair with Bowie High School.”
Richardson continued detailing his career at Bowie High School – and how thankful he was to his first coach Dave Rodriguez, whom he found in the crowd and asked him to stand up.
In 1964 Richardson coached 7th, 8th, and 9th grade basketball and for 13 years he coached the team at Bowie.
“I played football, I played baseball and sometimes I ran track,” Richardson said. “But if it wasn’t for the players then at Bowie, then this would not be happening today. I think I was blessed. I was blessed totally. I’m in 13 Hall of Fames – Imean there’s no more left.”
In a humbling moment, Richardson added that the greatest part about Saturday was that his children and his grandchildren got to see the things he’s done before he’s gone.
He then recalled losing his daughter Yvonne, 29 years ago to Leukemia at the age of 15, and added that the reason he gives to so many charities is because he saw so much suffering in the hospital.
“The Lord put me there to see what I had to see,” he said. “I saw what I had to see and all I knew is that I had to help. There had to be something I can do. I get asked a lot why I give to so many charities – and I say it’s because it’s better to give something to someone than nothing to all of them.”
He then added he had recently lost his son Nolan Richardson III, at 47 who had been his assistant coach for the Arkansas Razorbacks.
“One morning he just didn’t wake up like the rest of us,” Richardson said. “You know strength must be gained from above. You can get beat, you can get down, and you will stay down if you don’t try to get up…I’ll never forget Jessie Owens once said while running attack meet he was going for that gold medal. He was going around the curve and was running out of air and all of a sudden he looked up to the sky and said, ‘Lord you pick em up and I’ll put them down.”
That stuck with Richardson and then he raised his voice and it boomed across the gym.
“No one owes you anything. The only thing we know we have to do is die. That is what we know we have to do. You know you won’t be around forever. While we are here, we need to make the best out of it – make the best out of each day.”
He concluded his speech with one of his signature phrases: “If it’s got to be, it’s up to me…not daddy, not mamma, not brother, not sister – it’s up to me to get what I want out of life.”
For additional coverage, click on El Paso ISD’s Video Package.