Our community lost a legend recently with the passing of longtime Clinton High School basketball coach Don Lockard.
I met Don in 1981, but did not get to know him until the early 2000s after he retired from coaching due to health issues. It was always fun to sit with him at Clinton basketball games, listening about his love for the game over almost 74 years. While Don endured physical challenges, his mind was solid.
Don knew everything about basketball on all levels of the game from coaching to strategy to teams and coaches all over the country.
As I once lived in the Philadelphia area and grew up following college basketball’s Big 5 in that city – including current defending national champion Villanova – Don could talk about those teams and their legendary coaches as he could relate information about basketball from anywhere in the nation.
I was impressed.
Don taught his son Chris well and the latter has built upon his father’s philosophy over the almost 20 years he has coached the Dragons. Don and Chris are one of the winningest father-son coaching combinations – if not at the top – in Tennessee high school basketball.
Chris has told me on many occasions over almost 20 years when Don mapped strategy for an upcoming important game resulting in a crucial Clinton win.
Averaging more than 20 wins a season as Don did during an almost 30-year coaching career with the Dragons shows basketball has perhaps not changed that much over the years as we might otherwise think.
As a coach, Don believed in always challenging his players to seek continuous improvement.
He liked to schedule games early in the season against teams more talented than the Dragons.
This included playing strong non-district schools not only in the immediate area, but in other locations such as Wayne County, Ky., or a tournament in St. Louis against some nationally ranked high school teams.
Those games could be hard on the Dragons.
“When you play teams stronger than you around Christmastime, you are better and stronger after the new year starts and it makes you a better team in getting ready for the tournaments beginning in February,” Don said one night years ago as the Dragons were hosting a talented Wayne County, Ky., team coming off recent appearances in the Kentucky state tournament and coached by former Tennessee Vol Rodney Woods.
Chris echoes his father’s philosophy, which is similar to what President Kennedy said in the early 1960s after launching the U.S. space program about, “We choose to go to the Moon not because it is easy, but because it is hard.”
Don worked hard in taking on challenges during these past 20 years. In spite of being in a wheelchair, he did not feel sorry for himself and participated in physical therapy sessions several times a week, becoming stronger in spite of physical limitations.
Everyone who knew and watched him learned a valuable lesson.
Rest in peace Coach Don Lockard. We can become stronger by following your example.