Whenever he reached another milestone win, Gene Bess always pointed out that it wasn’t his 880th or 1,300th victory, it was a reflection of the hard work a lot of people had done together.
Now that he is retiring as head coach of the Three Rivers College men’s basketball team after 50 seasons, Bess once again gives credit to many people in his life — his wife, his family, coaches, players, a support system at the school that includes the administration and the fans.
Bess has been a coach and educator for over 60 years, won over 1,500 basketball games at the high school and college level and impacted a lot of lives on and off the court. “This school has been the greatest thing imaginable in my life,” Bess told the Daily American Republic this week.
“I will be here for them, but the team and everybody concerned are in good hands.
“I think I’m at the stage where I think everybody knows it’s time.”
Averaging 28 wins a season, Bess became the college coach with the most wins at any level in 2001. He was the first college coach to reach 1,000 wins in 2006 and finished with a record of 1,300-416.
His resume also includes:
• Two national titles in 1979 and 1992.
• Four appearances in the championship game with 31 years between the first (’79) and last (2010).
• Twenty-three region championships and 17 national tournament appearances.
• A member of four halls of fame.
• Won 237 games as a high school coach with his 1969 Oran team placing second at state.
Bess also taught two classes a semester at Three Rivers, had summer camps attended by future NBA players and shared his coaching ideas with a countless number of coaches and players that went on to successful careers themselves.
He represented the United States and the college coaching teams all over the world.
“Raider Rooters” packed gyms and followed the team wherever they played, making the trip to Hutchinson, Kansas during those memorable March runs.
One of our favorite stories around the office is from the 1979 championship season.
Then sports editor, Stan Berry, wrote in his preview that the Raiders would be lucky to break .500 that season. Bess is notorious for downplaying his team’s outlook before the season and this time the writer fell for it.
After the team won the national championship game, the players picked up Berry and were about to throw him into the pool at the Holiday Inn in celebration. Just before the count of three, Bess yelled for them to stop but only half of the team heard it and Berry ended up bouncing off the side of the pool and into the water.
Berry retired from the paper two years ago and the running joke was that Brian Bess might retire from coaching before Gene Bess.
When granddaughter Kiley signed her National Letter of Intent to play basketball at Saint Louis University last fall, Bess said he was looking forward to watching her games.
Knee replacement and a hip injury prior to this season may have slowed him down but Bess only missed five of his 1,716 games.
“Raiders never quit” Bess liked to remind his teams and they rarely did, even trailing by 21 at halftime of the national semifinal during that ’92 championship run.
After more than a half-century in education and as a basketball coach, Bess certainly deserves a long and wonderful retirement as a basketball fan.
Editorial from the Daily American Republic