Sherri Coale’s OU basketball career success has roots in her hometown

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Sherri Coale just wanted to be like Mary Patton.

Be a teacher like her. Be a coach like her.

Patton was his fifth-grade teacher and his first basketball coach, and as a kid growing up in a small oil town in southern Oklahoma, Coale thought there would be nothing better than following the footsteps of Mrs. Patton.

Coale did – and more.

“From Healdton to the Hall of Fame,” said OU athletic director Joe Castiglione.

On Wednesday morning, Coale announced her retirement after 25 years as an OU women’s basketball coach. She took the Sooners to unprecedented heights, elevating a program that was briefly scrapped in the Final Four only a dozen years later. She built a program that became second only to OU football in the hearts of Sooner fans for many years.

On a day of reflection and celebration, it was impossible to ignore how things have changed over the past few years, first on the field with teams that failed to make the NCAA Tournament and crowds shrink, then off the field when allegations of racial insensitivity last surfaced. summer.

But step back and look at the bigger picture, and it becomes nearly impossible to overstate Coale’s impact. On women’s basketball OU. On OR athletics. And even about women’s sports in our state.

Following: Sherri Coale’s career as OU women’s basketball coach in numbers

Following: Oklahoma women’s basketball coach Sherri Coale retires after 25 seasons with Sooners

Coale was not just a teacher and coach.

She was an icon.

“Being the head coach at the University of Oklahoma has been the privilege of my life,” she said. “In April 1996, I took this job — my dream job as an Oklahoman native — and thought I was dead and gone straight to heaven.”

But there was a time when his dream was a little smaller.

Growing up in Healdton, a place few Oklahomans likely knew even before Coale, she was introduced to basketball in fifth grade. Some older girls asked her if she wanted to accompany them to a basketball camp near Plainview.

“Dribbling seemed pretty easy to me,” she said with a laugh. “It just worked.”

She had never acted before, but was immediately hooked.

Soon she had a basketball goal in her driveway and a Voit basketball that turned her hands black when she played outside with it.

Mrs. Patton was the fifth-grade basketball coach, and Coale recalls the day she went to Mrs. Patton’s class to get a uniform. Coale had never had a basketball uniform before, and she looked around in awe at all the ones laid out in Mrs. Patton’s room.

“What number do you want?” Mrs. Patton asked.

“I don’t care,” Coale said.

She hadn’t thought about it and didn’t even know it was important.

“Well,” said Mrs. Patton, “you’re going to be a guard. You need a few. It’ll be better.”

It was one of the many lessons Mrs. Patton was teaching Coale. Working hard and being proud of yourself was important. So was competing and being good teammates.

These lessons continued for many years because Ms. Patton rose through the coaching ranks at Healdton and ended up being Coale’s high school coach.

She also became Coale’s ideal.

“She was everything to me,” Coale said. “I remember thinking, ‘When I grow up, I want to be like her.'”

In many ways, those early lessons, those Healdton roots were what made Coale. She spoke on Wednesday about her family, friends, assistants and of course, her players. So many people were so important to what Coale was able to do at OU.

Remember, she was hired to coach the Norman High School Sooners. Even though she was very successful in her six seasons with Tigers, many people laughed at the OU taking someone straight from preparations to a Power 5.

Then again, the Sooners didn’t have much power when Coale arrived.

She is to college women’s basketball what Bill Snyder was to college football. She took a laughingstock, bass bass after the university shut down the program for a week in 1990, and turned it into a powerhouse. Inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2016, she accomplished what many thought was impossible. Scandalous even.

She made women’s basketball OU a force.

She was able to do so for many reasons – recruiting, game planning, connection, encouragement – ​​but those closest to the program have long said it was Coale’s passion for people that fueled the fire. She never quite stopped being that high school English teacher with a comfy couch in her office, a bunch of inspirational quotes on her walls, and an open door for everyone.

“She put people in a position to do things at first that they weren’t even sure they could do themselves,” Castiglione said, “but she found a way to instill confidence in them.”

Coale traces his people skills back to Healdton.

It was where she went with her family to visit people in the nursing home on Sundays and helped make cookies or casseroles for the sick. This is where she sang at funerals and went to church even when it snowed.

“When we couldn’t drive,” she said, “we walked.”

It diversified from those early days.

“But Healdton gave me the roots to do everything,” she said.

It was there that she first dreamed of her career goals – to be a teacher, to be a coach, to be like Mrs. Patton – but now, at the end of her coaching career, we can see that those ideals are not never really changed. She was still striving to become what she grew up in Healdton.

Only the stage size has changed.

Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or [email protected] Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok, and support her work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.

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