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Published: 7/31/2005

Basketball legend remains active

In Their Words is a weekly feature appearing Sundays in The Blade's sports section. Blade sports writer Donald Emmons talked with former Scott High School basketball coach Ben E. Williams, who patrolled the sidelines from 1974-1998 and retired as the winningest coach in the City League with a 429-120 record.

Ben E. Williams, 69, hasn't quite figured out how to navigate retirement entirely without continuing to remain active within Toledo's inner-city community.

He volunteers his time with a number of local organizations geared toward assisting younger people, including a foundation in his name that annually offers an academic scholarship to a college-bound student. The Scott gym was renamed in his honor.

Williams, who prided himself as a disciplinarian, left with a .781 winning percentage that included Scott's Division I state championship in 1990, 11 City League championships in 15 title-game appearances and nine district championships.

He became the first black coach inducted into the Ohio High School Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2000.

Williams, who has been out of coaching for seven years, still exercises his career expertise whenever possible by sharing his knowledge with other coaches, particularly younger ones in the community.

Otherwise, he enjoys spending time with his wife, Aerielle, and son Robert, 43, who lives in Columbus, and daughters Kirstie, 37, and Leah, 30, who both reside in Toledo.

"COACHING is one of the most worthwhile and challenging endeavors to ever get into. It's one of the most rewarding things I've ever been involved in or could get involved in. I wouldn't trade it for anything."

"THE YEAR we won the state championship was a very trying year because that was the year my mother was dying with cancer. It was a trying year also because one of my seniors, Calvin White, his father also died that year. That particular year was also one of the most competitive years in the state. Locally, St. John's had a great team with John Amaechi. Winning a state championship was big because of all the great teams we had, we had kept coming up short. It was about the only hurdle we hadn't gotten over. As a central city school we finally crushed the stereotype. That finally completed the circle."

"STUDENT-ATHLETES, I think they are different today because they don't have the high quality adult leadership they used to have in schools. I think the [lack of] discipline is much worse and the attitudes of the kids are not quite there like it used to be. As a result, I think the dropout rate has gone up. I think if you take the time to work with young people, you'll see a lot of appreciation for your help."

"SCHOOL FUNDING TROUBLES, you could see that coming for a while, especially with the economy the way it is. As the economy tends to get worse it usually affects the central city schools the worst. It hits the hardest at the central city schools because the expectation levels for success are lower for those schools. The money is always going to be there. What's throwing it all out of whack are the politics. We're at a crossroads and I think people are tired of all the politics involved in the process in every area of town."

"YOU CAN'T separate athletics and other extracurricular activities from academics. When you cut athletic activities down in the schools to the bare minimum it hurts the academics. Eventually the kids will start to leave the schools like they have at TPS [Toledo Public Schools]. If you offer a more diverse variety of athletic programs in the central city elementary schools starting with second, third, and fourth-graders like soccer, swimming, and tennis, they'll try it because at that age they'll try anything. Then they'll continue it in junior high. If you just offer it in high school then that won't work."

"CHANGES IN THE GAME of basketball have not been for the best. There's too much free play and flexibility allowed for kids to freelance around too much. If you try and teach kids too much fundamentals today it's looked upon as too much discipline. I think the new [NBA age limit] rule will help a little bit. I think if you can get them (student athletes) there in college for a year some of them will probably stay in college even a little long-

er than a year. I think it's going to make for more well-rounded young people. I like the rule. I actually thought it should have been age 20 and not 19."

"TOO MUCH [media] attention is not bad for your kids as long as they have high quality coaches and teachers around them because our kids actually need attention. But the [media attention] can't be there when the guidance is out of whack. It's not the kids' fault. You can't blame it on the news media."

"SOMETHING people probably don't know about me - I could go in the yard seven days a week and work with the flowers."

Contact Donald Emmons at: demmons@theblade.com or 419-724-6302.



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