In the final analysis, the lure of spending more time with his wife of 37 years proved stronger than the enticement of developing another promising group of freshman basketball players who seem destined for big things at the varsity level.
Leroy Bates resigned his position as boys basketball coach at Libbey High School yesterday, ending a superb 16-year run that saw the Cowboys resurrect the consistent court excellence Libbey had not had since the 1960s.
"I love working with the kids and I love seeing them develop," Bates said. "But, at some point, you have to reassess what you want to do with your own life.
"I decided I wanted to spend the time I have left with my wife, JoRay, and really enjoy her company. In 24 years, we've never had a Christmas vacation or a Thanksgiving vacation because I was always coaching. Maybe now we can go do something."
Bates, 59, posted a 252-114 record with the Cowboys, a tenure that closed with a 24-3 finish this season. Libbey's talented, senior-dominated team - which was led by Ohio's 2008 Mr. Basketball, 6-foot-5 Ohio State-bound William Buford - ended its season in heartbreaking fashion with a last-second 70-69 overtime loss to Chillicothe in the Division II state championship game in Columbus on
March 15. Chillicothe scored the winning basket at the buzzer.
That proved to be Bates' final act as a prep basketball coach, although he plans to retain his teaching position at Libbey, as well as his duties as boys cross country coach and assistant track coach.
"The perfect ending would have been for the clock to run those last five seconds off before it did," Bates said of his team's lead with 5.1 seconds remaining. "But it didn't happen, so we just have to accept the way it ended.
"The good thing is we had outstanding memories from the entire season."
Bates, a 1966 graduate of Scott, earned bachelor's, master's and specialist's degrees from the University of Toledo, and has been with Toledo Public Schools for 34 years.
Prior to coaching at Libbey, Bates spent eight years as a assistant at Scott under former Bulldogs coach Ben Williams.
Bates' Libbey teams reached the City League championship game eight times, winning titles in 2000, 2007 and this year. His Cowboys captured three district and two regional crowns. The 1999-2000 team went 20-0 in the regular season, and won the Associated Press Ohio Division I poll championship. That team ended at 25-1 with a loss in the state semifinals.
"It's been on my mind for about three years, off and on," Bates said of retiring from basketball. "But, every year, you see the group of kids that you have coming and you want to see them through by giving them the best you've got.
"This year, most of the players were seniors, so it was just the right time."
Bates admitted the potential of working in the future with the players from Libbey's 19-0 City champion freshman team was interesting.
"If I stuck around," he said, "I would have to see this freshman group through. At this point in time in my teaching career, it just wouldn't be feasible, and I would hate to leave this group in the middle of their development."
Libbey athletic director John Snyder said that, several months ago, Bates had discussed the possibility of resigning at season's end. They kept the idea under wraps.
"He told me he would only renew his contract if he thought he felt he had four more years left in him," Snyder said, "but he just didn't have it in him."
Snyder said he tried his best to talk Bates into staying, and encouraged the coach to take as long as he needed to make up his mind.
"It's a personal loss for me because he mentored me and helped me get started back here," said Snyder, a 1998 Libbey graduate. "There's not enough words anyone can use to emphasize how much work coach Bates has done for these kids, both inside the classroom and away from the court. We're not going to pretend it's going to be easy to fill his shoes."
Snyder said he will meet soon with longtime junior varsity coach Thom West and freshman coach Keith McClure to gauge their future plans. Neither are TPS employees.
"Both athletically and financially, this is the most important job I've had to fill," Snyder said. "Our basketball program financially supports the 13 other varsity sports we have.
"We will be very patient and very understanding in looking at potential candidates for this job."
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