By Kelly Foss Church News contributor
Former basketball players from across the United States joined their beloved coach Rick Sherley at Alief Hastings High School in Houston, Texas. The north gymnasium was renamed Rick Sherley Gymnasium in his honor.
More than 200 players, school personnel, friends and family gathered at a reception and presentation, marking Sherley’s 25 years as head basketball coach from 1977-2002.
Since 2002 Sherley has served as Executive Director of Texas Association of Basketball Coaches. In 2008 he was inducted into the Texas Sports Basketball Hall of Fame.
The Houston Chronicle reported, “As many said, it was long overdue. Sherley arrived at Hastings from Pasadena, [Texas], in 1977 and spent the next 25 years averaging nearly 26 wins per season. That total equals 647 at Hastings and 702 overall. He led 18 teams to the playoffs and won 11 district titles.”
Sherley’s first contact with Latter-day Saints was playing with a local ward basketball team in 1979. After joining the Church in 1982, Sherley remembered feeling disconnected. Like any new member, he went through a transition period.
“None of my friends were members of the Church. Then I found out that all of my friends were there; I just didn’t know them yet,” he said. Having a friend, being nurtured and given an opportunity to serve dramatically increases the likelihood of being converted to the gospel and committed to the Church.
Sherley was grateful for the mentoring and support of S. Gifford Nielsen, now a General Authority Seventy. “Giff was our home teacher. He was the first person in athletics I could identify with. We would jog together in the mornings when he would get ready for training camp [as a quarterback with the NFL Houston Oilers football team]. I got to see that sports and being a good member of the Church could coexist,” Sherley said. “There were many tough times I would call him and he would talk me through things,” he added.
Elder Nielsen, currently a member of the Pacific Area Presidency, explained, “When Rick came into the Church, I was his leader and we spent one-on-one time together and became great friends. It’s so important to spend time and become friends with new members and teach them how to be faithful in the Church and follow Jesus Christ as their perfect example.”
According to Sherley, as he grew in the Church, he grew as a coach. “I became a better coach because I became more patient,” he said. Sherley remembered calling players in the morning because they had to get to school or they couldn’t play. He called one student every morning for four years to get him up for school. Later, he learned from the home teaching program and began delegating, having the “guys” call each other.
Kyle Smith, the University of San Francisco basketball head coach who was previously the head coach at Columbia, said of his years with Coach Sherley: “These were the most impactful experiences of my life. You don’t know it at the time, but what he gave us was an unbelievable work ethic, a great attitude, he cared about us. A lot of what I do comes right from Coach Sherley. He is a special man as everyone knows who’s been around him.”
Home teaching stands as a pillar of Sherley’s faith. In attendance at the January presentation were those who have been watched over by Sherley, including one family whose three generations have all been taught and nurtured by “Coach.”
In stark contrast to Sherley’s demanding schedule at the TABC and many years of coaching competitive basketball, he and his wife have enjoyed the last 12 years as ordinance workers in the Houston Texas temple.
“Rick and his wife, Carol, have blessed countless lives through their generous hearts and unwavering faith,” Elder Nielsen added.