When we met with Canadian High School’s girls basketball coach Kevin Richardson last week, to discuss his decision to accept a similar position at Wall High School, the first question we asked was, “So how does it feel, going over to the enemy?”
It was a light-hearted poke at the fact that the Wall Lady Hawks have figured prominently more than once in the Lady Wildcats’ playoff fate—both good and bad.
Canadian had to get through Wall in their 2017 bid to get to the state—and did, upsetting the defending state champions in the regional finals to advance, and ultimately writing a new page in the CHS history books.
There’s a little bit of irony in that—as there is in the fact that Wall returned the favor this year. The No. 1-ranked Lady Hawks knocked Canadian out in the second round of the playoffs, claiming the Area championship and an eventual trip to the state championships.
Richardson was neither offended or surprised by the question. “It’s all really ironic,” he said, “because when I first came here, I had been in Abernathy, and we’d gotten beat the year before by Canadian.”
“So it’s a pattern,” he said, laughing.
Richardson reflected on his history here in Canadian last week, in an interview with Record editor/publisher Laurie Ezzell Brown.
“Everybody says it goes faster and faster as you get older,” he said, “and that’s not a lie. I look back at the last 18 years, and it’s gone fast. Seems like only a couple of years ago that I got the job.”
It may have seemed fast because Richardson was so busy chalking up milestones. “I came here with only 30 wins,” he said. “So my 100th, 200th, 300th, 400th…I had ‘em all here.”
He also celebrated No. 500 in 2018, when the No. 1 Lady Cats pummeled rival Childress into submission with a 57-17 win, advancing steadily closer to their second undefeated district championship.
His only regret? That he fell just two games short of winning his 500th game at Canadian High. “That was really a pull for me to stay here,” Richardson said. “You wish you won two other games just to have that mark.”
It is rare that any coach remains in one place long enough to compile a record like Richardson’s. Canadian’s coaching staff has been remarkably turnover-free, and we asked why he thought that was.
Richardson credited the cohesiveness of the coaching staff, and the commitment of athletic directors Kyle Lynch and Chris Koetting to Canadian’s program. “Coach Lynch was A-D for 12-14 years,” he said. “Chris has been here for 13-14 years. When you have that stability…you just don’t have a lot of turnover with coaches.”
He also pointed to the community’s support of athletics, which he believes contributes to the program’s success. “They want to be good, so that translates to their children wanting to be good,” he said. “You can’t go very many places, especially in small schools, that have the success ours has had over the last 20 years, and that has made a difference in coaches, teachers and administrators sticking around.”
Richardson followed Dale Morris as head of the the girls’ basketball program. He credited Morris with having turned the program around, and advanced his team to regionals.
“I think we built on it,” he said. “We came in with an attitude of, ‘We’re going to win state.’ We didn’t know it was going to take 16 years to do that.”
Having several classes of talented and hardworking athletes didn’t hurt, either.
“We’ve had a tremendous run of kids. When we first went to state in 2005, our seniors were excellent players,” he said, “…and they were backed up by the class right behind them. [Several of] their parents had been great players here, and I think they wanted to live up to it.”
That determination, he said, fed right into his mantra: “We’re going to win state, and we’re going to do whatever it takes to get us going.”
“It solidified us…our philosophy of who we were going to be,” Richardson said. “It established our identities—not only as coaches, but as a program. We were going to play pressure, man-to-man defense and take good shots on offense.”
“That has been our signature,” he said. “Without a doubt, that style has led to being an entertaining, fun game to watch.”
It also led to that championship year. What made that happen when it did happen, we wondered?
“I’ll be honest with you,” Richardson said. “It started when they were in junior high.”
“We always talk about it with our kids…especially our junior high girls. We don’t just want to win now. We want to win very year. Your end goal is to win a state championship.”
Those junior high girls were especially talented, he said, “but they were special because they were willing to do whatever it took.”
Richardson also credits his wife, Darcie—who was then the junior high girls basketball coach—with their success. “They loved her, and she worked them hard. But she had been there—as a player and a coach—and knew what it took.”
“It’s no coincidence that our best five years—that last five years—all corresponded with her being in junior high,” he said. “That was her first group. Those girls that were seniors and the ones following them, they fell in love with that work that it takes to win a state championship.”
Richardson also said it was those players’ mental toughness and willingness to work together that stood out. “They weren’t going to let each other lose,” he said. “Obviously, we had a great player in Haevyn Risley, but when you have a great player, you have to have those other girls who are willing to let her step up, and to do whatever they have to do to support the team.”
“That group will always be special,” he concluded, “not only because they won, but their willingness to work together and to figure out how to do it as a team…we’ve never had a team like that.”
Asked what it takes to be a coach, Richardson’s answer is surprising. It’s not the coaching end of it that matters most, he said—the part most people see on Tuesday and Friday nights.
“It’s the other five days a week. It’s how you build relationships. It’s how you treat kids and how they respect you. Whether it’s walking down the hallway and saying, ‘Hey, did you get that research paper done?’ or ‘Hey, how did the One Act Play do last night?’ That’s the stuff that matters to players.”
Asked to say a few parting words, Richardson echoed the message he writes in notes to his players’ parents at the end of each year. “We spend a lot of time with their kids, and they give them to us. Their trust in us through the years has been remarkable.”
“It’s been an unbelievable ride…from where it was, we reached the mountaintop.”
PHOTO OF RICHARDSON BY PEYTON AUFILL | THE CANADIAN RECORD