JEFF WALLACE’S COLUMN: A man named Lefty and an indelible moment

  • Posted: Friday, April 26, 2013 4:26 p.m.
MCT file photo
Maryland coaching legend Lefty Driesell walks onto the court to honor current coach Gary Williams’ 500th victory before the Terrapins’ game against the Duke Blue Devils at the Comcast Center in February 2006.
MCT file photo Maryland coaching legend Lefty Driesell walks onto the court to honor current coach Gary Williams’ 500th victory before the Terrapins’ game against the Duke Blue Devils at the Comcast Center in February 2006.

Sometimes it is the little things that leave lasting impressions.

Take basketball coach Lefty Driesell for example.

Lefty is best known to most sports fans as the fiery college basketball coach who served at Davidson, Maryland, James Madison and Georgia State in a 41-year career.

He was a feisty competitor, a great recruiter and a solid coach who matched wits with some of the great coaches in college basketball history. While his teams never won a national championship, he was able to guide all four of them to conference championships and made several runs deep into March Madness.

The moment of impression for me, however, came on Jan. 11, 1970.

Most of us probably do not remember where we were on that date, but it was a Sunday that left a college senior impressed with a man who had been cheered against the previous evening.

Lefty was in his first season at Maryland and had brought the Terrapins to Columbia for a Saturday night match-up with a powerful South Carolina team coached by Frank McGuire. The game was held before the typical sell-out crowd at Carolina Coliseum, and we all relished the idea of beating a conference team led by the outspoken Driesell.

Carolina won the game 55-44, a much closer outcome than most of us had expected. After all, the Gamecocks had gone to College Park, Md., less than a month before and returned with a 101-68 victory. Playing at home, we felt that the win would be an easy one. The 11-point margin was not what we were hoping for.

Fast forward to the next morning. I had been in the habit of attending Greene Street United Methodist Church in Columbia during my time at Carolina. It was a tiny church at the corner of Greene and Assembly streets in Columbia and looked down at Carolina Coliseum on the other side of Assembly.

Greene Street United Methodist had been at the center of a controversy with the University which wanted to purchase the entire block to build its new law school. The church and its members held out and, with other community supporters, managed to avoid the wrecking ball. The law school was built, but the lone survivor on the block was the church.

The pastor at Greene Street was the Rev. Murray Yarborough, a man whom I had become close with and who a couple of years later would officiate at my wedding. On that particular Sunday I arose in time to don my Sunday suit and stroll the two blocks from my dormitory to the church.

I sat on the right side of the sanctuary, and as the music was playing the final notes leading up to the beginning of the service, a group of men filed in and sat on the opposite side. It was Lefty Driesell and the members of the Maryland basketball team.

The team had played the previous night and was preparing to leave Columbia for Clemson and a Monday night game. Lefty and the Terps were in the middle of a 12-13 season, and the players he was coaching were the recruits of the previous Maryland coach. Yet, Lefty Driesell felt strong enough to bring his players to church in a city on the road.

Perhaps it was only coincidental that Maryland won the following night and the three games afterward.

That moment has stuck with me all these years. Whenever I would see Lefty’s antics as a coach, whether yelling at a referee or urging on his players, I thought back to that moment on a Sunday in 1970 when he demonstrated that actions do indeed speak louder than words.

And what actions have we made in life that have had an impact on others? What have we said or done to make others have a lasting impression about us? And if there are those moments, were the impressions good or bad?

Jeff Wallace is the retired editor of the Aiken Standard.

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