Poplar Bluff celebrates Bess' 1,000th win

Friday, February 24, 2006
Three Rivers Community College coach Gene Bess accepts the game ball in an NCAA basketball game with Forest Park from athletic director Mike Moore after reaching his 1,000th career win, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2006, in St. Louis. (The Associated Press)

Three Rivers will rename its court after Bess on Saturday.

ST. LOUIS -- The next time Gene Bess' players step on the floor for Three Rivers Community College, they'll be walking onto a freshly painted court bearing their coach's name.

That's his reward for becoming the first college coach to reach 1,000 wins. The milestone came Wednesday night when his Raiders beat Forest Park Community College 77-60 in St. Louis.

"This has never happened to anyone before, so I get satisfaction knowing that and so do a lot of other people," said the 70-year-old coach, whose career record of 1,000-258 is unmatched at any college level.

Former North Carolina coach Dean Smith's 879 career wins are the most in men's NCAA Division I. Harry Statham at McKendree College in Lebanon, Ill., near St. Louis, is the winningest coach at any four-year college or university, with 912 wins in 40 years of coaching.

Bess, who has coached for 36 years for the Poplar Bluff, Mo., junior college, won national championships in 1979 and 1992. He also has 17 regional titles and 13 trips to the national tournament.

And he's never had a losing season.

In Wednesday's landmark win, Jermaine Dailey and Keith Burton led Three Rivers with 16 points each. The Raiders (21-7) kept at least a 10-point lead throughout the second half.

"This victory sure has been building up," Bess said. "I'll need some time to settle down from the excitement."

On Saturday, Three Rivers celebrates the achievement when the team's court is named in Bess' honor before its regular-season finale.

"To have been on both sides of the ball makes me think of all the players that have been a part of the process," said Brian Okon, who shares assistant coaching duties with Bess' son, Brian. Both played for him.

Two chartered buses from Poplar Bluff made the three-hour trip to St. Louis. The fans included 81-year-old Frank Tinsley, who said he never misses a game.

"You know why I'm here," the retired railroad worker said. "Coach Bess is hard to beat. He's a good man, and he's worked hard to get this far."

Commemorative 1,000th win T-shirts were passed out in the final seconds of the game and a special section of the Poplar Bluff Daily American Republic was published in tribute to him. The shirt chronicled Bess's wins, starting with his first in November 1970.

Burton said it was important that the team understood what was at stake -- especially with the Raiders leading only 28-24 at halftime.

"We knew they wouldn't just lay down and make coach's 1,000th win easy," Burton said.

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