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Shipley's life celebrated; selfless coach remembered by Alison Moon, Vermilion Editor in Chief

Shipley's life celebrated; selfless coach remembered by Alison Moon, Vermilion Editor in Chief

Alison Moon, alisonmoon@gmail.com  Editor in Chief, Vermilion, April 27, 2001

When I first met Beryl Shipley, former head basketball coach, earlier this semester, his reputation already preceded him. Each former player and close friend who I encountered told me stories of his heroism. His name was always said with a smile and normally followed by a slight chuckle. In those small moments of laughter, the storyteller would pause, as if he was mentally returning to those treasured memories.

After arranging an interview through his wife, Dolores, I showed up early one morning prepared for anything. I knew he was battling lung cancer and would probably be hooked up to a machine, but that did not lessen his presence when he walked into the living room. Before I could even utter a word, the roles of interviewer and interviewee changed. He started asking me questions. After being satisfied, he allowed me to start.

Shipley was not an imposing man. His presence did not demand respect, but his record certainly does.

Shipley remains the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s winningest basketball coach with a 296-129 record and a .696 win percentage during his 16-year career (1957-73). In 1966, he was the first coach from a university in the Deep South to recruit black players. The book “Slam Dunked” by Ron Gomez details his success, as well as the controversy surrounding the NCAA’s allegations about the recruiting methods of those black players that ultimately led to his resignation and a two-year “death penalty” for the basketball program.

I’ve only ever had the one interview with Shipley, and I know there are those closer to him who can truly attest to his greatest. But it does not take a genius to recognize greatness. Shipley was a great man, a strong man who lived by a simple code of conduct ruled by strong values, especially forgiveness.

There are those who would want to revisit the controversy surrounding his resignation, but when I met with him, Shipley was more concerned with focusing on the positive. Being a religious man, he said that although the circumstances had not been forgotten, all was forgiven, particularly the people involved. He was at peace, and preferred telling stories about traveling around for weeks at a time in a truck, sleeping on a mattress in the bed and calling home from pay phones, all in the name of recruiting.

Throughout the entirety of the interview, he always made sure to emphasize the accomplishments of his players, how hard they worked based on his demands and how well they got along as a team, particularly proving themselves when the team was integrated. He was humble about his accomplishments and considered himself very blessed.

“That’s the greatest thing you’ve got going is the good Lord, family and friends. That’s one, two, three,” said Shipley.

Shipley passed away Friday, April 15 at the age of 84. His memorial ceremony was April 22 at the First Baptist Church in Lafayette with hundreds in attendance. When I first received news of his death, I was halfway across the nation and would not make it back in time for the memorial service. Even with having only met him once, reading about his “happy memorial” in the next day’s paper seemed appropriate. It was a wonderful life to celebrate.

Out of all the good things that have been said or written about Shipley, my favorite is a passage from Rocke E. Roy, student coach 1965-66, in his 1994 tribute to Shipley, a tribute that encompasses the ideals that shaped the man.  

“Much like the rising tide that lifts all ships, you were and are a force that raises all about you higher than they are normally able. Those fortunate enough to know you well have been positively and eternally motivated to be better, reach higher, give more. Most of us are still a little short but, because of you, we have the goal in sight and we're closing fast.”
Athletic Network Footnotes:

Click here for Shipley Footnotes of the 2011 Men's Basketball Reunion.

Please click here for the Beryl Shipley Memorial Service photo gallery in the Daily Advertiser.

Click here for "An Accidental Hero Beryl Shipley, 1926-2011 by John Ed Bradley, Sports Illustrated, May 2, 2011

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