Don Williams, hands-down the most remarkable coach in Paris’ history, unexpectedly passed away on Wednesday. His death has shaken the community, but he leaves behind a monumental legacy that no one will forget.
Coach Williams came to the Paris R-II School District in the 1958. When he arrived, the light wasn’t very bright for the Coyotes basketball team. The four boys’ basketball coaches before Williams, in a ten-year span, recorded only three winning seasons. The team hadn’t won a tournament for 13 years. In fact, the job was so desolate that a church member of Williams’ told him and his wife, “It’s nice to have you folks in church, but coaches don’t last long in Paris.”
To Williams’ this wasn’t acceptable and he vowed to change the program into one the community could be proud of. His boys’ team concluded their first season with a record of 17-10. The following year the team got even better. The Coyotes won the Shelbina Tournament, beat the Monroe City Panthers three times (whom they hadn’t beat since 1949), and had a final record of 21-8.
The team continued winning for 14 consecutive seasons, a feat never matched by any other Paris High School coach.
Total, he spent 28 seasons with the boys’ basketball team. The boys’ team won over 60% of their games and established a 434-274 record, won 24 tournament championships (with 18 second-place wins), eight conference titles (four second-place, as well), and over 50 trophies. By the time he had retired, his boys’ teams had won 43% of all the games ever won at Paris. Out of the 14 seasons coaching the girls’ basketball team, 11 of the 14 were winning seasons.
Williams also spent his 43-year term with the school district involved in some of its other programs. He served as the high school athletic director, high school and elementary school P.E. teacher, a health and driver’s education teacher, and coach of baseball, track, golf, softball, and football. He was also fundamental in the creation of the 5th and 6th grade basketball and football teams.
Garrett Thomas, current Paris girls’ basketball head coach and baseball assistant coach, remembers the impact Williams had on Thomas as just a child. “Unfortunately, I only had him for P.E. for a couple years in Elementary school. What I do remember was wanting to do nothing more than impress him. I was way more into sports than the typical kindergartner and I loved every second of class with him. He took teaching us the fundamentals and rules of each sport seriously and I remember being so disappointed when I found out he was retiring and wouldn’t be coaching me.”
In 1990, Williams was elected into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame. Located in Springfield, MO, the hall of fame believes that, “All of our inductees have helped mold Missouri sports to what it is today.” Coach Williams is the only coach from Monroe Country to ever be inducted. For good reason too, as he was one of the top coaches in the history of Missouri high school athletics.
He spent 12 more years with the school district until he decided to retire in 2002. That same year he was honored by MIAAA for his service to the school district. Seven years later in 2009, the gymnasium at the high school was named “Don Williams Court” in honor of his successes. More than a hundred of his former players and managers turned out for the ceremony.
According to his obituary, in his spare time he enjoyed playing softball, golf, and watching the St. Louis Cardinals and the Coyotes. He attended the First Baptist Church, was a member of the Paris Lions Club, and a charter member of the 19th Hole Liars Club. In 2010, he was awarded the title of “Lion of the Year.”
Funeral services were held at 2:00 p.m. on Saturday at the First Baptist Church with burial shortly after at Walnut Grove Cemetery. He was 79 years old. He is survived by his wife Shirley, daughter Donna (and husband Craig), son Mitch (and wife Kathy), four grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren. Spending time with his grandchildren and great-grandchildren was his most cherished activity.
“Remarkable man, mentor and friend. He touched so many lives on and off the court throughout his life,” said Cherylene Ramos, Paris business owner and former player of Williams. Coach Williams will be included in the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame’s next newsletter and at their annual Enshrinement in January.
Williams was both a hero and legend in Paris and will live on through the hearts of the community, forever.
UPDATE – 04/18/16, 1:52 P.M.
Kary Booher, media relations for the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, released a statement to The Pariscope in regards to Coach Williams: “The Missouri Sports Hall of Fame joins with the family and friends of Don Williams in mourning the passing of the longtime Paris High School basketball coach. He had a tremendous impact, not only in the sport but on young people’s lives.”