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Always giving a rip: legendary Little Rock basketball coach Charles Ripley has molded a long list of success stories.


Charles Ripley doesn't coach as many victories as he once did, when he made Little Rock Parkview a regional and often national powerhouse in the late 1980s to the mid-1990s. These days he's head coach and athletic director at Arkansas Baptist College, which is in the second year of a junior college (two-year) athletic program and has no athletic scholarships to offer students. Nobody expected overnight success with the Buffaloes.

Before Ripley arrived at ABC at the behest of Dr. Fitz Hill, the school's then-newly named president, no one noticed if the private college had an athletic program. (It did--a four-year program that lost to the likes of Philander Smith and UAPB annually).

Forget the wins and losses for a moment and take note of what brings a rare smile to the face of a guy who good-naturedly tells a determined magazine photographer trying to get the right shot with the right expression: "I don't smile."

He does sometimes, especially when he gets to point out that two players off his 10-18 Buffaloes team from this past season earned NCAA Division I college scholarships and got their two-year diplomas from ABC. And, if they follow in the same path as the many young men Ripley mentored and looked after for years as a junior high and high school coach in the Little Rock School District, they'll earn their college degrees and eventually be known as good citizens and successes.

And that, more than the 400-plus wins in his lifetime, is what makes Charles Ripley, a 2006 inductee into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, proud.

He doesn't have to look far to see the positive influence he's had on athletes in Little Rock since the late 1960s, when he began coaching. One of his Parkview players, the multi-sports star Keith Jackson Sr., returned home after his all-star NFL career and started Positive Atmosphere Reaches Kids (P.A.R.K.), a spacious haven for youths to study, mingle and play sports, leading them to college opportunities rather than a life on the streets.

On television this month, one of Ripley's players, Derek Fisher, can be seen helping lead the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA playoffs. Everyone who even partly follows the NBA knows how much the addition of point guard Fisher has meant to a Lakers team that could barely taste success the past four seasons while Fisher left them for a bigger contract in Golden State and then to Utah.

Ripley still stays in weekly contact with Houston Nutt, the second-winningest football coach in Arkansas Razorback history who left the UA in November and was then hired at Ole Miss. Ripley coached Nutt in both football and basketball at Forest Heights Junior High.

But, more than that, Nutt, Jackson and Fisher were just three of hundreds who looked to Ripley as the first coach in the area to regularly open up his gym, at almost anytime and on any day, for nonstop basketball.

The constant refrain one hears from Ripley-coached players and their parents is his way of mentoring, and the love they all felt. Yes, he was tough, and yes, he was stern, they say. But at the end of the day, there was encouragement, love and a sense that someone truly cared about them.

Open Doors

He had no children of his own, he never married and was an only child. Ripley says his life, his hobby, was always being around athletics, and he ended up being a mentor and father figure to many athletes. "They adopted me and I adopted them," he said. "We just all hit it off."

Ripley's reach has extended to players he didn't directly coach but who also matriculated to the Parkview gymnasium that now bears his name--players such as Corliss Williamson from Russellville and Joe Johnson, who played at Little Rock Central. Williamson, after he retired last summer from the NBA, rejoined Ripley this time as a volunteer assistant coach at Arkansas Baptist.

"You didn't have to play at Parkview," said Nutt, who attended high school at Little Rock Central, when Ripley had just been promoted from the junior high ranks to lead the Patriots basketball program in 1974. "Players from Central, Hall, all over, came over to Parkview when he opened the gym."

Jackson, who completed his Patriots career in 1984, remembers basketball players from as far as West Memphis coming to Little Rock and showing up in the Patriot gymnasium. Annette Fisher, Derek's mom, says her house was a stopping off point for many youngsters in the early 1990s, including Corliss Williamson, when the players would be practicing for Amateur Athletic Union basketball at Parkview. "I called it Advanced Basketball, because all the elite players got to play together," Ripley said.

In 1987-88, Parkview was designated a fine arts magnet school by the district. To some of Ripley's coaching rivals, that meant a recruiting edge that made it difficult for them to compete. Ripley acknowledges that the talent level, and hence his coaching record, which was always good, got a boost in the last few seasons when Parkview became a magnet school. They still had to convince the athletes that basketball could commingle with the arts. Parkview won a state title that first year as a magnet with players who were already there, led by Luigi Dyer, who played collegiately at New Orleans, and Reggie Johnson, now an assistant coach with the NBA's Dallas Mavericks.

But, as Keith Jackson points out, "those coaches who complained that Coach Rip was recruiting, none of them were opening their gyms up like he was. He didn't recruit a player, he just showed players love and they all wanted to play for him. He was opening up his gym years before anyone else would do that."

The court success reached its zenith in 1995, Ripley's last season at Parkview, when the Patriots went 35-1 with Quincy Lewis and Adrian Chilliest leading the way. Only Fremont, Calif., got the best of them, in a tournament in Las Vegas. "We finished the season ranked No. 4 in the nation, but the people who followed it said they thought we were the best team overall that year," Ripley said. Three years before that, Fisher and Dion Cross, who would attend Stanford on a scholarship, were part of a club that produced nine Division I scholarship players. Fisher, meanwhile, went to UALR unheralded and hardly recruited. Today he's in his 12th season in the NBA and has three NBA championship rings from his original stint with the Lakers, the team that drafted him.


Fisher's brother, Duane Washington, 10 years older, first had played for Ripley and had a productive basketball career.

"It was an easy transition for us," Annette Fisher recalled. "Coach Rip was, in fact, one of the few in the area that was willing to go that extra mile to provide the venue or place where young people could be off the streets and out of harm's way ... and whenever the gym was open, Derek's father and I knew that Coach Rip was in charge and would make sure everybody toed the line. It was a comfort for us, being working parents."

Lifelong Love

Ripley didn't play sports in high school but stayed close to the games by serving as a manager for Don Nixon's Central High Tigers basketball team. C.W. Keopple, the football coach at Hall High, was a relative and also an old-school mentor. And Ray Peters, who had preceded Keopple at Hall, and Little Rock Catholic's Mike Malham were influential, Ripley says.

He knew at age 10 that he wanted to be a coach, and while attending what was then Little Rock University, Ripley got his first taste of coaching. Ripley worked his way up from youth basketball with Good Counsel and Garland schools to the LRSD as a junior high coach, winning city championships with the first two of Houston Nutt Sr.'s sons at Forest Heights.

When Ripley took over the basketball team in 1974, the Patriots had won only a handful of games the year before and they weren't expected to do much with the small, young team he inherited. But Ripley immediately made the Pats competitive against the city's more powerful Central and Hall programs. They dealt Pine Bluff its only defeat in 1977, and in 1978 Ripley and the Patriots took home their first state title, with future Razorback Keith Peterson leading the way. Other players from that era, such as Wendell Hunt and Eric Bozeman, would go on to make names for themselves with area college programs and later become successes in their chosen fields.

"Our teams worked hard, and it was consistent hard work, Ripley said. The kids knew what to expect, win, lose or draw."

Ripley's only misstep in his coaching career was leaving Parkview to take over the Westark Community College (now UA-Fort Smith) program. Ob-servers back then said that Ripley, being away from his native Little Rock, where he's only lived in two houses in almost 62 years, was like a fish out of water in Fort Smith. He left that program and came home, his return coinciding with Jackson's creation of P.A.R.K. Ripley joined in a volunteer capacity running the gymnasium, which he still does in addition to his duties at Arkansas Baptist.

He says he doesn't regret leaving high school coaching. "I don't look back," he said. But the record is worth reflecting on: 17 20-win seasons, 10 of his last 12 teams making the state final.

On June 12, Ripley turns 62 and will be feted with a roast and toast at UALR's Derek Fisher Court, which in essence Will also serve as a reunion with many of "Rip's boys." UALR inducted Ripley into its Athletic Hall of Fame in 1993. Nutt plans to return, Jackson will be there, and while Fisher likely will be in the playoffs, he's sending along a videotape message of congratulations.

"I'm not sure what I'm going to say, it's hard to think of something to roast him with," Nutt says. He'd hetter come armed; Ripley warns laughing, "They'd better have something to say, because whatever they've got, I've got double."

Also, the event will serve as a fundraiser for Arkansas Baptist's program, and a truckload full of sports memorabilia has already been donated for an auction that night.


Charles Ripley, the longtime Little Rock area basketball coach, will be honored Thursday, June 12, with a Roast and Toast that will serve as a benefit for the Arkansas Baptist College athletic program. Ripley serves as athletic director and head coach at ABC. The event, which will also mark Ripley's 62nd birthday, wilt be held at UALR's Derek Fisher Court in the Jack Stephens Center. Tickets are $75 per person, and the night will include a buffet dinner, raffle, and silent and live auctions, along with video presentations. Keith Jackson, the former NFL Art-Pro tight end and president of P.A.R.K., will serve as master of ceremonies. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. The program begins at 7:30 p.m. For more information, visit

RELATED ARTICLE: What they say about Coach Rip.

Houston Nutt: "The No. 1 thing is, he's given his life and time to young people. His children are those children of the junior highs and high schools, the college kids, now with Arkansas Baptist. He has totally devoted every ounce of energy every minute to those young people. He's been a mentor, a counselor, a friend. He's done so much. For me, I saw him as a great teacher, disciplined, teaching the fundamentals. And it was ball, all the time. We'd play an eighth-grade game that morning, came back and practice varsity that afternoon and not think a thing about it. He was tough on us but knew how to love us, too, and that's a great trait. We knew Coach Ripley cared about each of us."


Keith Jackson: "In my program today, I sort of use what Coach Ripley taught me in creating a relationship with kids. I have this quote that a relationship creates change. He showed you every day that he loved you and there was no talking back because you knew he cared for you as a person. Coach Ripley has been a father to so many different kids, me included. A lot of us talk about that. He was sometimes the only older male figure in our lives, and it's so important having a shoulder to lean on when you need it. He was always going to be there. He's had kids he's spoiled for generations and been a father figure ... that and he knows where every good restaurants are in Arkansas and can take you to them."


--By Jim Harris
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Author:Harris, Jim
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Jun 2, 2008
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