One of the Lone Star State’s great basketball coaches is approaching another milestone.
Robert Loper, the longtime coach at Frankston High School, is one win away from 800 victories.
Loper and the Indians shoot for the landmark victory tonight against the Sabine Cardinals in Liberty City. The varsity start for the District 18-2A game is scheduled for approximately 6:15 p.m.
Loper has the Indians in the hunt for another district championship after Tuesday’s 53-42 win over rival Troup. They are 20-8 overall and tied with Troup for first place in the district at 11-1.
That was win No. 799 in 38 years as a varsity head coach at various schools around East Texas.
“I’ve been very fortunate to have great kids and a great staff over the years,” said Loper, a Jacksonville native.
Loper, who has been in the teaching profession for 47 years, also said family is key. For a coach to get this many wins, there has to be family support and Loper has it with his wife, Betty and three daughters — Christy, Cammy and Amy. He also has four grandchildren — Ryan Phillips (former Edgewood standout who now works for Hibbett Sports in Canton), Rachel Phillips (attends Austin College), Jeremy Skalla (12) and Matthew Skalla (9).
Amy is a speech therapist in the Tyler ISD, while Christy Phillips is a teacher in Edgewood. Cammy Skalla is a former teacher who lives in Minneapolis.
“My family has been very supportive,” said Loper, who has been married to his wife Betty for 40 years. “You have to have that support if you are coaching this long of time.”
Loper grew up in Jacksonville near Lon Morris College. He watched many LMC games. After graduating from Jacksonville High School, he attended LMC and then Stephen F. Austin State University. In Nacogdoches, he decided to become a basketball coach.
He is in his 25th year as head coach at Frankston. He is also the athletic director.
“I just love being around the game and I especially enjoy game nights,” Loper said.
As a youngster, Loper followed the great Lon Morris teams of O.P. Adams and then played at Jacksonville High School, graduating in 1961.
Loper’s career started at Neches (1966-67), followed by stints at Gary (1967-71), New Summerfield (1971-73) and Bullard (1973-80). He was actually an assistant under legend Vernon Harton the first year at Bullard before becoming head coach.
He then decided to return to his hometown of Jacksonville where he became the junior high coordinator and assistant to coaching great John Alexander.
His first group of eighth-graders was eventually part of the 1984 Jacksonville High School state tournament final four team.
Those 799 wins are boys varsity only. The total does not include the girls varsity games he coached while at Neches, Gary and New Summerfield.
Loper has had some great teams over the years, two in particular — the 1977 Bullard Panthers and the 2002 Frankston Indians.
In 1977, the Panthers were close to possibly winning a state title. They lost to Terry Teagle’s Broaddus squad by one point. Teagle, who went on to play at Baylor and have an 11-year NBA career, led Broaddus to back-to-back state championships.
In 2002, Frankston made it to the state title game and lost in the final three seconds to Little River Academy.
“It was disappointing to come so close, but it was an honor to play in the game and it was enjoyable coaching that group,” Loper told the Tyler Morning Telegraph in a 2007 interview.
He coached against his grandson Ryan, who played for Edgewood High School, twice — winning both times (2004 regional quarterfinals contest at a packed Wagstaff Gymnasium in Tyler; and the 2006 Frankston tournament finals).