ATHENS — Leon “Red” Spencer, one of the most successful basketball coaches in the nation, returns to the court on Saturday.
Although Spencer coached his last game in 2006, it will be a special occasion as the longtime Trinity Valley Community College coach will have the Cardinal Gym court dedicated to him.
“The naming of the basketball court in Cardinal Gym pays tribute to the long and successful career of coach Leon Spencer and the influence he has had on Cardinal Athletics, Henderson County Junior College/Trinity Valley Community College and our community,” Dr. Glendon Forgey, TVCC president, said. “Coach Spencer continues his support for Trinity Valley and the community and the honor to name the court in Cardinal Gym after coach Spencer could not have been more appropriate for this great coaching legend.”
Spencer, known for not only his coaching skills but also his wit and humor, will address the crowd on Saturday.
“Actually, I’m a bit nervous because they are going to let me talk a bit,” Spencer said. “I was not one to speak in front of a big crowd. … I gave my best talks in the locker room.”
Spencer said he was overwhelmed by the honor. He added there will be a flood of thoughts of good times at Cardinal Gym when the ceremony begins.
“There are a lot of great memories that came from this setting — too many to pick a favorite,” he said. “I guess on Saturday, I will reflect on some special moments.”
TVCC plays host to Tyler Junior College on Saturday. The women’s game begins at 4 p.m. and the ceremony will take place at halftime of the Lady Cardinals-Apache Ladies game (approximately 4:45 p.m.). The men’s teams are scheduled to play at 6 p.m.
Brad Smiley (TVCC athletic director and head football coach) will serve as emcee. Dr. Forgey will make the presentation to coach Spencer and the court dedication will take place.
The first 300 fans in attendance will receive commemorative Leon Spencer Court Dedication buttons, which feature a photo of the coach and his signature.
Spencer served as men’s basketball coach and athletic director for more than 40 years before retiring as the winningest coach in Texas junior college basketball (809 wins, 492 losses). He ranks No. 7 in JUCO all-time.
Spencer came to TVCC — then known as Henderson County Junior College — in 1957 on a basketball scholarship. He went on to play football for East Texas State University (now Texas A&M-Commerce), where he was named the team’s MVP as a senior.
He returned to HCJC in 1964 as the head men’s basketball coach and assistant football coach.
Spencer, who was inducted into the inaugural Cardinal Hall of Fame in 2008, said there were many highlights in his career, but the 1981-82 season stands out the most. That year, fellow Cardinal Hall of Fame inductee Stan Cloudy was on Spencer’s team and the Cards took third place at the national tournament, coming closer to a national title than any other team in Cardinals basketball history.
Other highlights in his career include the 1995 and 1999 seasons, when Spencer and the Cardinals again made national tournament appearances.
Named to the National Junior College Athletic Association Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame in 1996, Spencer coached the Cardinals to 13 conference championships, winning more than 65 percent of his conference games. He led the Cards to four zone titles.
He coached internationally in such prestigious events as the National Sports Festival, USA International Cup Team and the World University Games in Mexico, where Spencer’s team won a gold medal. In 1997, Spencer coached an American team to the International Friendship Cup Tournament Championship held in Holland.
A native of Gilmer, Spencer graduated from Harmony High School before entering Henderson County Junior College in 1957.
In 1964, Spencer returned to HCJC as head men’s basketball coach, and the following year became athletic director and Chairman of the Kinesiology Department, in addition to serving as assistant football coach until 1970.
Today, coach Spencer still lives in Athens and regularly attends Cardinal basketball games.