ATHENS — A true Texas basketball legend was honored Saturday.
Trinity Valley Community College honored their longtime coach by dedicating Leon Spencer Court at Cardinal Gym.
Twice, Spencer received standing ovations from the near capacity crowd.
“I gave my best speeches back there in the locker room,” Spencer said as the crowd roared with laughter. “When I do have to speak like this I don’t say much.”
But his presence was more than enough for the appreciative fans.
Spencer, who coached at Henderson County Junior College/Trinity Valley for 42 years, was escorted to the floor by Mary Ensign through a welcome line formed by the Cardettes.
TVCC football coach and athletic director Brad Smiley served as emcee, introducing Spencer as “a great friend, coach and comedian.”
Dr. Glendon Forgey, TVCC president, said “Coach Spencer has done so much for the college, the sports programs and community.”
Spencer thanked Mary Nicholson (TVCC Vice President of Institutional Advancement) and Benny Rogers (TVCC Sports Information Director) “for their many hours of work for this day.”
He also thanked many in the stands and several ex-players that were in attendance.
“This is not a dream come true because I never dreamed this,” Spencer said. “I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
Then court was unveiled by coach Spencer’s representatives — daughters Shelly Jones and Shannon Johnson and former assistant coaches Guy Furr and Danny Hughes — and by TVCC representatives — trustees Ray Raymond, Paula Kimball and Ken McGee, Dr. Forgey and current Cardinal coach Kris Baumann.
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.