Originally Published: Dec 17, 2009 2:42 PM CDT
Oklahoma Sports Staff Writer
MIDWEST CITY, Oklahoma -- Time has eroded the old gym where Carl Albert basketball once lived.
The bleachers in front of what was once a scorer’s table are cracked, wrought with small canyons and breaks. The analog scoreboard doesn't contain space for a shot clock.
The nameless gym was last regularly used around the turn of the millennium, but its heyday looks even further in the rear view mirror.
Yet there is Carl Albert's girls basketball coach Tim Price pulling out a couple of forgotten chairs, wiping away a coating of dust. His brother Jay, the boys’ basketball coach, sets up tables outside the gym, readying for a temporary revitalization.
It's been laborious but “it hasn’t been too bad,” said Jay Price. “It’s been fun to do it.”
Carl Albert’s modern gymnasium rivals that of some small colleges, but the Titans are excited about the idea of playing in the tiny, decaying gym.
“The players want to try to do it more often,” said Price. “But it may just be this one time because it’s a special occasion.”
Pat Price, the brothers’ father and patriarch of Carl Albert basketball, died November 15 at age 71. Just days after his passing, his two sons started planning a "Titan Tribute" event to honor Pat's life and coaching history. They began calling Pat's former players and confidants and exactly one month after their father's death, the event was set.
Carl Albert’s opponent on that commemorative night would be Western Heights, the team against which the elder Price earned his first and 100th victories.
On that Tuesday night, pictures of Carl Albert's early 1960's-70's teams rest on tables in the hallway next to old uniforms. The black-and-white pictures with players wearing short-bottom shorts contrast with today's look, but the uniforms bear the same "Titans" in bright red and white across the front.
During warm-ups, players wear t-shirts celebrating a “Titan Tribute” to Pat were given out as warm-ups to both current and past players attending the event. Several dozen of Pat’s players were honored on the court before the game.
Pat Price was there for Carl Albert basketball’s first 14 seasons and spent 15 years teaching at the high school. He earned his coaching reputation in this gym.
For one night, Tim and Jay Price revived the magic in the gym, bringing it back to the place they grew up in.
“The players used to sit on the bench over there,” said Tim, gesturing to the other side of the court. The Price family would always sit behind the bench while Pat coached. Not good enough for the five-year-old Tim. “I always wanted to go down to sit on the front row against the wall over there, just so I could be on the same row with the players,” he said.
Road trips were part of the equation too, as were basketball practices for Jay, who is five years older than Tim. But neither brother had the opportunity to play for Price, who resigned when Jay was in seventh grade. “I remember that well,” he said. “[It was] very disappointing because I wanted to play for him.”
Jay and Tim both played basketball through high school and college, both graduating from Carl Albert and getting degrees from Southern Nazarene University.
Coming Back to Carl Albert
“Coming out of high school, I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do,” recalled Tim. “I was trying to find what occupation I could go into that I was really going to enjoy and not dread going to work every day.”
After finishing at Southern Nazarene, Tim discovered his next move. He knew he wanted to stay around the game of basketball.
“A light bulb went off,” he said.
He got his teaching certification and set out to carry on what his father had started so many years ago.
Jay, a computer science major, was holding down an office job, but gradually grew sick of it.
“I think office life for Jay got old very quickly,” Tim said.
Jay always thought he might coach eventually, but the tipping point came after the birth of his first child. He wanted the same tight-knit family atmosphere he’d experienced when his father coached. “I wouldn’t get to spend that much time with my kids,” said Jay if he kept working in that office. “I just missed the game so much.”
With that, Jay followed in his younger brother’s footsteps and got his certification from Central State University, now the University of Central Oklahoma. Such was Jay’s passion to get in the game that he quickly caught his brother’s progress. Both Jay and Tim debuted as head coaches on the same night.
The brothers both knew they wanted to end up at their alma mater and, in 2003, they both applied as boys’ head coach when the position opened.
There were two finalists for the job: Tim and Jay.
“I knew Jay was probably going to get it because his experience was on the boys’ side already and mine was on the girls’,” said Tim. “There weren’t any hard feelings on my part.”
Jay was hired as the boys’ head coach, getting the job without any pull from his father, who was no longer involved with the school.
One year later, a spot opened as head coach of the girls’ team. Tim leapt at the position, but Jay was there with an assist. Jay moved from teaching in the business department – his expertise – to the math department to allow his brother to teach in his field. “Things had to fall into place,” said Jay. “It’s amazing how things work out sometimes.”
That helped strengthen the school's Price connection, which now spans three generations. The youngest generation includes Jay’s son Caleb, a senior guard. Jay and Tim held the Carl Albert coaching reigns, while Pat rarely missed a game.
The elder coach was a disciplinarian as a parent and a coach. Naturally, the brothers Price took on some of those qualities. Defense and fundamentals are top priorities. “He brought us up to play that way and that turns into how you coach as well,” said Jay.
Still, the brothers took on their own identities. Jay is vocal, making sure to raise his volume above the often raucous crowds. Tim stays low to the ground, often crouched, a student of his players’ motions.
And Pat, avoiding the attention, was content to sit and watch.
November 15, 2009
Pat Price resigned from coaching and became a preacher at Draper Lake Baptist in the late 1990s, leaving one love for another. “Outside of coaching there’s been nothing else that he would rather do except for preach,” said Jay.
So, that’s where he was that Sunday morning, concluding a sermon in front of a congregation that included his four children and his grandchildren.
Price underwent surgery to repair a heart valve just one month earlier. So, when Jay and his wife Deena noticed his father faltering after his sermon, Jay ran to the front pew to meet him. Pat complained of lightheadedness. “He just put his head down and slumped over in my arms in the pew right there,” said Jay.
Paramedics were called and he was whisked away in an ambulance around noon. Jay rode in the ambulance, watching as they tried to resuscitate his father. Tim and his mother Alice, Pat’s wife of 49 years, drove behind.
An agonizing wait in the hospital followed. “That little four-hour span almost felt like it was a day by itself with the millions of thoughts that start going through your mind,” said Tim. “In the back of my mind, I was afraid of what we were going to find out.”
The family’s worst fears were realized. Pat Price had passed away.
“That day was just such a fog,” Tim said.
As the next few days unfolded and the Price brothers took a rare few days away from the team to prepare for funeral services, the family struggled to comprehend its tragedy.
“You’re in shock,” said Jay. “You’re trying to wrap your mind around what just happened.”
After their father was laid to rest, support poured from the Carl Albert and Midwest City communities. Pat’s sons knew how influential their father was, but the magnitude of e-mails, phone calls, letters and face-to-face condolences still blew them away.
“It was amazing,” said Tim. “It sure gave me a new perspective of how Dad had touched so many people during his life.”
Days later, Tim and Jay returned to coaching duties with a change in perspective.
“It has definitely knocked me upside the head and made me realize that these kids that we’re coaching and teaching right now, they’re going to remember how you handled them and if you showed them respect and treated them right,” said Tim.
“It gives you a renewed sense of making sure you’re enjoying what you’re doing and not missing out on every day,” Jay said. “I want my players to understand how much I care about them.”
As Pat’s death has affirmed the brothers’ love for coaching, so too has it affirmed their faith.
“I would hate to have to go through an experience like this not feeling like I had a relationship with the Lord,” said Tim. “It has eased a lot of the pain quite a bit.
“We got to be right there to experience it when he passed away, which is something that was very hard for our family at the time, but I honestly think that every member of our family is really going to cherish that moment forever.”
Carrying on a Legacy
If the Titan Tribute needed a poignant capstone, John Martin’s speech provided exactly that. The long-time sportswriter had gave a perfect speech full of nostalgia, personal sentiment and even a bit of humor to help ease the pain felt by many of the attendees.
He had covered the Price family extensively and knew Pat and his wife Alice personally.
At the end of the speech, Martin saluted Carl Albert’s basketball queen, who was celebrated with a standing ovation and prolonged applause by the populace of her husband’s gym.
Like her husband, Alice never wanted to be the center of attention, but her sons wouldn’t allow her to miss this moment of remembrance, this moment of healing.
Overcome with emotion, Price was given flowers by her two sons, those taking on Pat’s mantle.
The pain is still fresh, but this night, allowed the quiet, reserved woman some tears of joy after so much grief.
“All these years, she’s been here in the gym either as the coach’s wife, the player’s grandma or the coach’s mom,” said Jay. “She’s been a lot of things here.”
The night concluded with a split. Tim’s girls – one of the best teams in the state – won 73-24 and Jay’s boys lost 50-47, a close contest in which Caleb scored 11 points.
Those final scores are likely to be the last in the old gym for some time. Outside of the occasional practice or summer event, the hardwood will be left to dormancy. What continues to grow is the Price name as generations pass.
Pat’s sons carry the coaching mantle. His two daughters, Rebekah and Kelly, own and operate Tumble Stars Gymnastics in Midwest City, a gymnastics center for children.
The third generation of Price children now wears the red and white. Jay’s oldest son Jordan is now in college. Caleb is playing his senior season, nailing high-arching long-range shots from the guard spot under his father’s direction. Another son Jared, a freshman, isn’t far behind. Jay’s fifth-grade daughter Charissa has a jump shot beyond her years, fortified by growing up in a basketball family.
Tim and his wife Brandi have one daughter in second grade and are expecting another child.
The same dogged ambition and love for the sport is passed throughout the bloodline.
“Dad was an old school guy,” said Tim. “It was just instilled in us very early. You need to work hard at what you’re doing.
“You’re not going to find a family that’s any tighter than ours.”