Relentless: A historic documentary about a Fort Worth coach

MIKE McGEE | 3/27/2015, 8:04 p.m. | Updated on 4/2/2015, 6:40 p.m.
High school boys basketball coach Robert Hughes, 86, achieved career milestones that might make any coach envious.
Portrait On Right: Top left: Legendary basketball coach Robert Hughes. Smaller Photo On Left: Coach Robert Hughes led his team to win five state championships. The Dallas Examiner screenshots

The Dallas Examiner

High school boys basketball coach Robert Hughes, 86, achieved career milestones that might make any coach envious. He worked with numerous Fort Worth teams for almost 50 seasons professionally, brought home five state championships, and won 1333 games. In comparison, famed college basketball coaches John Wooden had 664 wins in a 29-year career while Bob Knight amassed 902 wins over 36 years, according to ESPN statistics.

Still, Hughes’ accomplishments have been practically forgotten due to time and Friday football fever. Filmmakers Carlton McConnell and Lindell Singleton aim to reinvigorate the coach’s past with their documentary Relentless: The Story of Robert Hughes.

“He coped for 47 years in the Fort Worth School district. [He] started at I. M. Terrell. It was an all-Black school at the time,” co-executive producer McConnell said.

Once that school closed, Hughes moved on to Dunbar High School.

“Between those two schools in the Fort Worth school district – even after retiring in 2005 – he is still the winningest high school basketball coach ever in United States history,” he continued.

McConnell voiced disappointment in the fact that Texans’ football devotion helped blunt the significance of Hughes’ work.

“There’s no question about it,” he confirmed as he considered the recognition Hughes would have received on the East or West Coast where football has less of a cultural stranglehold. “He’d have statues and streets, boulevards named after him, for – not only the wins, but – the impact that’s he’s made positively on thousands of lives of student athletes in the Fort Worth school district. Many of the students didn’t have an opportunity – especially when he first got started during the Jim Crow segregation days – and there was not a lot of opportunity specifically for a young man, and women, of color to receive athletic scholarships to Division 1 schools in Texas or other parts of the country.”

Singleton, the film’s director and producer, also underscored his belief that the significance of Hughes’ record should no longer be ignored when he considers that many of the accomplishments the coach attained came while the state was under the yoke of legal racial separation.

“But he wasn’t valued as an innovator,” the director complained as he thought on the bigoted attitudes shown toward the Terrell and Dunbar teams despite their use of the same tactics taught to Hughes by White national Hall of Famers Red Auerbach, Bob Cousy and Bill Sharman.

“He was branded. The guy that brought, ‘you-know-the-word-I-want-to-use basketball’ to this state,” he uttered with wry humor.


Relentless: A Remarkable Basketball Story

RELENTLESS: The Story of Coach Robert Hughes from Media 13 on Vimeo.

Robert Hughes is a former Fort Worth high school basketball coach. He coached at I.M. Terrell High School (an all-Black high school) during segregation. After segregation ended it was shut down, he began coaching at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, from 1973 to 2005.

“‘We don’t want him,’” Singleton mocked the critics of the day. “‘We don’t want that here.’ The Colored schools – or Black schools – only played other Black schools because there were no Black high schools playing against White high schools. You weren’t going to get I.M. Terrell playing Paschal.

“Many of the Colored schools were separate but they weren’t hardly equal, including issues in terms of equipment, in terms of facilities, in terms of just simple transportation. So amidst all of that, all of those challenges, he turned I. M. Terrell into what was ostensibly a basketball powerhouse.”