Assembling a book that features way more than its fair share of basketball statistics does not sound like a titillating time for the creators of the book, but don’t tell that to Ron Brown, Jared Stewart or Chris Thomas.
Former Centralia High School boys basketball coach Brown, who pulled off the nearly unheard of feat of coaching 56 years at one school, collaborated with Stewart and Thomas, two former players, to create a book chronicling that time called “History of Centralia Basketball — Ron Brown Era,” which has finally been printed and is available for purchase now (https://www.talltigers.com/).
The book was a long time coming and all involved couldn’t be happier. It features a pair of stories penned by Brown, a Hall of Fame coach, some history of all Centralia basketball, a detailed dive into each of his 56 teams, and more statistics than one could imagine that combine to tell a story of how one man managed to spend his entire career in one spot.
“Jared was such a big part of this book getting done,” said Brown. “He suggested it after seeing all my records and stat books. It took some pushing and prompting but I finally came around and said ‘Let’s do it,’ which really meant him doing most of it.
“I supplied the material and a few other things and he grabbed it and ran … and he kept pushing.”
After seeing the final product back from the printer this week, Brown couldn’t be more pleased.
“I didn’t think it would be as nice and readable as it is,” Brown said. “I think people involved in basketball will enjoy it. I’ve already had a few comments back from people who’ve seen it and they said it brought back a lot of great memories.
“It does trigger a lot of things,” he went on. “And they’re all good things.”
Brown said he spoke to former Weber State coach Denny Huston recently about the book and Huston was stunned by one fact.
“He said ‘Ron, no one keeps stats that long. No one keeps them all.’ But I told him if you stay in one spot that long it’s not that hard,” Brown said.
Both Stewart and Thomas admitted the work was extensive but both called it a “labor of love.”
“I love the finished product,” said Stewart, a 1991 Tiger graduate. “The best parts for me are the stories Coach wrote. You could see when we went over them with him how emotional it was for him.”
Brown worked on his “farewell to players” portion over the course of several days. Stewart said it wasn’t until Brown’s son, Tim, came over and they went over it together that the project, and his career, hit home.
“I think at that point that all of his years coaching and all his relationships with players finally hit him hard,” Stewart said. “It was really neat to see what it all meant to him.”
“That also meant the most to me,” said Thomas, a former Chronicle sportswriter. “Getting to help present this and help write the forward was an utmost honor for me.”
The book features photos and stats on all his teams and will surely serve as a conversation starter to all Tiger players.
“The best part of putting this book together was visiting with a lot of former players,” Thomas said. “The stats are all awesome but what that did was just stir up a ton of stories. That’s what it’s all about.”
Trevor Westlund, a 1988 graduate who was also an all-Black Hills League player two years and league MVP for one, helped with editing the book.
“This is a one of a kind book,” he said. “I don’t know of any other situation where a coach has been at one place for 56 years and who also kept detailed stats all that time and then could find them all when he retired.”
“And that’s not even all his stats,” Westlund said. “He’s got stats I know of from when I played Saturday morning basketball from when I was in fifth grade.”
Westlund said the book can be used as an encyclopedia of a special time in Tiger history.
“Even for non-Centralia people,” he said. “If you want to know more about larger-than-life people like Jay Roberts or Detlef Schrempf and how they played in high school, you can compare your stats to theirs. It’s a lot of fun to compare.”
Westlund also hosted a golf tournament at the course he co-owns — Newaukum Valley — to help raise funds for the printing of the book. Such a good time was had by all that the plan is to make it an annual event and reunion of sorts.
“It’s like a reunion of all the people you want to see,” Stewart said. “I know it was really cool for me. You hear of these players from different eras and always wonder what they’re like and it’s fun to be able to meet and talk with them.”
In Brown’s time at the Tiger helm, he compiled a 723-541 record, capped by two state titles in 1979 and 1981.
The ’79 title team was special because it was the first and featured the likes of Bob Peters, Paul Coty, Bob Wollan and Greg LeDuc to name a few. All eight of the seniors on that team showed up to the golf tournament and when it came time to take a special photo of the seniors and Coach Brown, LeDuc surprised the group by pulling out the actual net that had been cut down from the title game and wore it around his neck for the photo.
“That was awesome,” Thomas said. “I can’t believe he had that net for the past 43 years. He had it hidden in his coat while we waited for (longtime assistant coach Tim) Gilmore to come in for the photo and then he said something like ‘wait, this picture wouldn’t be complete without this,’ and then he pulled the net out. And the guys went crazy.”
Thomas even remembered going to church as a young boy the Sunday after the ’79 title game and LeDuc was sitting in front of him in his letter jacket with the net around his neck.
“That was so cool,” he said.
Thomas said the book helps rekindle memories like that and many more.
“That tournament was great,” said Brown, who attended and had a ball. “It really was cool. There was a lot of hugging and laughter, and memories shared.”
Now that the coaching is done, the book is concluded and life slows down, how does the old coach want to be remembered?
“I never thought of that,” Brown said slowly. “Mainly just as a good coach who worked hard. I always tried to be fair and I thought I was consistent in what I did. And I always hoped I set a good example for the players and students.”