By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (December 12. 2017) – It took four good seasons at Lamesa to prepare Alan Thorpe for Stephenville, and it took four years without him for Stephenville to bring him back home.
All Thorpe has done in his other 18 years as a head girls basketball coach is average 22.5 wins per season with the Honeybees, his team for 392 of his 500 career wins. Number 500 was a 63-42 thumping Waxahachie Life to open play in deep, talent-laden and program-proven 8-4A.
Perseverance, he said, is the key to reaching such a milestone.
“It’s kind of a milestone I would think,” said Thorpe with a slight chuckle during the hours leading up to the game Tuesday. “It’s something that’s awfully hard to get to; it definitely takes some perseverance.”
Never one to pad his schedule, Thorpe and his team found win No. 500 to be an elusive one. They had a couple chances on Saturday and but to no avail while competing in a tough tournament hours east of home in Brownsboro without starting point guard Jordan Carter, who was at a Future Farmers of America competition.
But those struggles did do one positive thing – set up Thorpe to enjoy win No. 500 back home in Stephenville, the only place his family calls home, despite leaving for four seasons – two at Burnet, two at Justin Northwest – before receiving a call from newly minted athletic director Joseph Gillespie in 2008.
“He asked me to come back and we couldn’t get packed up soon enough,” said Thorpe. “I guess they may be out there somewhere, but I promise you, kids like these here at Stephenville are few and far between. A lot of people don’t realize how blessed we are to have these kids here, but I left and saw the difference. When I came back the only difference were their names and faces. They worked and competed just as hard as ever, and if I have it my way I won’t coach anywhere else.
Thorpe says he will retire in Stephenville, and he will for sure do it as a winner, with several other milestones besides persevering long enough to reach a number of wins.
“I remember all the regional tournaments and how difficult they were to get to and then the quality of play you run into when you do get there,” he said. “We’re always in Region I, and I know the other regions all have good teams, too, but just seems like whatever class you’re in Region I is full of good teams every year.
This season, for example, the Honeybees returned five starters from a Sweet 16 team, yet Thorpe is cautious of even placing the same in his own district. The Bees ran into Glodley without point guard Carter and lost 40-29 already this season. Glen Rose is ranked in the top 10, and Thorpe believes Stephenville alumnus Jason Hodges has Midlothian Heritage on the precipice of big achievemenets.
“Heritage will have a couple six footers, and all they have needed the past couple years is seasoning as a program. I feel like they are ready now,” said Thorpe, whose enormous win count includes a tough overtime victory against Heritage last season. “Glen Rose has everybody back, and they are tall and athletic and you know they are after us.”
Of course they are. Isn’t Stephenville always excited to get after the team that eliminated them from the playoffs whenever they next cross paths?
Glen Rose took a sizeable lead – given the style and premium on points – into the fourth quarter of a regional quarterfinal last year only to have Stephenville come from behind a claim a spot in the regional tournament. They were ultimately beaten there by Levelland, which, by the way, has its entire team back. So does Midland Greenwood, and they have to deal with a highly-rated Denver City team. Thorpe is also keeping an eye on Decatur and Brownwood, the latter having been eliminated by Stephenville in the area round last February.
Thorpe knows in Region I you have to appreciate every win, every accomplishment, for they are hard earned. His 2013 team almost celebrated the most difficult of goals to accomplish in any region – punching that regino’s ticket to state.
The TexAnns had Sheridan Stokes, Leslie Billings, Merideth Culpper and other senior stars. Billings shut down a highly-touted scorer from Perryton by setting the standard for no-catch man-up defense in a regional semifinal dominated by the Bees. The final came down to the last few possessions a rugged, physical, and, most thought, under-officiated contest.
Future Tarleton State players Travanti Downes and McKinley Bostad were on that team, Downes as a senior already committed to the TexAnns and Bostad in her junior year before being named 1A-3A Female Athlete of the Year as a senior by the Texas Girls Coaches Associatoin. She signed with Arkansas out of high school and played there right away.
Tough and athletic were the Lady Kats. Their equal in many ways were the No. 1-ranked Honeybees.
When the buzzer sounded, Thorpe made it through the obligatory handshakes and well wishes before collapsing into one of the soft fold up chairs lined to comprise his team’s bench, a few moments of emotional solitude at the end of what he still calls his toughest defeat as a coach.
“That game just showed how tough it really is,” he said, followed by a pause. “How tough it is to get to the state tournament.”
Thorpe would love, of course, to finish his career playing for a state title in San Antonio. Any basketball coach would say the same, but for very few is it reality.
The painful defeats have been few and far between, however, while the big victories are seemingly endless. And there are still more to come.
Not 500 more, of course, but his 400th win in Stephenville is approaching, and there is the difficult task of getting through two playoff contests for a 10th consecutive year.
Will Thorpe and the Bees qualify for state before he retires? No one knows.
He does know his career will end in Stephenville, a fact he counts as a big win in itself.
“I said it before. I can’t imagine being anywhere else and I’m glad I won’t have to coach anywhere else,” he said. I’m thankful for the school district and the administration for always supporting me and allowing me the opportunity to work here and live here, and I’m thankful for all the coaches I’ve worked with and to all the parents who have sent us such great kids. Those kids are what make it special. They make it all worth it.”
Wherever his final game is played, once he does decide it’s time to move on.
Give Thorpe 500 wins or give him a million, and he will still say his faith, his family, those countless kids and enjoying them freely right here in Stephenville, are his greatest victories of all.