Ralph Tasker
Hobbs High School Coaching Legend

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Basketball Hall honors Ralph Tasker

The  Naismith  Memorial  Basketball  Hall  of  Fame  has  announced Ralph Tasker  -  former  boy's  basketball coach  at Hobbs High School in New Mexico - as the  recipient of  the Morgan Wootten Award: For Lifetime Achievement in Coaching High School Basketball. 

The Award honors  a  boy's  basketball  coach  who  has  achieved  extraordinary  results  in  and  made  a  significant  contribution  to  the  game of basketball at the high school level.  Mr. Wootten will present the award this March in Miami at the 2009  McDonald's High School All-America Game.  

  Coach Wootten  expressed  his  high  regard for  this  year's  winner.  "Ralph  was  a  true  pioneer of  the  game  at  the  high  school  level  and  his  lasting  impact  of  the  thousands  of  lives  he  touched  over  his  53  years  will  never  be  forgotten.    He  was  as  dedicated  of  a  coach as there  was  on  any  level  and  I  am  proud to  have  him  receive  this  award as one of the elite high school basketball coaches in history."   

Coach  Ralph  Tasker  coached  for  53  seasons  at  Sulpher  Springs  (OH),  Lovington  (NM)  and  most  notably  at Hobbs (NM) where he compiled 1,122 victories against 291 defeats. 

His teams qualified for postseason play 48  times  in  his  53  year  coaching  career  while  winning  12  state  championships.    Coach  Tasker  was  a  two-time  National  High  School  Coach  of  the  Year,  was  inducted  into  the  National  High  School  Sports  Hall  of  Fame  in  1988, was named to the New Mexico High School Coaches Association Hall of Honor and was named the Walt  Disney Coach/Teacher of the Year in 1991. His contributions to Hobbs High School touched thousands of lives  over  his  career  and  today  the  basketball  arena  is  known  as  "Ralph  Tasker  Arena."    Coach  Tasker  retired  from  coaching in 1998 and passed of cancer on July 18, 1999.                  

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Tasker died as a humble legend
Amarillo Globe-News Sports Editor
Sunday, July 25, 1999
Russ Gilmore knew Ralph Tasker could have made last year a living nightmare for the new Hobbs basketball coach. Tasker could have cast his immense shadow, created by 11 state titles and 1,222 wins, and never let Gilmore shine. Done some second-guessing, some interfering.

After all, they were playing in Ralph Tasker Arena. It's almost like waking up in your home and finding someone in the kitchen making coffee.

"But he made it so easy on me," said Gilmore, the former Tascosa coach who led the Eagles to an unbeaten record and a state title in March. "He told me, `Coach, this is your team, your program. I want you to know they wouldn't have hired you unless you were capable of doing the job. So I'm going to leave you alone. It's none of my business.'

"He wouldn't even come to the gym, and the gym had been his life for 49 years. I had to talk him into coming to the gym for summer league to break the ice."

Ralph Tasker was buried Thursday, a legend when that term gets tossed around much too frequently. He died four days after his 80th birthday following a brief battle with cancer. Until Gilmore succeeded him after the 1998 season, Tasker had coached the high-flyin' Hobbs Eagles for nearly half a century.

"When it hit me was when I took the job, and somebody handed me a USA Today, and my name was in the headline with his," Gilmore said. "Well, obviously, the only reason mine was there was because of Ralph Tasker. Then when he passed away, it hits you again because of all the coverage. He really was a legend."

Tasker was noted for his thick glasses, gimpy walk and ferocious competitiveness. But he practiced compassion, humility and dignity in his daily life. He looked more like a chemistry professor than a basketball coach whose up-tempo, press-when-they-get-off-the-bus style was years ahead of his time.

Don Riggan, former Amarillo High coach and now in the insurance business in the city, coached the junior high and the sub-varsity at Hobbs from 1963 to 1967. He was gone from Hobbs in 1968 when the Eagles won it all in New Mexico, and he gave Tasker a congratulatory call.

"I called him to congratulate him," Riggan said, "and I no sooner got that out of my mouth when he started thanking me for all I'd done and how none of this would have been possible without those good junior high coaches. Well, that wasn't true, but that's the way Coach was. Here I'd called to compliment him, and he spends all the time complimenting me."

Every person who came in contact with Tasker - athletic directors, ex-coaches, former players, the man who succeed him - speak of his humbleness. And he could have been - perhaps should have been - just the opposite. He was a John Wooden of the high school game, the strongest words ever coming out of his mouth, "Oh, foot!"

Only one high school coach in the country has ever won more games. His 1969-70 Eagles set a national record that still stands - they averaged averaged 114.6 points a game.

Gilmore marvels at how far ahead of his contemporaries Tasker was, his up-tempo style that took advantage of Hobbs' athleticism in a walk-it-up era, his opening the gym year 'round to encourage that talent. He was content, however, to let the scoreboard do his talking because he sure wasn't.

"I still laugh when I think about those coaches clinics, and how there would always be some hotshot young coach talking like he invented the game," Riggan said. "One time this coach was going on about how great a press offense he had, that no press could stop this offense if it was executed right.

"Well, Coach Tasker was in the audience, not saying a word. Afterward, he'd met this coach and said, `You know, I really enjoyed what you said, and that sounds like a terrific offense. We'd sure like to play you next year. Our boys would get a lot of good out of it, and they need to be taken down a notch or two.'

"I mean he's just blowing up their dress. They play the next year, and Hobbs wins by 40 and forces about 30 turnovers. And then Coach Tasker shakes that coach's hand after the game and tells him, `You know, that is a good system. I think you got something there. Keep working on it. You'll get there.' "

Despite his credentials, despite this way of life he'd known for 50 years was gone, Tasker would have been the last coach to make it difficult for Gilmore. That just wasn't him, although Gilmore acknowledges it could have been a tremendous headache.

"Oh, gosh, he could have made it very difficult," Gilmore said. "He was an institution, a legend. All he had to do was go down to the corner cafe and say a bad word or two about me, or question this or that on what I was doing. People would have turned on me real quick. That's all it would have taken for someone of that magnitude. But that wasn't him. He sat on the second row down on the bench. He was one of our biggest rooters."

Tasker was a volunteer assistant for the girls' team in the last year of his life, and he and Gilmore would talk almost every day. Gilmore would ask him how he handled certain things, but a lot of it was just small talk.

"The only advice he ever gave me," Gilmore said, "and I'll never forget it, was right before we left to go to the state tournament. He came over and put his arm around me. He said, `Coach, you know I've never given you any advice unless you ask, but I got to give you just one little piece.'

"I said, `What's that?'

"He said, `When in doubt, press,' and he just smiled."

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