RELENTLESS is a historical documentary wrapped around a biopic about the winningest high school coach (boys) in the the game’s history. Robert Hughes, over 47 years, overcame ‘Jim Crow’ segregation and ushered in a style of basketball forever changing how the game was played across Texas while using basketball as a tapestry bringing dignity, meaning and hope to an entire community.
47 years. Two high schools. 1333 career wins. 12 state finals appearances. Five state championships.
But this story goes much deeper.
We are reminded that the accomplishments of Robert Hughes may be the most bold and poignant ‘untold’ basketball story in the 121 year history of basketball in America.
Texas High schools—both academically and athletically—were segregated from the onset of compulsory secondary education. In 1920, the Colored Teachers State Association of the Texas State Education department formed a group called the Prairie View Interscholastic League (PVIL) to give the the ‘Colored’ schools in Texas an opportunity to compete athletics, typing, academics and music. This was similar to the University Interscholastic League (UIL), which was for ‘white’ students.
A startling aspect of the PVIL is the number of athletes who went on to careers as ‘all-pro’ or even ‘hall of famers’ who by their own admission weren’t even the best players at their high schools. Names like Otis Taylor, Charlie Taylor, Robert Newhouse, Warren Wells, Mel Farr, Bubba Smith, Earl Campbell and ‘Mean’ Joe Greene played at segregated high schools.
Bob West, former journalist with the Beaumont Journal, covered ‘colored’ schools. “Most of the white coaches agreed that the ‘colored’ schools had athletes but weren’t considered an athletic threat because they suffered from inferior coaching and substandard facilities.”
Robert Hughes — at I.M. Terrell and Dunbar — dispelled this myth by forging a basketball dynasty which bridged the ‘segregated’ universe of PVIL with the new world of UIL. He was originally told–along with other coaches from the ‘Colored’ schools– their wins and championships from the PVIL years would not be counted toward their ‘career’ accomplishments.” Hughes waged war against the UIL’s unfair treatment, demanding equality for black coaches.
When Texas and the Southwest Conference schools institutionally denied scholarship opportunities to black athletes, Coach Hughes galvanized relationships with administrators from the Big 10, Pac-8 and Missouri Valley conferences to ensure his athletes had opportunities to win athletic scholarships.
Drafted by the Boston Celtics, it was in ‘bean town‘ where his beliefs about how to teach and coach basketball shaped by icons like Bob Cousy, Bill Sharman and Red Auerbach. Hughes, then, brought this knowledge to Fort Worth and used it to craft a new brand of excellence — and, up-tempo basketball — that no team in the state played prior to his influence.
Scoring 90 points in a high school game…full court pressure for 32 minutes…the back screen, the ‘ally-oop,’ the ‘tip dunk,’ ‘dribble-drive motion…these so-called ‘new approaches’ to basketball were part of Coach Hughes’ innovative strategy and tactics forty years ago.
Sadly, many of these accomplishments and innovations were obscured by the long shadow cast by football and its newspaper coverage throughout Texas (and, that the accomplishments of ‘colored’ coaches in all Black schools weren’t front page news.)
A micro examination of Hughes’ life and career expands into a macro-examination of the social forces of race, class and politics that he overcame to become the best in history at within his profession.
There are over 1500 high schools in Texas— 18,000 kids playing varsity basketball.
Each year, nearly 300 black kids receive scholarships to play NCAA D-I basketball. Each of these young men — and their families — owes Coach Hughes a ‘vig.’
Rebel. Poet. Loner. Genius. A coaches’ player. A player’s coach. Robert Hughes is all this and much more.
RELENTLESS is not a ‘paint-by-the-numbers’ sports film, but an ambitious, unsettling look at the exasperating, complex diorama that was education in Texas, circa 1960s.
RELENTLESS brings this story to life.
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