When the former Northwestern High basketball star returned to Wayne County to be inducted into its athletic hall of fame, he was reminiscing with his family about his years spent under legendary teacher and coach Roy Bates, who passed away in 2004.
“One of my sons, Mark, is the one who got me to write the book on Bates. I wouldn’t have written it if he hadn’t jumped on my case,” said Totten, a retired professor of geology at Hanover (Indiana) College for more than 40 years. “He introduced me at the hall of fame banquet. He helped me prepare my introduction speech and he heard some of the stories … and he said, ‘Why not you?’
“I mentioned in my acceptance speech I was working on a book on the history of athletics at Hanover College, and he asked when was I going to write my next book. ‘What next book? I’m not going to worry about that until I finish this one,’” laughed Totten. “But he was the one on my case and said I needed to write the book. I said maybe I would.”
Thus the idea was spawned. During an August 7 interview, Totten said he was drawn into a story he knew firsthand and was friends with many of the participants of the story. What emerged was Thank You, Coach Bates, a 200-plus page book that will be released this Saturday, August 13, in Wooster.
The title comes from then-sophomore Isiah Thomas, a youngster from the ghettos of Chicago whom Bates helped recruit to the University of Indiana. The Hoosiers were coached at the time by Orrville native and Bates’ friend Bobby Knight. After Indiana had defeated North Carolina in 1981 to win the NCAA national basketball championship, Thomas spoke those words to a national audience and left Bates, sitting in his New Pittsburg home, stunned. It also left many in the Hoosier Nation, let alone the country, wondering who in the world was “Coach Bates.”
Many in Wayne Country certainly knew Bates, whether as a teacher at Chester and then Northwestern high schools, as an Ohio Hall of Fame coach in both basketball and baseball and one of only two coaches to win state titles in both or from his 50 years as a radio broadcaster.
Totten put those stories together in his book. It is scheduled for release through the Roy S. Bates Foundation, which was begun by Bates and his wife, Velma, to annually honor eight scholar-athletes from Wayne County.
The Wayne County commissioners declared Saturday Roy Bates Celebration Day, which will be held on the campus of the Ohio Agricultural Research Development Center. It will begin with an 11 a.m. invitation-only luncheon at the Shisler Conference center before moving to Fisher Auditorium where, at 1 p.m., Chester and Northwestern alumni, the 1958 basketball and 1965 baseball state championship teams, former teammates and friends of Bates will gather to reminisce.
An hour later, the doors to Fisher Auditorium will open to the general public, where people will meet those in attendance, as well as Totten and obtain a copy of his book.
Thank You, Coach Bates is not for sale; it can only be obtained by making a donation to the Bates Foundation through the Wayne County Community Foundation. Donations to the Bates Foundation go to the Bates’ scholarship program, which has honored eight Wayne County youth a year since 1993. The Bates Foundation has honored 120 high school seniors in that span, and this past spring offered each senior a scholarship worth $2,500.
There are two versions of the book being offered. The first is a leather-bound, numbered edition signed by Totten, Velma Bates, former Cy Young Award winner Dean Chance, who played for Bates, and WCCF executive director Ferenc Relle. This edition is available to those donors making a tax-deductible contribution of $1,000 or more, and can be pledged over a three-year period. The second is a soft-cover edition with a suggested donation of $100.
Saturday will cap a project that has recently dominated Totten’s life. Even he isn’t sure what to expect when Saturday rolls around.
“I was inducted three years ago (into the WCSHOF),” said Totten, who was a member of the first Northwestern basketball team and a 1954 graduate. “I basically started that fall and took two years to write it. I’ve had it done since Christmas, but there was a lot of editing and photos to be done. There is a lot of stuff that goes into getting it into its final form. Since Christmas, that took three to four months.”
He laughed when asked if he was excited for Saturday’s big event to arrive.
“It means the project is finished and it’s time to move on to something else,” said Totten, who played four years of basketball and baseball at The College of Wooster. “I’m looking forward to having a great time and meeting old friends and meeting new people I’ve only read about. It’s a reunion of sorts, not only for the teams that played for Bates, but the scholarship winners.
“The focus is the Bates Scholarship – that’s his legacy.”
Totten was a member of dominant teams throughout his years at Northwestern.
“Chet Welty and I only played in one regular-season losing game going back to eighth-grade. All the other losses were in tournament games,” said Totten. “That one loss was to the eventual state champion of Michigan, Lancing Eastern, and in that game we shot only 3-of-45 – six and two-thirds percent. We were actually winning in the second half and lost 35-32. I remember we had five baskets taken away for travelling.”
The key to the success of Bates’ teams wasn’t superior talent, Totten pointed out.
“I think Roy’s success came from knowing how to motivate players,” said Totten. “He was a master at motivating players. It was often said his teams overachieved. Basically if you looked at his teams they were always more than the sum of their parts. Add up the parts and his teams were always better than that. There was some kind of magic in there.
“It wasn’t that Bates was better at the x’s and o’s – he just executed the game-plan better. He motivated his players and he was a genius at recognizing the weakness in the opposition and taking advantage of that.”
But, what Totten really took away from his playing days was something else.
“It was how to prepare for life as well as a game,” said Totten. “You worked hard and practiced hard and you prepared for what you were doing. (Success) was in the preparation. It’s not like we were always (the) better (team); we prepared better than the other team, mentally as well as physically. He was a master at getting you prepared mentally.”
The key to that didn’t come on the court or in the locker room, but before every practice began.
“The secret was the 15 minutes before every practice, talking about life and school before we went out and played basketball. Even on Sunday afternoons, he did the same thing,” said Totten, referring to the Sunday afternoon sessions Bates ran for those players drawn to his legend, be they seventh-graders or seniors, for some 15 years toward the end of his life. “He would sit down and talk about … life.
“Velma said he and Knight would sit down and talk and Roy would say, ‘Here’s what you think, here’s the questions and what you need to come up with as answers to or how to approach something. Here’s what’s important.’
“Roy prepared us and we’d go out and do it.”
That preparation led Totten to a degree in geology from Wooster in 1958 and his PhD from Illinois in 1962, which in turn led to 40 years at Hanover College and raising his family.
Long ago, that preparation allowed him to say, “Thank you, Coach Bates,” on his own account. Now, he’s allowed others to do that as well.
Published: August 10, 2011