JENNIFER FIERRO • STAFF WRITER
MARBLE FALLS — One of coach Jerry English’s favorite terms is “rarefied air.” In fact, he used it so much during the Faith Academy girls basketball team’s 2007-08 season that former standout Kristen Jung asked him to define it during one of his chalk talks.
“Air of the highest peaks,” he told her. “An exclusive group.”
The coach used it to describe the accomplishments of the 2008 class. By the time those girls graduated, the program had two state tournament appearances and averaged at least 25 wins in the three years English coached them.
But rarefied air also describes the coach himself.
On Nov. 17, English won his 1200th high school basketball game.
Since 1969, English has walked a girls basketball sideline and accumulated those 1,200 victories, ranking him No. 4 on the National Federation of State High School Associations list of all-time win totals behind two other Texans: Leta Andrews of Granbury High School (1,410), who is now retired, and Joe Lombard of Canyon High School (1,224 wins and counting). Both coach girls basketball. The third-ranked coach is Jim Smiddy of Tennessee at 1,217 wins.
The list also includes another Central Texan: Georgetown High School’s Rhonda Farney, who has 1,058 victories to rank eighth.
But none of his 1,200 victories, English added, would be possible without his loving wife, Barbara, and the thousands of women who have played for him. Some are now grandmothers.
“I do not feel this gift is mine; it’s something I share,” he said. “Making kids better is my biggest job in life. Barbara has not only been my biggest fan, she has also been my sounding board when I needed her to be.
“I think it’s so humbling that I weep almost every time I think about it,” he added of the career totals. “I think of my dad. He always said, ‘You have something special. I hope you do something with it.’”
He chuckled as he thought of a recent TV feature on two giants of college basketball, who talked about their career win totals: Pat Summitt of Tennessee (1,098) and Mike Krzyzewski of Duke University (1,045).
The two said that, to get that many wins, you have to be really old and very successful.
And English has been. He began his career in 1969 at Pflugerville High School, where he accumulated a 212-45 record in eight seasons
From there, he headed to Sweeny and stayed for the next 10 years, ending with an overall record of 305-41 and state tournament appearances in 1981, 1982, 1983, and 1985.
In 1987, he landed at Dripping Springs High School, where he stayed for 13 years and earned a record of 336-114 with six state tournament appearances and the first state title of his career.
English retired at the end of the 2000 season but was lured back to the court when he realized how much he missed being part of a team and teaching his “English lessons” to players.
It was at Faith, where he started in 2005, that he won his 900th, 1000th, 1100th, and now 1200th games with wins over Lipan (57-55) and Hamilton (55-54) on Nov. 17. In all, he has guided squads to 18 state tournament appearances and two state titles: 1993-94 at Dripping Springs and 2013-14 at Faith Academy.
“It has been a true blessing,” he said. “To coach at four schools in 42 years, I feel very fortunate. Very few can say that.”
Before this season started, English had a career winning percentage of 82.3 percent.
Faith senior guard Addison Floyd, who recently signed to play for the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, said playing for English means having a very high basketball IQ because much of his player development relies on the ability to read what the opponent is doing and then adjusting to it.
“You do it or you’re sitting on the bench,” she said. “If you want playing time, you pull it together and do the best you can. You have to find those passions and find that drive and find that open shot.”
Sophomore guard Paris Brinkley, who is the third Brinkley to play for English, served as the team’s water girl before she was able to play for him. Older sisters Bailey and Sierra were on the rosters for many of English’s milestone victories. Sierra was a member of the state title squad.
“He’s an awesome coach,” Paris said. “I watched my sisters have him, and I always looked forward to having him. It was a good experience to have.”
English said he doesn’t know when the final horn of his career will sound. He noted he’s had health issues that have slowed him a bit, often zapping his energy. Those close to him can understand how difficult that’s been for an individual who used to exit one bus to walk a few feet to another to go coach junior high and high school games on the same night.
So he promised himself that no matter the outcome of this season, he would make the most of each moment.
“I’m going to love my kids every day,” he said. “I still get in their faces and chew on them. But I’m going to be better than I’ve been. The day I can’t give the girls what I think I should give them, I’ll be gone.”
Faith Academy is hosting a celebration honoring English’s 1200th victory and his inclusion into the National Federation of State High Schools record book at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 22, in the school’s student center. The school is located at 3151 RR 1431 East.