Coach J.R. Holmes sets IHSAA record for games won


Calvin Prenkert

Past wins leader Jack Butcher presents Holmes with his memorial ball

John Law, Sports Writer

It all started in 1970 just southeast of Bedford in the tiny town of Tunnelton. 23-year-old J.R. Holmes always knew how to perform sports at a high level, earning a staggering 16 varsity letters at Needmore High School, but it would prove to be a more difficult task to lead a group of young men, high schoolers at that, to victory. However, being the natural winner he is, now “Coach” Holmes led that squad to an 18 win season and a near sectional championship. Little did he know, those 18 wins in 1970 in a tiny Bedford suburb would lay the groundwork for what would become arguably the most successful high school coaching career in not only Indiana but the entire country.

Now 49 years later, Holmes finds himself, finally, one win ahead of previous wins leader Jack Butcher of Loogootee with a whopping 807 wins. It took nearly half a century but nobody doubts if it was worth it. In a state as basketball crazy as Indiana, an accomplishment the magnitude of Holmes’ will be discussed throughout generations. Reaching the record has been no cakewalk though as Holmes named off a number of Indiana legends he’s had to coach against from Larry Bird to Damon Bailey and just recently Romeo Langford.

“I’m probably the only high school coach that’s had to coach against Damon and Romeo, and we weren’t too successful in those ventures,” Holmes joked.

You would think a man who has seen so much and had so much success would be just a little bit arrogant, right? Not Holmes. Through all the sectionals, regionals and state titles, he has remained humble and deflects all the credit off to his players and many assistants.

The humble Holmes said his key to success has been “good health, good assistants, for most of the part good principals and for most of the part good superintendents that have allowed me to coach and get through a couple years where we weren’t real good.” Nothing about J.R. Holmes screams conceited.

For some, that may be hard to believe though as often times the stories about his brutal honesty with players or famous water bottle throws are the ones that people hear about. People don’t pay enough attention to kind acts such as giving money to players to go get a bite to eat after a long bus ride or more recently allowing senior Bruce Furr to make his first start for Thursday’s game.

Residing and coaching in the Bloomington-Bedford area has proven to be Holmes’ destiny though. The head ball coach mentioned times when he was offered and considered other jobs from Seymour and Indiana State University, but in the end chose not to because he simply felt more comfortable at South and knew this was his family’s home. A few hundred wins later and the decisions to remain in Bloomington have proven to be two of the best of his life. Who knows if he would be anywhere close to the record if he would’ve decided to move on and try his luck elsewhere.

Not to mention, what a ridiculous coincidence it is that the 807th win happened to fall on senior night for Holmes’ Panthers, but that too seems like it was destiny.

“We’ve won three or four really close games in January that could’ve gone either way,” Holmes said. “[The recent record] wouldn’t of even been a factor this year if those games go the other way.”

Surprisingly, Holmes has not let the thought of reaching the record be a factor in the way he coaches or the way his team plays. He acknowledged that his players discuss it and that he has overheard talk of it in the locker room, but he respectively maintains tunnel vision when it comes to taking a game by game approach.

“Every game is important, we prepare every game like we did for game 250 and the same as we did for game seven,” Holmes said.

He would prepare his team for this game no different than any of the past 806, but with one minor change. It was time to give the heart and soul of his program what he had earned over his four years in the program.

But how strange it was with beloved senior forward Bruce Furr earning the start after he reportedly beat his legendary coach in a game of H-O-R-S-E; no one in the crowd expected Furr to play as much and as well as he did. Destiny though, such a beautiful thing, as Furr walked off that court for the last time after scoring a career high three points and being the heart of the “6th Man” he had so much to thank his coach for. At any other school Furr would’ve been just another benchwarmer that went unnoticed all four years, but Holmes made him so much more.

“He has taught me how to be the best person, player and coach I can be. One of the most influential people in my life. One of my idols,” Furr said.

See, that’s what Hall of Fame coaches do. They don’t just win basketball games and championships, they change lives and turn young men, such as Bruce Furr, into fantastic citizens ready to face any challenge the world throws at them. The effect Holmes has had on his player’s lives is more valuable than any amount of wins could ever be.

“I just wish the wins stuck with you longer than the losses,” the legendary coach said. He shouldn’t have to worry about that though. From Needmore to Tunnelton to Mitchell and finally Bloomington South, J.R. Holmes has won at life, a victory that will stick with him for eternity.