A quick look at the overall basketball coaching record of 767-421 of Cletus Green would give people the impression basketball was front and center in his life.
But they would be wrong.
Cletus loved basketball and coaching with all his heart. But if you asked him if it was the most important thing in his life, he would loudly say NO.
Coaching Legend Cletus Green, a term he did not like, died Saturday morning at the age of 88. He will be known for his coaching stops at NEO in Miami, Oral Roberts University, Northwest Oklahoma State University, Southwest Missouri State College and finally as women’s basketball coach at Crowder College.
While at NEO, his men’s teams battled the Roughriders of Coach Bob Sneller in many legendary battles. And as always, it seemed that Cletus and Bob put on a show trying to spark their players into some basketball magic. It didn’t matter what the records were. When Cletus and Bob tangled, it was epic.
But something that a lot of the fans didn’t know until several years later was that Cletus and Bob were longtime friends and tennis partners. Their battles began and ended on the basketball court at least twice a season.
When Cletus was asked to coach the women’s team at Crowder, the first thing he did was to ask Bob to be his assistant. But both coaches had so much respect for each other, it was really a co-head coaching team. You would see Cletus prowling up and down his bench stomping his foot when a call didn’t go his way, and then there was Bob talking to each and every player on the bench giving his years of knowledge.
His relationship with Bob and all of his players is one of the primary reasons why basketball wasn’t front and center in Cletus’ life. He cared about people, his players, his friends and his family. He was a mentor, an instructor, a loving husband and father and a fierce, fierce friend.
My father Bill Ball, in writing about the epic NEO-Crowder battles for the Neosho Daily News, gave Cletus the moniker “The Little Banty Rooster” because of his antics during the games. That moniker might have fit Cletus on the basketball court, but in life, it couldn’t be further from the truth.
Cletus formed lasting relationships everywhere he lived, including right here in Neosho. And one of those relationships he kindled was with me. Little did I know that when I was the manager of the 1974-76 Crowder College Men’s Basketball teams that the person that I would pull Coach Sneller away from during their epic arguments would become one of my best friends.
Not only did I “cover” some of his games at Crowder for the Neosho Daily News and developed a working relationship with him, Cletus and I worshiped at the Rocketdyne Road Church of Christ and it there where I got to know the real Cletus Green.
He loved his friends and he cared about each and everyone. He would see me and a smile would light up his face, he would take my hand and pull me into him for a hug. He was not shy at showing his emotions toward his friends. But neither was he a fair-weather friend. He would lift you up with an over-abundance of praise, but also with gentle redirection.
His love for his wife, Carolyn, and his children was never questioned. Many times he and Carolyn would be gone from church. Often times I would ask where is Cletus and the answer almost always was, “watching his son’s coach basketball.” He was so proud of his family. All you had to do was ask him.
But at the forefront of his life was his love for God and Church. He was a deacon for many years at the Rocketdyne Road Church of Christ and was very involved in many of the activities. He once told me that without God in his life, he would not consider himself as successful.
We all have people in our lives that have influenced us in they way we live. I have had several, but Cletus is the one who taught me that life isn’t about a career. It is about choices and the people we associate with.
I was in good company when Cletus was around.
-Buzz Ball is a former editor of the Neosho Daily News and currently B&B Theaters District Manager.