600: Coach V reaches milestone

Published 12:28 pm Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Chargers gather around Vaughan during a timeout to discuss the game plan. -- Cain Madden | Tidewater News

The Chargers gather around Vaughan during a timeout to discuss the game plan. — Cain Madden | Tidewater News

For Coach V, Jan. 23 was just another day, just another game. Dressed looking his role in academia, a navy suit and sporting a tie, he accepted the game ball in the 47-35 victory against Denbigh Baptist Christian School. Then he dutifully smiled and posed for pictures. At least for about a minute — maybe two.

As soon as Isle of Wight Academy head basketball coach Benjamin Vaughan got a chance, though, he retreated into a crowd of the current players, as well as a few former players who were in Newport News that night. There, he gave them all the credit in the world for the milestone — career win No. 600.

“I was very happy for the boys, who have worked so hard this year to try to have the best season they could have,” Vaughan said. “They were working hard to help win that 600th game. And I think they, and other players that I have heard from since then, have taken pride in being part of that program that has been successful down through the years.

“The 600 wins. Well, it shows that I’ve been coaching for a long time,” he said with a laugh. “A coach never wins a game. He depends on his players to do that.”

The school, on the other hand, feels differently about the achievement, which puts him on par with just two other Virginia coaches, and Vaughan is the first private school coach to reach win No. 600. A banner now hangs in the school’s gymnasium, where alumni throughout the years can be seen crowding the stands on any given night. The court inside Jester Gymnasium also bears his name.

“Mr. Vaughan is the basketball program here,” athletics director Dale Chapman said. “In the early stages, he was not only involved with the guys, but also the girls program.

“He also started the Saturday morning program for the younger kids.”

Isle of Wight Chargers head coach Benny Vaughan strikes a familiar pose near the edge of the court. -- Cain Madden |  Tidewater News

Isle of Wight Chargers head coach Benny Vaughan strikes a familiar pose near the edge of the court. — Cain Madden |
Tidewater News

If there is one thing about the win, “Benny” Vaughan said, it has been the opportunity it has given him for reflection. He thinks about the wins — the 20-win seasons, the conference championships, the teams that have made deeper playoff runs, including the 2010 team that made it all the way to the state championship, losing to neighboring Tidewater Academy. But mostly, he thinks about all of the students who have come through the Chargers program.

“It did give me a chance to reflect back on all of the young people that I’ve been blessed to have been in contact with over my 40 years of coaching, the pleasant memories of players I’ve had on my team,” Vaughan said. “And also players and coaches on other teams that I’ve had the pleasure of being associated with through the years.”

Isle of Wight Academy’s first varsity basketball team was in the year 1969 — a team that went through the season winless. Vaughan came in for the 1970-71 team, which went 9-10. The first win came against Blessed Sacrament-Huguenot in the old gym, known to former players as the Matchbox because they sometimes squeezed 500 people into a 200-seat gymnasium.

“The 1970-1971 team won the first varsity game that Isle of Wight Academy ever won,” he said. “I knew that the team had never won before, but I thought it was not a good record, so I was on the verge of ending my coaching career that first year.”

But Vaughan did not throw in his infamous red towel. That towel would be thrown a number of times, but not because he was quitting. He came back, and during that second year they went 18-5.

“We were the first varsity basketball team at the school,” said Michael King, who graduated in 1973, two years after the school’s first graduating class. “Without older, former players to pass down tradition and maturity, it was up to Mr. V to not only coach us, but to mature us and develop the traditions that still exist there. He was the role model.”

Back then, Vaughan was fiery, intense and focused, King said.

“If we put forth the effort that he did, we’d never have lost a game,” he said. “We were never out-coached and everyone will vouch for that. We never lost a game because we weren’t prepared.

“He was just out of college, in your face, a clipboard-throwing, red-towel-throwing ball of fire, and we’d run through a wall for him. Even today, I’d run through a wall for him.”

That 1972 squad would be the start of a decade of seasons with at least 17 wins, taking the Chargers into the early ‘80s. In 1983, Chris Hooper’s senior year, another milestone happened — a 20-win season.

“Coach Vaughan was always well prepared, very knowledgeable and very organized,” Hooper said. “We always knew what our task was to be done out on the court — we had a clear picture.

“He’s been a very stable force for the program and school. Mr. Vaughan is a good man — an excellent coach, and an even better person.”

John Marshall III, who graduated in 1986, said the Chargers coach was always good with players, and he taught them a special kind of sportsmanship.

“He’s very competitive, but always emphasized humility and the importance of religion and family first in one’s life,” he said. “He’s quick to give others credit and even quicker to deflect recognition.”

Scott Carr, class of 1991, was part of one of the last classes Vaughan would coach for a few years. As Vaughan was transitioning at balancing having worked his way up to the school’s headmaster in 1990, while still being the coach, he took a couple of years off. But Carr said that’s an important part of Vaughan’s legacy, too.

“This is a bigger story than just basketball: The success of IWA — growing from around 240 students in ’91 to over 700 today — is a direct reflection of his leadership,” he said.

Being headmaster does keep him busy, but part of his time off in the late ‘90s was spent taking care of his parents.

“I might be the only headmaster in the state of Virginia that actually coaches varsity-level basketball,” he said with a laugh. “Being headmaster obviously takes a lot of time and energy. I don’t have as much time to put in basketball as I did before I became headmaster, but I still have enjoyed doing it, and it is a chance for me to establish connections with students that are way different from being the headmaster of the school. That’s the enjoyable part, and that’s what’s kept me in it for so long.”

As for connecting with students, Carr said Vaughan had a huge influence on him.

“One of my most impactful moments with him was one time when he told me, ‘There are four periods in a game, not two. Stay focused.’ I have thought of that comment many times in my life and it was invaluable advice, whether on the court, in the Boardroom or at home.

“A great coach’s advice transcends the sport and becomes something with which you can use in living your life.”

Vaughan’s advice has impacted many of his students’ lives. Marshall was a struggling restaurant manager in the mid-1990s, not sure what he really wanted to do. But Marshall was also a volunteer basketball coach during that time, and Vaughan suggested that he consider going back to school.

“He got me aside one day after a practice and suggested I consider a degree in physical education, as he felt I did a good job of reaching children,” said Marshall, who now works in Newport News as a P.E. teacher. “His belief in me inspired me to go back to school when, quite frankly, I had no enthusiasm for doing so.”

And then there is Monroe Wells, class of 1985. Wells had come back to Isle of Wight Academy during the ‘90s.

“Mr. V gave me my first opportunity to work in the field of education,” Wells said. “I was fortunate enough to be involved at IWA for about 15 years under his leadership. The lessons I learned from him I am passing along to my children today, especially the love for the game of basketball.”

Wells was also serving as an assistant coach for the basketball program, and in the 1997-’98 season, he was the head coach for a Chargers team that won the Virginia Commonwealth Conference Tournament.

“That success was directly attributable to Mr. V,” Wells said. “He may not have been on the sideline physically, but his wisdom and guidance for a first-year coach was unmeasurable. Many times I would sit with him during the year and pick his brain about certain things to try and gain an advantage over an opponent. His knowledge of basketball is limitless. I even sought his wisdom regarding how to deal with players’ attitudes and their parents.”

During the previous decade, Vaughan thought that he would end it when one of his groups of players moved on.

“But then, you’d have another young group, and you get attached to them, and the cycle just continued,” Vaughan said. “I have been fortunate to experience a lot of the classes here.

“I think we have some of the greatest young people in the state, here at Isle of Wight Academy. I have been dedicated to them, and they have certainly shown dedication to me. I think it works both ways.”

Thinking about wrapping up his career, Vaughan said it’s something that he can’t help but consider, as he’s entered his 44th year at the school. The coach and headmaster is not ready to make an announcement just yet, which is good because his players certainly are not ready to let him go.

“I did mention to him that I can’t wait to see No. 700,” Wells said. “That way my son would be able to play for him.”