This week Kentucky lost yet another historic educator whose work touched thousands of Kentuckians. Legendary Dunbar High School basketball coach S.T. Roach died at age 94.
Born in Frankfort in 1916, Sanford Thomas Roach was the son of a dentist and schoolteacher and a standout athlete at the old Danville Bate High School. He went on to star in basketball at Kentucky State College and he served on the student council and edited the school newspaper. Roach returned to his alma mater to coach for three years. He dew attention when he dismissed five starters for breaking curfew just before a district tournament game. He subsequently accepted a position teaching science and coaching in Lexington.
“I always would insist that our young men have good character and abide by the rules," Roach told KET in a 2007 interview. "We just didn't tolerate any foolishness when it came to citizenship... I suppose this move … impressed the principal of Paul Laurence Dunbar."
“It was generally thought … that black teams weren't disciplined enough and they didn't have the skills and they weren't well-coached –— they couldn't defeat white schools,” he told KET. “I think we proved, and other schools did, too, that that was false.”
Roach led Lexington's original Paul Laurence Dunbar High School to two Kentucky High School Athletic League state championships and beginning in 1956, after integration, six 11th Region championships and two runner-up finishes, in 1961 and 1963, in the Kentucky High School Athletic Association’s Sweet Sixteen. Coach Roach finished his coaching career with a stellar 610-166 record. The head Bearcat gained 512 of his victories in 22 years (1943-65) before integration. He retired from coaching in 1965 to become a Fayette County school administrator.
Roach was inducted into the National High School Sports Hall of Fame in 1996. He became the first black member of the University of Kentucky's athletic board in 1974 and made the motion to hire Tubby Smith as Kentucky's first black men's basketball coach. The annual S.T. Roach Classic and the gymnasium at Dunbar High School are both named after this Kentucky High School Hall of Fame coach.
C-J reports, Roach continued public service into his 90s and served as a church officer and choir member. He was vice chairman of the Lexington Fayette County Housing Authority and also served on the board of directors of the Lexington Cemetery. He worked for state government from 1975 to '88 as a minority recruiter for the department of transportation. From 1989 to '95, he worked for Lexington mayors Scotty Baesler and Pam Miller.
This from the Herald-leader:
"Mr. Roach was a great man and a special person," said Bobby Washington, who played for Dunbar in the early 1960s.
"He gave us discipline and he taught us to always act like gentlemen and to always stay together and work hard when we faced adversity." ...
Mr. Roach's legacy is as much about the man as it is the coach. He was a gentleman on and off the court, quiet and dignified, yet unflinchingly determined in getting things done...
When UK moved into Rupp Arena in 1976, Mr. Roach went to then-UK president Otis Singletary about ensuring that Lexington's black community would have access to lower-level tickets in the new basketball palace.
Mr. Roach remembered from personal experience that in the mid-1950s, when UK played in Memorial Coliseum, lower-level seats were for whites only.
Mr. Roach got what he wanted when Singletary told him that he could have 200 lower-arena season tickets.
Mr. Roach went out and sold them for $60 a pair, giving the black community representation in Rupp Arena to watch a basketball team that was becoming increasingly integrated...
Governor Steve Beshear issued the following statement on Roach.
“S.T. Roach is more than just a legendary coach in Kentucky high school basketball, he was a legendary force in helping our state move forward when our schools integrated more than a half century ago. Coach Roach’s long-standing commitment to integrity, honesty and respect live on not only through his players, but through everyone who had the honor of calling him a friend. He will be truly missed, and Jane and I will keep his family in our thoughts at this difficult time.”