The Idle American

Once an Indian

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If all of his certificates, proclamations and other awards were tacked up, Hershel Kimbrell would need a bigger room, hopefully with at least six sides. Still, there’d be other memorabilia stored, and that’s fine with him.

He’s not an award-seeking guy. At age 90, memories of a life well lived are best tucked in the heart than tacked on the wall.

More than 100 family members, former players and friends helped him blow out candles at his recent birthday party held in Kimbrell Arena at his beloved McMurry University, where he was a basketball star, 1946-1950, and coach, 1959-1995. Brain surgery cost him one coaching season. In July, 1975--after eight hours of surgery--doctors said if Kimbrell would take care of himself, he could live another 10 years. He proved them wrong, just as he did many opposing coaches.

Reared by his mother and grandparents on an East Texas farm, Kimbrell says the allure of basketball began on dirt courts with “netless” goals. From early years a strong work ethic was born.

A man of values and Navy veteran of World War II, Kimbrell convinced players they could do more than they thought possible. This included a win over Texas Tech in Lubbock, and numerous victories over cross-town rivals Abilene Christian and Hardin-Simmons.

He called the party his “best medicine.” Stories abounded about his 31 seasons that included eight conference championships, 16 seasons of post-season play and participation in the 1962 NAIA National Tournament. (Summed up, Kimbrell coached nine years at Garland High School before joining McMurry, where he coached golf for five years upon retiring as basketball coach in 1990.)

A highlight was a recorded message from legendary Grant Teaff, a McMurry alum with whom Hershel coached in the early going. Under normal circumstances, the former President of the American Football Coaches’ Association would have been present, but recuperation from a long bout with pneumonia precluded travel.

Grant and Hershel have been my valued friends for 60 years, and I salute their greatness--first and foremost--as Christian models.

I’m glad the best of each rubbed off on the other, and that their lives of testimony ignited “can do” fires in the hearts of young men who hadn’t discovered their potential.

On his final trip to Brownwood in 1990 to play Howard Payne, Hershel was given a rocking chair that’s “pretty near worn out.”

For a 90th birthday gift, friends gave him a chair imprinted “McMurry Indians.” (Apologies are extended to NCAA which decreed the mascot name could no longer be used--at least not by small schools with limited political clout.)

“I’ll always be a McMurry Indian,” he said, a declaration of support of the now-called “War Hawks.” He added, “I love McMurry University, and wish other alumni loved it as much as I do.”

They named the arena in his honor upon his retirement in 1995. And why wouldn’t they? He did everything asked of him--and more.

He gave his all, even when budgets shrank. Kimbrell worked long days and nights on recruiting trails, even when the university affiliated with schools that don’t offer athletic scholarships. Parents of his players claim, however, that Kimbrell’s molding their sons into responsible adults can’t be measured in financial terms.

His “giving back” was proven again after his retirement. He led the applause when the arena named to honor him gained another name alongside his. It’s that of another McMurry great, Ron Holmes, who succeeded Kimbrell as basketball coach. Now, the “Ron Holmes Court” is center stage for the Kimbrell Arena. Holmes was a basketball standout in the 1970s.

Georgia, Hershel’s sweetheart during their Abilene High School years and his wife of 60 years, would have been proud. (She died in 2008.)

Likewise proud are daughter Kim, son Kit, two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, as well as a dozen other relatives who “scrunched up” for pictures.

For the record, they were all smiling.

Contact Don by email: newbury@speakerdoc.com or phone: 817-447-3872.

Contact Don by email: newbury@speakerdoc.com or phone: 817-447-3872

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