The gym is his classroom

Veteran coach Randy Mefford gives directions to his Gallatin County girls’ basketball team in the Eighth Region Tournament. Gallatin fell to Walton-Verona in what would turn out to be the final game of Mefford’s long coaching career.

Veteran coach Randy Mefford leaves a legacy of success and integrity

By John Herndon,

Things won’t seem the same when or if the high school basketball season tips off in Kentucky next winter.

Randy Mefford won’t be on the sidelines. 

He’s been a fixture around the Eighth Region, drawing up plays, installing systems and sometimes telling an official he saw things a little differently. But, most of all, it’s been about helping young people become the best they can be on the court and in life.

Mefford has been a part of five different programs for the last 39 years, 31 as a head coach. He was there for 455 wins, most coming at schools where enrollment numbers dictated there would be few chances for regional championships or statewide glory. But through it all, Randy Mefford earned the reputation as one of the area’s top coaches and finest men working the sidelines.

Mefford resigned his position at head coach of the girls’ basketball program at Gallatin County High School recently. His last team was characterized by youth but the Wildcats did make it to the Eighth Region Tournament before being knocked out by  Walton-Verona. Holly Roberts, who previously coached at Gallatin for a decade, will return to the bench as Mefford’s successor. 

We caught up with Randy Mefford recently.  We’ve known each other for more than 30 years as his time as a head coach was roughly the same as my time as a newspaper sports editor. However, because of the COVID-19 crisis we decided to talk via email rather than meet in person. 

“My decision to not return as the girls’ basketball coach at Gallatin County was extremely difficult,” he wrote. “I guess my decision was finalized after the abbreviated state tournament. The Gallatin County community loves their high school teams and I made lots of friends and I coached a lot of great kids while I was there.”

The final stop on a coaching journey that had begun in the late 1970s as a boys’ basketball assistant coach at Bullitt Central High School in the late 1970s. He got the chance to lead a program with the Eminence boys, a small school that had some dynamite talent during his tenure there. Eventually, Mefford returned to his hometown to lead the boys’ program at Carroll County for 11 years, then move over to the Panther girls for what he thought would be the final nine years of his coaching career.

Life had other plans. 

“I really never planned to coach (at Gallatin) for five years when I took the job in late November of 2015,” Mefford says. “I had resigned from coaching the Carroll girls in February of 2012. I had no plans to return but life changes. (Gallatin principal and boys’ basketball caoch) Jon Jones, a longtime friend, contacted me and told me about the coach they had hired to replace Holly Roberts, had resigned. They needed a coach right away and the rest is history. It was tough spending 20 years as the head coach at Carroll and  going to district rival Gallatin County. Those games against Carroll were the hardest for me.”

Mefford, who had taught business and physical education at Carroll but was hired as a paraprofessional at Gallatin, meaning he only coached basketball for the Wildcats. There was no classroom, other than the Wildcats’ gymnasium.

You see, even though Mefford has apparently finished his career as a Gallatin County Wildcat, he’s a Carroll County Panther. It’s just in his blood.

“I was the starting point guard on the 1972 Carroll County team that won the Eighth Region Tournament,” Mefford says. “We were runner-up, losing to Anderson County and Jimmy Dan Conner my junior year in 1971.”

Considered one of the top teams in Kentucky both years, Carroll was ousted by Elizabethtown in the first round, but the memory is still vivid. “Playing in Freedom Hall in the state tournament was the thrill of a lifetime,” Mefford says. “I will never forget that experience. We lost both my junior year and senior year to the (eventual) state runner-ups.”

And it was during that time that Mefford knew he loved basketball so much that he wanted to influence young people through the game. 

Randy Mefford watches the action in this year’s Eighth Region Girls’ Basketball Tournament at Collins High School. (Photos by John Herndon)

“Coaching is teaching,” Mefford says. “The gym was my classroom. I still, to this day, enjoy going to practice. It was never like work to me. Seeing young student-athletes play the right way and show sportsmanship was always important to me. Seeing them achieve, compete and improve made it all worthwhile. I know I am going to miss it.”

It’s an impact that comes from simply doing things the right way and with integrity. 

Mefford had some outstanding teams along the way. He won 20 games twice in six seasons at Eminence, one of the smallest schools in Kentucky. At Carroll, declining enrollment numbers greatly reduced the talent pool but his 1997 Panther boys advanced to the Eighth Region semifinals and 10 years later, the Panther girls did the same thing. Over his career, Mefford coached teams to five district championships and, he says, “a whole bunch of district runner-ups.”

Mefford’s teams also won five Class A regional titles and seven conference titles. 

But what matters most is people. “I am so proud of all the kids I had the pleasure of coaching,” Mefford says. “Many of them have been very successful in later life and to think I played a part of it makes you feel good. Some of them have gone into teaching and coaching and I hope I have been a role model for them.

“That’s why you coach.

“I knew from an early age that I wanted to teach and coach. Having a high school coach like Bill Fultz was an inspiration to me. I have persevered through a the ups and downs of a lot of seasons. Coaches like Jon Jones at Gallatin, Glen Drury at Anderson, Delmas Castle and Bob Osborne at Owen, Kerrie Stewart and Jim Hurst at Trimble were the kind of people you liked being around. It was so much fun.”

But Mefford also says coaching is strenuous work and many young coaches do not understand the demands the vocation will place on a family. “My wife, Tara, is a saint,” he says. “We will celebrate our 45th wedding anniversary this August.”

The Meffords have three children and four grandchildren who can expect more time from Randy Mefford now. 

“I have no major plans at this time,” says Mefford, who adds his health is good. “We may do some traveling down the road.”

And chances are you will find Mefford on the links somewhere — “I am an avid golfer,” he says — and somewhere in a gym when basketball resumes. “I plan on attending a lot of high school basketball games and keeping up with several different teams. I love the Eighth Region. The quality of basketball in our region is so good.”

And for almost 40 years, Randy Mefford has been a major part of that. 

One thought on “The gym is his classroom

  1. John
    Thank You, Randy was my coach and friend in those early years @ BC.Then a mentor once I became a teacher & coach a person who I could ask questions and just learn from how well he interacts with his players.
    He will be missed by all of the 8th region schools and players in his community.
    Chris Stallings BEHS


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