He grew up in New Mexico but Lee Leonard became one tall Texan.
Leonard, whose services are set for 2 p.m. Wednesday at the Coker-Mathews Funeral Home chapel in Greenville, stood tall on a basketball court, golf course, baseball diamond and softball field, plus in a classroom and in the great outdoors.
He was raised in Eunice, N.M., just 20 miles or so down the road from Hobbs, which is nationally recognized for its high-scoring high school basketball teams. Some of the Hobbs teams averaged more than 100 points per game. That uptempo style of play rubbed off on Leonard, who was a standout basketball player at Eunice High School, where he graduated in 1965.
“He was a heck of a basketball player,” said Don Johnson, who coached and taught with Leonard for 29 years in Greenville.
The 6-foot-5 Leonard became a solid shooter and rebounder, good enough to land a basketball scholarship at New Mexico State. While at New Mexico State, Leonard played and lettered on the Aggies’ 1967-68 and 1968-69 teams that went 23-6 and 24-5.
Those two Aggie teams reached the NCAA Far West Regional, losing by scores of 58-49 and 53-38 to eventual national champion UCLA, which was led at the time by 7-foot-2 Lew Alcindor, later to be known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, considered one of America’s top basketball players of all time.
One of Leonard’s teammates at New Mexico State, Sam Lacey, played 15 seasons in the NBA, averaging 10.3 points and 6.9 rebounds.
Leonard took his basketball knowledge with him to Greenville High School, where he started out as an assistant basketball coach under Dennis Brown before serving as head basketball coach for five seasons.
His Greenville Lion basketball teams pushed the tempo and scored some big victories, beating Lake Highlands in district play and reaching the finals of the Plano tournament against state-ranked Dallas Roosevelt.
“It was a lot of fun, obviously getting up and down the floor,” said Leonard coach Jeff Smith, who played point guard on two of Lee Leonard’s teams in Greenville. “We had a lot of fun playing for him. I still use a lot of his philosophy on the basketball court today.”
Smith said he was saddened to learn of Leonard’s death on Saturday, following a long illness.
“Obviously, he was a big influence in my life,” said Smith. “He gave me a chance to play and an opportunity to just gain some confidence that I needed. Confidence in basketball and in life. I’m going to miss him a lot.”
Leonard also taught mathematics and coached golf for more than 30 years at Greenville High School, plus later in Commerce and Caddo Mills. Golfers that he coached at Greenville later went on to play college golf at the University of Houston, Rice and other universities.
Leonard’s math skills were such that he didn’t need a calculator to add up his Lion players’ scores at tournaments and was a big help to coaches marking down team scores on the big board.
He was also a talented but savvy golfer. Golfer Tip McNatt remembers Leonard’s introduction to the tight layout at Oak Creek Country Club in Greenville.
“I will never forget the first time coach Leonard played Oak Creek,” wrote McNatt in Facebook. “He played nine holes, went to his car and put ALL of his woods in the trunk!”
Leonard knew game management, something he shared with his players. Knew when to pull out an iron instead of banging a driver. Not that he couldn’t hit his woods.
“He could hit the ball a ton,” said Johnson. “His arms and shoulders weren’t huge. He had such a strong lower body.”
Leonard could also hit a softball a long way and played on some of the top softball teams in Greenville recreation leagues. Opposing outfielders knew to back up close to the fence when Leonard strode to the plate.
Leonard also had a strong arm, dating back to his baseball days in Eunice.
“He was also a good pitcher,” said Johnson. “His dad (Leland Leonard Sr.) played semi-pro ball.”
Leonard was also a true outdoorsman, hunting and fishing in and around Texas, New Mexico and in the midwest. Leonard was deadly accurate with a bow and taught Johnson the fine art of fly fishing.
“Basically he was my brother,” said Johnson, who has succeeded his friend as golf coach of the Greenville Lions. “He loved the outdoors and he loved his family.”
Leonard was much loved in Hunt County as evidenced by the many phone calls Johnson has been receiving about his friend, now and during Leonard’s illness.
“He had a lot of kids play for him,” said Johnson. “A lot of kids were in his classroom.”
Lee Leonard will long be remembered in these parts as one who stood tall. Very tall, indeed.
Longtime coach, teacher Leonard stood tall
He grew up in New Mexico but Lee Leonard became one tall Texan.
Bland, Campbell golfers qualify for state
Golfers from Bland and Campbell have qualified for the University Interscholastic League State Golf Tournament in Austin next week.
Bland is sending a girls team after the Lady Tigers finished second to Martins Mill at the Region III-A tournament at the Piney Woods Country Club course last week in Nacogdoches.
Martins Mill carded a 452 for 18 holes. Bland fired a 485.
Tevin Truesdale of Campbell qualified as a medalist for state after finishing sixth in the boys 36-hole tournament with rounds of 88 and 97 for a 185 total.
All-star basketball games set for Saturday night in Greenville
Last year Greenville senior Dartannon Wilson took advantage of the home court with 34 points to lead all scorers at the first annual Chicken Express all-star basketball game.
Wilson helped the North to a 114-85 victory over the South in a fast-paced boys game. Wilson, who was 15-of-20 from the field including a couple of dunks, also pulled down 12 rebounds and handed out four assists to secure most valuable player honors.
The second annual event is set for 7:30 p.m. on Saturday night at Greenville High School. The girls game tips off first, with the boys event to follow.
Sherman spoils Lady Lions season finale
The Greenville Lady Lions finished their District 13-4A softball season at home on Friday with a 9-2 loss to the Sherman Lady Bearcats.
Greenville honored senior players Ali Threndyle, Megan Shaw, Tayler Cordova and Katie McMurray in pre-game ceremonies.
Greenville catcher Justin Koger signs with Arkansas-Little Rock
A switch in positions has helped Greenville senior baseball player Justin Koger advance his career.
Koger, who has signed a letter of intent with the University of Arkansa at Little Rock, began his baseball career with the Greenville Lions as a shortstop, pitcher and third baseman.
Players protest return of fired Minnesota coach
The University of Minnesota-Mankato football team Wednesday boycotted the fired head coach who won his job back in an arbitrator’s ruling last week, nearly two years after fighting accusations of child pornography and other misconduct.
No. 19 state-ranked Lone Oak claims regular season finale
The 19th state-ranked Lone Oak Lady Buffaloes added to their nine-game winning streak by shutting out Quitman 9-0 in District 14-2A softball on Tuesday.
Freshman pitcher Mariah Nichols got the win, striking out 14 while only walking two in a two-hitter to wrap up the regular season.
Lady Lions earn all-district soccer honors
Brinkley Henson, Greenville’s top goal scorer, also earned top honors for the Lady Lions on the All-District 19-4A soccer team.
Quirl, Godwin earn top honors in All-District 15-A basketball
Wolfe City’s high-scoring post player Colten Quirl earned top honors on the All-District 15-A basketball team.
McKinney North shuts out Lady Lions
Celeste Verdelivo shut down Greenville on one hit as McKinney North claimed a 12-0 District 13-4A softball victory over the Lady Lions on Friday.
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