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Well’s Legendary Coaching Career Comes To A Close

Hidden Valley head basketball coach Troy Wells (standing) calls out a play during a recent Titan game. Wells has announced that this will be his final year of coaching.
Hidden Valley head basketball coach Troy Wells (standing) calls out a play during a recent Titan game. Wells has announced that this will be his final year of coaching.

A lot can happen in 45 years.

1970. Richard Nixon was President. Since then seven additional presidents have occupied The White House.

That same year, Troy Wells graduated from Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma before moving to Roanoke to embark on his basketball coaching career as an assistant to Charlie VanLear at William Fleming High School.

Like the seven presidencies after Nixon, a lot has changed and adapted for Wells, with plenty of twists along the way.

In the next ninety days Wells will pace the sidelines for the last time, deciding last summer to call out his final offensive play and defensive formation as the head coach at Hidden Valley High School. Make no mistake about it, Wells is going out on top.

“Coaches know when it’s time to let it go,” Wells said of his decision during a recent interview. “Things have changed so much. High school basketball is no longer just an in-season sport. It’s year round with open gyms and conditioning just to keep up with the competition. Plus, the challenges of today’s world with things like social media make it even more difficult. A coach has to be a lawyer, doctor, psychologist and psychiatrist. Outside factors and pressures on today’s high school kids make it tough. You’ve got to realize that 95-97% of high school players will never play at a higher level.”

After the assistant’s job at Fleming, Wells got his first head coaching job in 1976 at Christiansburg High School. His three-year stint with the Blue Demons tested his fortitude in coaching.

“I got that job and thought I had the tiger by the tail,” Wells once recalled, shaking his head. “I found out the tiger had me.”

“We did improve at Christiansburg each of those three years,” Wells notes with a sly laugh. “1-19 the first year, 2-18 the second, and then 3-17.” But, his biggest challenge in that time period was a major house fire at his home that resulted in severe burns to Wells’ feet, forcing him to coach his first game at Christiansburg in a wheelchair.

Wells left the Blue Demons after those three seasons and was ready to take the coaching position at Clarke County High School in Northern Virginia until the shock of housing prices in that area and 18% mortgage rates put Wells and his family up against the wall.

Then came a call that changed his career forever.

Longtime friend and Martinsville High School head coach Husky Hall offered Wells a spot on his staff with the Bulldogs. Martinsville was well known as one of the top high school basketball programs in Virginia. Wells jumped at the offer. With his wife, Patty, holding down their home in Christiansburg, Wells commuted to Martinsville weekly, at times staying with five different coaches Monday through Friday.

When he took that assistant’s position in 1979, it would lead to a 29-year stay at Martinsville. When the legendary Hall retired in 1995 with more than 600 wins under his belt, Wells was named as Hall’s successor, a position he would hold through the 2007-08 season.

It was during those years in Martinsville that Wells enjoyed many of his finest moments.

“All the (VHSL) Final-4’s make it special,” Wells says. “And, making it to a state championship game is monumental. We made every (Group AA) VHSL championship game from the 1979-80 season through the ’85-’86 season. That streak was unbelievable. You can never take a Final-Four appearance for granted, much less the final. And, we won five of those title games. Most coaches never get the opportunity to get to a Final-Four.”

Wells proudly has 8 state championship rings from Martinsville, 5 as an assistant and 3 as the head coach.

He also points to the 63-54 win over Robert E. Lee of Staunton in the 2006 final that ended the Leemen’s 85-game winning streak and denied their bid for a third straight championship as his most memorable game.

Wanting to be closer to his four sons and extended family, Troy and Patty moved back to the Roanoke area where Wells immediately took over his present position as head coach at Hidden Valley. In six years thus far at Hidden Valley, the Titans have made 3 state tournaments, and the 2011 state championship game. Wells has also been inducted into the VHSL Basketball Hall of Fame.

“I never envisioned it,” Wells says of the VHSL honor. “It was very special; my mother was there that night and my family was there.

So, what has been Wells’ secret?

“Coaches are salesmen, and players have to buy what you’re selling,” Wells noted. “The name on the front of the jersey is more important than the name on the back. When you see championship banners, no one cares what you scored, but it will be important for you to say ‘I played on that TEAM’.”

“Another key is preparation,” Wells adds. “I attended a clinic 34 years ago with former Atlantic Hawks coach Hubie Brown. I still remember him saying, ‘If you prepare and work, work, work….you’ve done everything you can do.’ “

For Wells, it’s all about the kids and always has been.

“Troy believes in his players,” VanLear, who has stayed close to Wells since their days at Fleming, noted last week. “He’s old school all the way and holds his players accountable. He hasn’t budged on that one bit in 45 years and never will. He gave a lot of kids at Martinsville a second chance.”

“Troy has a passion for the game; a basketball junkie,” VanLear added. “He’s such a solid person, the kids respect him. The way Troy has influenced others is the way he separates himself from other coaches. Good things happen to good people.”

Wells still gets emotional when asked about the most satisfying aspect of his coaching career.

“It’s the impact you can have on the rest of a kid’s life,” Wells points out proudly with a hesitation and teary eye. “Athletics teaches character, integrity and the preparation to make players better people. That’s what has been important to me.”

When asked what he’ll do after coaching, Wells has a quick answer that reflects his desire to interact with people and a tradition he has carried out for years.

“I’m going to be a greeter at Wal-Mart and hand out mints,” he says with a huge laugh. “I’ve been truly blessed beyond measure.”

So have the hundreds of athletes and players that have likewise had a spot on his roster.

– Bill Turner

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