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Coach Rice honored for 34 years of service

Time flies when you’re having fun. For Coach Les Rice, it’s been 34 years of fun. The secret to his long running dedication to coaching comes from a natural source.

“It’s the kids,” he said. “When I step into the gym, the kids fill me up with energy.”

For his years of service, Coach Rice received a red, white and blue basketball – used in the first games he coached – encased in glass at last week’s home game. 

“No one has coached longer, been a head coach longer or coached as many sports in Mission as he has,” Lloyd Phillips said. “We coached together for a dozen years and I’ve never met a more loyal Bulldog.”

Lung cancer forced the former head girls basketball coach to slow down this season and support the team from the sidelines.

“I did some chemo and radiation last fall,” Rice said. “It was 45 days of intense stuff. It knocked me on my butt. It did shrink the tumor significantly. Now, it’s a matter of recuperating. All in all, I’m doing good.”

Rice doesn’t want to stay completely away from his energy source. 

“I still plan to coach junior high football. I might get back into other junior high stuff if I’m feeling good. The kids and the people I’ve worked with made it so much fun,” Rice said. “I’m going to stick with it as much as I can.”

It was easier for Rice to list the sports he hasn’t coached.

“No wrestling or volleyball,” he said. “I liked tennis and football but my first love was basketball.”

Rice described himself as an energetic coach.

“I really get into it. I was always jumping around. That was my style. The kids look at me sometimes with big eyes. I was just so full of adrenaline, but I’ve mellowed over the years,” he said.

His wife, Lou Rice —  the person he calls “my biggest support” —disagreed with his claim to be mellowing.

“Last season, I still had to tell him to settle down,” she said.

Terri Biggs served as Coach Rice’s assistant girls basketball coach. During the halftime break, Biggs picked up the microphone to “sum up 22 years” of working together. She recalled Rice’s skill for telling good stories on long bus rides and his method for remembering some of the more complicated names of the hundreds of kids he’s coached.

“He gave them a nickname,” Biggs said. “Like Rip Van Winkle to a player who slept in one day. And yes, they answer to these names. Coach, thanks for the memories.”

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