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Martinsville High School Alumni
Class of 1967 Message List
Coach Cartwright - 14
12/16/02     jim rothrock  (1967)      jarothrock@aol.com
Remembering Coach
Friends, admirerers cather to honor Me. Cartwright
Bulletin Sports Editor

"'I would rather be called "coach" than anything I know,'" is what friends like Dick Hensley, former Martinsville football coach and Carlisle headmaster, remember the late Mel Cartwright Sr. often saying.

More than 100 people gathered at the Martinsville Middle School gym on Sunday for the unveiling of a portrait painted in honor of the man whom many call the patriarch of the Martinsville High School basketball program. The painting, by Meredith Jeffries, will be hung amid the state championship banners adorning the middle school gym, most of which were wrought under his leadership.

With the Cartwright family standing to the right of the portrait as it was unveiled, the portrait depicted Cartwright at about 60 years of age in the classic basketball player pose, kneeling on one knee before a basketball.

"I would rather be called coach ...." is engraved on a plaque beneath the portrait.

In addition to the portrait, State Sen. Roscoe Reynolds and State Del. Ward Armstrong presented the Cartwright family with a General Assembly resolution, recognizing Cartwright's community achievements.

The 10 speakers on the occasion indeed remembered Cartwright as coach, but the picture they painted with stories and anecdotes revealed a man who was a coach and much more.

Sometimes humorous and sometimes somber, family members, friends, former players and colleagues described a man in whom was found the weighty reflection of a philosopher and the lively playfulness of a child.

Ever the educator and coach, Cartwright would challenge you with a time-tested truth for the joy of expanding your horizon and with a well-placed elbow for the joy of competition, it was said of him on Sunday.

A believer in punctuality, Cartwright was in the habit of sitting in the pew behind his pastor, the Rev. Jim Alsop, just before Sunday service at Mt. Olive Christian Church, Alsop said. A lot of times the pastor would be a little late getting started, he said. On those occasions, he could always count on Cartwright saying, "'All right preacher, it's time to start.'"

One time Cartwright's penchant for punctuality caused him a swift swat on his coaching seat.

Former colleague and MHS coach Husky Hall told of the time when the Bulldogs were playing rival E.C. Glass at the Middle School. The then-E.C. glass coach "was always late," remembered Hall, who was at that time an assistant to Cartwright. When the coach and his team finally arrived, Cartwright turned to his assistant and growled, "'You go over there and tell that man we're giving him 10 minutes" to get dressed, on the court and warmed up.

"Ten minutes?" Hall questioned, recognizing that 10 minutes is hardly enough time for the players to get dressed and on the court.

"'That's right,'" Cartwright replied, "10 minutes. I'm running this show."

Hall said he prefaced the meeting with the E.C. Glass coach with a few pleasantries and then told him exactly what Cartwright said, including the "he runs the show down here."

E.C. Glass came out and pounded the Bulldogs 32-2 in the first five minutes of the game.

To the laughter of the crowd, Hall said he told Cartwright, "Now you'll learn to keep your big mouth shut," to which Cartwright replied, "'Well, you told him.'"

As speaker after speaker spoke of their late friend, one common character strength of Cartwright which was a common thread throughout the talks was that of a self-assured, fiery competitor. But as oft is the case, one's greatest strength can also be one's biggest weakness.

A couple of the speakers alluded to the time when one of Cartwright's team finished second in a tournament, and with competitive disgust the fiery Cartwright chucked the trophy out of the bus window en route home, saying, "We don't play for second place!"

Carlisle basketball coach Jeff Adkins, who was a MHS and University of Maryland graduate and former Cartwright player, said he played for Cartwright for six years, for him as a head coach at Martinsville and as an assistant coach under Lefty Driesell at Maryland.

And just as Cartwright watched Adkin's evolution as a player, Adkins watched Cartwright's evolution as a coach and person. "When I first came to Martinsville, I was scared of Coach Cartwright; he screamed at me all the time," Adkins remembered.

"But in those six years, I watched him mellow; he was probably the most tender-hearted person I've ever been around." Adkins added that Cartwright eventually came to believe that "throwing the trophy away was a mistake."

Former Cartwright player Jack LaFave, a local pediatrician, and Cartwright friend Jim Lancaster, a retired businessman, remember the pick-up basketball games in Patrick Henry School in the late 50s to the mid 60s.

"It was his gym, his ball -- and his rules," LaFave said with a laugh.

Taking a page from the legendary football coach Vince Lombardi, "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing," Cartwright would stack his team with the best players, grab, hold and throw more than a few elbows, LaFave fondly remembered.

Local resident and now Florida businessman Carton Hodges, shared a tidbit of Cartwright's life that few people knew, not even Husky Hall. Cartwright was a three-sport stand-out athlete at Western Illinois University. The young Cartwright played football, basketball and baseball, said Hodges.

Surprisingly, Hodges added the game which Cartwright was most noted for was not basketball, but baseball. Cartwright excelled in the sport in college and went on to play with a Chicago Cubs' farm club.

Growing up to the stuffy smells of humid gyms and the pounding of basketballs on wood floors, son Mel Cartwright Jr. and daughter Melody Cartwright recalled their dad as a coach, but also as a father, who for much of their lives raised six children alone. Mel remembered his father often "coming home and preparing dinner after a long day of teaching and coaching."

"A civilization flourishes when people plant trees underneath which they will never sit," is a Greek proverb that became a favorite precept for Cartwright, Melody said. Having coached children's basketball programs up through high school and college, Cartwright has planted trees "that are now and will continue to pay big dividends," said his daughter.

In February, Cartwright died just as he lived, said Alsop -- "peacefully and with dignity."

Adkins observed that the season in which Cartwright died was a season in which three of his former programs -- Martinsville High School, Carlisle School and the University of Maryland -- all won basketball championships.

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