Christian remembered as father, coach

Published 9:47 pm Tuesday, April 5, 2011

By Tracy Agnew and Andrew Giermak

Staff Writers

The man whom generations of Suffolk basketball players called “Coach” died Monday.

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Charles Christian, who coached at schools including Booker T. Washington and John F. Kennedy high schools before going on to Norfolk State University, had battled cancer in the hospital for nearly two months. He was 83 years old.

Charles Christian

Under Christian, Booker T. Washington’s basketball team racked up a record of 101-1 from the 1962-63 season into the 1967-68 season.

“Everyone knew Booker T. of Suffolk because of his abilities,” said Ronald Hart, who played for Christian until he graduated in 1960. “Our school got recognition because of Coach Christian.”

Christian was known for focusing on defense and stressing intense practices, as well as enforcing strict curfews at Norfolk State.

But it wasn’t just his stellar coaching abilities that affected those who played for him. Former players and family members remembered his character and what he taught them off the court.

“He always stood for what was right,” said Clint Wright, who played for Christian at Norfolk State and now coaches at Nansemond-Suffolk Academy. “We had lots of conversations, and not always about basketball.”

Wright said Christian became a father figure to him after his own father died in 1995. When Wright became an AAU coach himself, Christian still helped — with donations and with advice.

“There are so many things I take from him that now I take a lot of those things for granted,” Wright said.

“He was a tremendous mentor,” Hart said. “He really instilled in all of us a sense of being able to accomplish anything. He was like a second father.”

Christian’s daughters know how Hart feels.

“My sister and I say, ‘We got a whole lot of brothers,’” said Charlene Andrews, one of Christian’s two daughters. “We don’t have any biological brothers, but we have a whole lot of other brothers.”

Andrews said her father had a good sense of humor, but knew when it was time to get serious, both on and off the court.

“He always told his players, ‘Men, let’s get to work,’” she remembered. “From the players he coached in his first year in 1949 to the players he coached in his last year in 1992, they all say Daddy made them the men that they are.”

Andrews said her father also would encourage his players to stay in school and would round them back up if they tried to drop out.

“He seemed to help so many people get in school and stay in school,” she said.

Even today, men who are now retired themselves would call Christian by the term “Coach.” Even some who never played for him ended up calling him that.

Christian was involved in several community organizations, including the Salvation Army and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He served two terms as NAACP president, from 2004 to 2008, said Lue Ward, the current president.

“I think his contribution to the organization was remarkable,” Ward said. “He kept things professional. When you had a situation, it was taken care of. He’ll be really missed.”