MINEOLA, TX (KLTV) - Leonard Charles Gregory was simply known as, "Coach" to dozens of black high school students in a once segregated, Mineola, Texas. Gregory coached it all: football, basketball, baseball, and track for nearly two decades. Now, it won't be long before his name becomes a permanent fixture in the Mineola community and across East Texas.
"This is one of the most important things to ever happen to this community, restoring this place," said James Anderson.
Anderson graduated from McFarland High in 1961. He was an offensive and defensive tackle for the all-black McFarland Bears and played for Coach Gregory from 1956 to 1961. He said L.C. Gregory was one the toughest, but one of the best coaches he ever had.
"He taught me, not only sports, but he taught me the way of life," said Anderson.
Anderson is a member of the McFarland Alumni Board, which has working for the past four years transforming the old McFarland High School gym into a gem.
"They had talked about demolishing the place," he said. "That would have been terrible."
New windows and doors, and a new roof helped secure the building in 2006. The plans would later include new plumbing and electrical work. New basketball goals were installed. The latest project: a brand new hardwood court. It all came from alumni and community donations.
"I'm just very excited," said Grace Gregory. "I don't know how to act."
Grace was married to Coach L.C. for nearly 50 years. The 93-year-old widow said her husband was respected on both sides of the tracks.
Coach led the McFarland Bears to 11 district championships, including three undefeated seasons, three state quarter-finals and a bid to state.
Anderson recalled playing a '59 game against a Dallas team.
"They had about two or three charter buses and 66 players got off the bus and we suited out 21," he said.
"The coached looked over at us and said, 'They may have 66 people, we got 21, but one thing you can keep on your mind: they can only put 11 on the field at one time.'"
The Bears went on to win that game. For Coach, failure was never an option.
"He always said, 'I think I can, if I try,'" said Gregory's widow. "So he buckled right in with a bit of a grin."
Haywood Epperson went to all-black McFarland High, but said the project is something the whole community can be proud of.
"This building doesn't want to represent any separation. This building should represent everyone in Mineola."
They are even prouder of the name it will soon carry.
The new scoreboard has already been ordered.
Coach Gregory started at McFarland in 1947. The last class graduated in 1966, and Gregory went on to coach JV at integrated Mineola High until 1971 before his death in 1986.
A special dedication and ribbon cutting is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday at the newly renovated L.C. Gregory gym on Stone Street in Mineola.