Har Bell Heritage Hero Coach - Jerry Kirksey

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Jerry Kirksey

For certain people in life, success seems to follow them wherever they go. It can be luck or good fortune, but often it is a result of their own hard work and dedication. For Jerry Kirksey, it is the latter. Success has accompanied him through most of his life. From his playing days at Buffalo High School and SMS, to his coaching stops at Drury or Southwest Baptist, Kirksey was a winner.

Kirksey was born in Wheaton, MO. His father was basketball coach and superintendent of schools. When he was a sophomore at Half Way, his father became principal for Buffalo High School. Kirksey finished his high school career at Buffalo and was a member of the Missouri All-State team. He and his older brother Mike accepted scholarships at the University of Missouri-Columbia. After suiting up two years at MU, he transferred to Southwest Missouri State, where he was part of a team that finished second in the nation. Kirksey scored 973 points in his three years in a Bears uniform, a total that put him fourth all-time in school history when he graduated.

Upon graduating from SMS, Jerry Kirksey got into coaching high school basketball at Houston, Missouri. After eight years, a desire to become a superintendent led him to Central Missouri State, where he earned his specialist degree in school administration. In a change of direction, he then accepted a position as assistant coach at Missouri-Rolla, where they won several conference championships and went to the national tournament. He made the transition from UMR to Drury College after seven years.

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Jerry Kirksey spent two years at Drury—two of the most successful in the history of the men’s basketball program. In his first year at Drury, the Panthers finished 29-47, losing in the quarterfinals of the NAIA National Tournament. When Dr. Edsel Matthews moved on, Kirksey stepped in as head coach to guide the Panthers to a 33-2 mark and a National Championship. He then looked to become a Division I coach, but instead took a job as coach of the Springfield Ozarkers, a professional team that never made it off the ground. Ironically, the next stop on the Kirksey coaching tour was Henderson State in Arkansas, the team Drury had beaten to win the 1979 NAIA Championship. His teams’ winning ways continued with a 26-win season and a quarterfinal loss in the national tourney.

Family illness and tragedy prompted the Kirkseys to move back to Missouri, where he took a job at a vocational school in Louisburg. In 1987, he took the head coaching job at Southwest Baptist and spent eight years there. Kirksey, whose teams included an Elite Eight qualifier in 1991, still ranks as the winningest men’s coach in SBU history with a record of 146-79, a 64.9 percentage. Following SBU, he moved onto Weaubleau, where he has served as superintendent for three years.

Jerry Kirksey attributes his success to the number of great players he was fortunate to coach. “I learned very early in my coaching career that good players make you a lot better coach,” he says. Unselfishness was also an important component of many of Kirksey’ s most successful teams. “The team that has five guys in double figures is a much better ball club than the team with the leading scorer in the nation.” The pride Kirksey feels for his former players is extremely apparent, evidenced by the fact that he’s still aware of how they doing. “The greatest thing about coaching is the relationships with those kids.” Kirksey credits the influence of some familiar coaching names, including Norm Stewart, Earl Day, and Matthews. He was also greatly impacted by the life and coaching style of his brother Mike. Jerry Kirksey and his wife Barbara, an elementary teacher in Buffalo, live in Bolivar. Their three sons remain fairly close by: Jay, an attorney in Bolivar; Daren, a coach at Warsaw High School; and David, who is working on an advanced degree at SBU. For his life long success and achievements, Big Sports honors Jerry Kirksey as this month’s Har-Bell Heritage Hero.

--BIG SPORTS staff, April 1999