Former Grand Rapids Junior College coach Gene Paxton recalled the sacrifices that many of his student-athletes made to be able to play basketball.
Paxton, 86, was inducted into the Grand Rapids Sports Hall of Fame on Tuesday, joining former NFL player David Harris, NBA star Chris Kaman, Michigan State University golf coach Stacy Slobodnik-Stoll, former OK Conference Commissioner Jim Haskins, and the Paganelli family of football officials (and GRCC alumni), Carl Sr., Carl Jr., Perry and Dino.
Paxton guided GRJC teams to 517 victories over 25 seasons, winning five league championships — all without being able to offer students scholarships to play.
The students “had a lot of stuff to overcome before they even got on the floor,” he told the crowd assembled at the Van Andel Arena. “I still can’t get over how much some of those guys had to sacrifice to play a sport. So many of these players were working jobs — full-time and part-time jobs — they were going without so many things in other areas that other folks take for granted. I just can’t tell you how much I still admire people in that category.”
Paxton started coaching in 1965 and retired in 1990 as the winningest coach in school history with a 517-280 record. He’s a member of the Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan Hall of Fame.