Daily Record March 9, 2010 by Bill Richardson
Coach Ray Estes was Bulldogs Driving Force
The basketball coach at Bridgeport High School from 1957 – 58 through 1960 – 61 when the Bulldogs were one of the top programs in Illinois, was Ray Estes. He said in an interview in 2010 that the success was due mostly to a group of athletes who listened well and played their roles to perfection. Those players, however, saw it differently.
“I was fortunate to be under his guidance year- round from 1957 to 1961 when I was age 13 to 17,” says Jim Brown who was a junior guard on the Bridgeport team that reached the championship game in the one -class Illinois State Tournament in 1960. “Other than my family, he was the major influence in my life.”
Estes grew up in Missouri, and earned an athletic scholarship to Southeast Missouri State University. He coached basketball in his home state for two seasons, and took a team to the state tournament. He spent four seasons at Bridgeport, before moving to the high – profile program in Anderson, Indiana where his teams reached the Indiana Final Four twice. In 18 seasons as a high school head coach, his teams had a combined record of 350 – 123.
Brown recalls that prior to the arrival of Estes, the Bridgeport teams had some decent players, but was not tremendously successful. According to the IHSA, the school had not won a regional championship since 1936.“The thing that was different was the coach,” Brown said. “Bridgeport always had a fair amount of talent for school that size. But things changed when Estes came to town in terms of success.”
Bridgeport struggled to a mark that was well below .500 in 1957 – 58, the first season under Estes, who taught biology and physical education at the school. The following season, the team improved to 17 –7. The Bulldogs finished 33 – 2 in 1960, in their third season with Estes as coach. That was a team that was ranked 11th in the final Associated Press poll, and reached the championship game of the State Tournament, before falling to Chicago Marshall, 79 – 55. That spring, Estes coached the Bridgeport High School baseball team to the State Finals, as well. Up until that time, it was the only time a Lawrence County team ever won a baseball sectional championship.
The final season for Estes in Bridgeport was 1960 – 61 when the team finished 27 – 2 and was ranked sixth in the final Associated Press poll. That team again won a regional title, and defeated Teutopolis in the opening round of the sectional. In the sectional finals, however, the Bulldogs- playing on their own floor- suffered a two-point loss to second – rated Centralia.
In 1962 Estes coached in Anderson but left there to serve as assistant coach at Vanderbilt University from 1970 to 1971. Then he returned to Anderson to coach for four more seasons before leaving coaching after the 1975 season.
Estes was known for his innovative mind. At one point, oxygen tanks could be found on the Bridgeport bench, to help exhausted players regain their breath. He was one of the first coaches to have his players practice isometrics, and maintained that’s why the Bulldogs didn’t suffer from sprained ankles or other maladies because of it. He became convinced that corn oil was a magic elixir, and had the players take a spoonful on a daily basis.
Richard Martin, a senior on the 1960 team, says Estes was partly responsible for his leading a favorable life. Martin attended college, taught for more than 30 years at the elementary school level in Vincennes, and retired at the age of 58. During that tenure, Martin coached three players at the elementary level who went on to play Division I college basketball. “Coach Estes was instrumental. He was always stressing the importance of making good grades and going to college,” Martin said. “Without him I don’t think a lot of us would’ve turned out as well as we did.”
Bernie Gray, the captain and leading scorer on the 1961 team, said Estes emphasized winning with class. “He’d never let us run up the score,” Gray said. “The point was to win the game, play well and respect the other team. I can remember him on a number of occasions telling us not to gloat.” But it didn’t stop on the court or the diamond. “He taught us how to play the game of life,” Gray said. “I’d say he was a very good molder of young adults.”
Steve Cunningham, a 1962 Bridgeport graduate who later played at Purdue, said Estes was “The Boss.” “He was the best coach I ever played under,” said Cunningham. “There is no doubt in my mind that if he hadn’t been our coach we wouldn’t have done what we did.”