Clarence “Big House” Gaines!

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February – yes, African-American History Month! Now as much as I was tempted to weigh in on the recent controversy surrounding “Stacy” what’s-her-name’s suggestion that we need stop recognizing Black History Month, I decided to bite my tongue and let others do the criticizing.

Instead, I thought I’d seize this as an opportunity to call out another giant – literally and figuratively – in Black History in the person of Clarence “Big House” Gaines, for 47 years the head basketball coach at my alma mater, WSSU (Winston-Salem State University). Here’s my short story.

I remember so well my freshman year at WSSU, recently removed from the gym at Staunton, Virginia’s Booker T. Washington High School and the basketball court at The Huntington School in Boston. Yours truly, big “fro,” platform shoes and no more than 140 pounds soaking wet, strolled arrogantly onto campus naïve enough to think that he could walk on as a point guard and replace the legendary Earl “The Pearl” Monroe of WSSU, black basketball and NBA lore. Man was I in for a surprise.

You see, my tryout lasted less than 30 minutes thanks to athletes much bigger, faster and far more talented that I could possibly have imagined. On top of that reality was a hulking figure off on the sidelines, a gentlemen I quickly learned was Coach Big House Gaines. He didn’t say a word, and didn’t need to say a word. With huge arms stretched across a barrel of a chest, he just stared at us tryouts, shaking his head from side to side. It didn’t take rocket science to understand that my best chance for success at WSSU was in the classroom, not on his basketball court.

So at the next water break, I slipped out of that steamy gym, bolted to the dorm, retired my jock strap and basketball career forever and headed to the shower, humbled by Coach Gaines’ piercing stare to say the least. But all was not lost.

Toward the end of my first year I was fortunate enough to land a part time job as reporter with the Winston-Salem Journal where I covered WSSU sports. That provided me with a rare opportunity to witness Coach Gaines close up as a coach and mentor of young Black men. He was intimidating yet graceful and sometime grueling in the interviews I did of him. “Young man,” “son,” and “boy” – terms of endearment and affection – was how he began and ending most of our interviews.

So I depart from the usual recipients of Black History Month recognition, all well-deserved, and offer the following tapes where you can hear firsthand from and about Clarence “Big House” Gaines, the legend himself.


© Terry Howard is an award-winning writer, story teller, trainer and senior associate with Diversity Wealth. He is a contributing writer with the Chattanooga News Chronicle, The American Diversity Report and is a regular blogger with New York-based Catalyst and MenEngage. He is also a contributing writer in the book, “Religious Diversity at Work” scheduled for publication this spring. In 2006 Terry founded the Global Diversity Consortium consisting of over 60 organizations globally. Feel free to visit his page, or contact him at or


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One comment on “Clarence “Big House” Gaines!”

  1. RJ Hall says:

    What a remarkable story and legacy! (Terry, you could have been the first Stephen A. Smith. You left try-outs too early!)

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