After 39 seasons, Fisher retiring as basketball coach at Davenport

BRIAN C. HOREY

Davenport coach Lee Fisher talks to Cody Wamsley during a non-league game against Morris this past season. Fisher announced he was retiring as the Wildcats coach after 39 seasons and 553 victories.

The same year the Beatles made their American presence felt on the Ed Sullivan Show and President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law, Lee Fisher began coaching varsity boys basketball at Davenport.

The year? 1964.

Some 51 years later, Fisher has decided to put the clipboard and whistle away.

"The end has arrived," Fisher said Tuesday.

His legacy will live long into the future. Five-hundred and fifty-three times he walked off the court a winner, second in Section Four history behind former Whitney Point coach Jack Halloran. He orchestrated nine sectional championship teams, steered the Wildcats to 10 Delaware League titles and took three teams to the Class D state semifinals.

It's almost impossible to talk to anyone -- former player, opposing player, opposing coach, area basketball follower, you name it -- without the word "respect" being mentioned soon after Fisher's name is brought up.

His team's played the right way, competed the right way, won the right way and lost the right way.

“After his squad beat me in the regionals in 2007 at (Oneonta State), we sat down for a while and just talked — about his athletic career at Purdue (where he played football), his family and so on," New York Mills coach Mike Adey said after his team beat Davenport, 55-38, in a Class D state quarterfinal. "How many people would take the time to do that after just beating you? Plus, it’s so nice to meet a coach who is older than I am.”

Not long after Fisher's 2007 squad saw its season end in the state semifinals, he was asked to share the message he gave to his players in the locker room. With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan ongoing, Fisher said he relayed that losing a basketball game is minor compared to what's happening overseas. He said soldiers are dying today and this is just a basketball game.

"I hope they understand that success doesn't mean winning," Fisher said of what he wanted players to take with them after playing for him. "When they look back at what they've done, I want them to think that I've worked hard for what I did, even though we might not have gotten to the top position, we worked hard to get there. With hard work, a lot can be overcome. I want them to remember the fun of the game – it really is fun. I haven't heard all the stories the kids tell, but I'll hear, remember this or remember that. These are lasting memories and that's what I would like them to have – of playing the game the best they can, going out and doing the best you can possibly do and looking back and saying, 'That was my best. It might not have been enough, but it was my best.'"

Asked to compare the kids of today to those of his early years in coaching, Fisher said times have definitely changed, but not necessarily for the worst.

He said he remembered his early years That the vast majority of his players lived or worked on farms. He said when he tried to implement Saturday practices and that some parents protested because they needed their sons at home to work. He said the main mode of transportation to winter practices in those days were snowmobiles. He said he'd literally have to kick kids out of the gym after practice and then have to hang around awhile because some of the players knew how to get back in the gym, even after it was locked.

These days, Fisher said, kids are connected to technology 24/7. Many of them have cars, many of them play organized basketball away from school, on AAU or travel teams. He said parents have changed, becoming more involved in their kids' athletic activities, something he added that often comes to the detriment of the team.

"I'm not saying it's all bad," Fisher said. "But sometimes, if they hear too much from their parents, they sort of get mixed up. They'll hear from their parents, 'You should be shooting more.' It's not like they hear, 'You have to play harder defense.' They're hearing, 'You're passing up good shots.' Well, what's a good shot? Some guys think every shot is a good shot. Let's run the play first and then look for a good shot.

"I did see in the latter part of my career that parents really got more involved," he continued.

Fisher coached 39 seasons for the Wildcats, a career that included two stints. He coached from 1964-1990 and then returned from 2002-2015.

His 500th victory came on Dec. 21, 2010, a 52-48 win over a Worcester squad coached by Jim Kenyon, who also played against Fisher-coached teams.

"I congratulated him and then I reminded him we used to do battle when I was player," Kenyon said after that game. "He got his first sectional title against me (in 1970) and his 500th win. I'll tell you, though, every coach aspires to be like Lee."

Davenport-Delhi to combine

Because of low numbers, Davenport will not field a boys soccer program this fall. Instead, its players will combine to join Delhi's varsity squad. The Wildcats also will send a couple of football players to Delhi, Davenport athletic director Cheryl Butler said Tuesday.

"We really have low numbers for the next two years with the boys," Butler said. "We have a 1- to 2-year gap where we were going to have to do some sort of merging, so Delhi picking us up was nice.

"We have a really big class of seventh-grad boys, so we might be able to go back to sustaining our own program when they come up," she continued.

Butler estimated Davenport would send about eight boys soccer players from grades 10-12 to Delhi this season. She said she thought the combined team would make Delhi a Class C school for sectional purposes.

Butler added that it's also likely that Davenport will send baseball players to Delhi in the spring as well.

Rob Centorani can be reached at rcentorani@thedailystar.com or 607-432-1000, ext. 209.

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