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Coach, teacher Hughes retiring after 41 years

PALMETTO — What Butch Hughes might’ve done with his life.

Shrimp boat captain for his dad in Everglades City.

Auto mechanic like his brother.

Telephone company lineman like his buddies.

“They were making more money than I ever made,” he said, laughing.

William “Butch” Hughes became a basketball coach, instead.

Darn good one for 28 years at Palmetto High School.

They even named the new gym after him 10 years ago.

“You’re usually dead when those things happen,” Hughes joked.

A healthy 62, he’s far from that.

So he’s retiring after 41 years in education in Manatee County, nearly all of it at Palmetto. He left coaching in 2000, but still taught physical education.

“It’s time,” Hughes said. “Got some things I want to do while I’m healthy. Play golf. Fish.”

Palmetto High without Butch Hughes?

Hard to imagine.

Seems like he’s been there forever.

“Longer than the termites,” Bob Bowling, Braden River High’s athletic director who held the same post and coached football at Palmetto, once joked.

“He’s part of the brick and mortar,” said Herb Tschappat, an assistant superintendent and former Palmetto principal.

“He’ll always be around — like a ghost,” said Rod Brooks, a 1989 PHS grad who played for Hughes.

So will the memories.

Seven hundred-plus games.

Two final four trips.

How the old gym rocked on game nights.

“You had to get to the gym at 5:30 p.m., just to see the game at 7:30 p.m.,” Brooks said. “It was nuts.”

Like when Bayshore, Manatee and Southeast came to play.

“The old gym had windows running down both sides and people would be standing on the roof looking into the gym,” Hughes said. “Police would run them off, but they’d get right back on the roof.

“People still talk about when the place was packed. A great time.”

They also remember how Hughes changed lives.

Especially from inside that huddle.

“It was like looking at your father,” said Brooks, a Tampa business owner. “There were 12 guys on the team and 11 were raised by single mothers. Butch was our father. We needed a spanking, he spanked us. We needed a hug, he hugged us.

“He gave us tough love, but you knew he had your best interests at heart. If you did anything wrong he called your mom — and you didn’t want that to happen.”

It was no different for Ken Burton, the county tax collector.

“He pushed me to my limit,” the 1980 PHS grad said. “He’d be yelling at me, but I knew why. When coach stops yelling at you, you need to start worrying.

“To play for Butch was an honor.”

It was a life lesson for Al Washington, who came to Palmetto High after all-black Lincoln High was closed. Hughes, then JV coach, took the raw youngster under his wing.

“I was his personal project,” said Washington, a 1971 PHS grad and retired General Motors executive in Cincinnati. “He stayed later and worked with me. Weekends, too. I’ll never forget that. If it wasn’t for Butch, I wouldn’t have stuck with basketball.”

Basketball was Hughes’s ticket, too.

Got him a college education, a coaching job and an everlasting spot in an appreciative community’s heart.

“You stay at one place as long as I have, you run through a series of families,” Hughes said. “Kids who played for me, their kids played for me. I enjoyed that part of it.

“A lot of what you were ... was being more like a family to them. I saw a lot of kids were at a disadvantage. They looked up to you. A big thing. A big thing.

“You watch them mature and become adults. Heck, a lot of them are more successful than I’ve ever been. It makes you feel good.”

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 745-7055, or write him at Bradenton Herald, P.O. Box 921, Bradenton, Fla. 34206 or email him at vmannix@bradenton.com.

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