Clarksville, Ark.-As a young man, Louis Whorton grew up listening to a number of basketball coaching legends in his home. Little did he know that he would later join them as a legend himself.
Years after learning the game from that influential group of coaches, Whorton would become one of the most successful women’s basketball coaches in the junior college ranks. And for his successes, Whorton will be inducted into the University of the Ozarks Sports Hall of Fame January 12, 2013.
“I was thrilled when I heard the news,” he said. “It is as great an honor as I have ever received. To be recognized by the institution from which you graduated is humbling. To even be mentioned with the kind of people currently in the Hall of Fame is a great honor.”
Whorton was born to coach. His mother and father were both coaches and graduates of Ozarks. His parents often had other coaches in their home, and among them included Don Jones, Charlie Spoonhour, Gayle Kaundart and Jim Wyatt, all of which spent time at Ozarks. Those four combined for over 1,000 wins at the collegiate level.
“As a young man, I would sit around and listen to them talk basketball,” said Whorton. “I figured out later in life that I learned more from them than all the clinics I’ve attended over the years. And, they became lifetime friends.”
Born in Clarksville, Whorton graduated from Waldron High School and then graduated with honors from Ozarks in 1976. He credits the Ozarks’ influence for shaping his coaching philosophy.
“Ozarks has influenced a lot of coaches, including myself,” said Whorton. “Working with George Jones and being around others like Lonnie Qualls and Jerry Wagoner played an important part of how I treated the players. I learned that the kids come first. I was blessed with the opportunity to be an assistant under George. I don’t know if I would have gotten into coaching if it weren’t for my experience as a student at Ozarks.”
After serving one season as a men’s assistant coach at Ozarks, Whorton landed a job at the high school level, and then in 1986, he was hired as the head women’s coach at Westark College in Fort Smith. At Westark, Whorton was standard-setting, posting a 538-195 record in 23 seasons. His 1994-95 team went undefeated, won the national championship and earned the distinction as the first junior college women’s basketball team to go undefeated. During his 23 years as a junior college head coach, only two other programs won more games at that level. Under Whorton, Westark won seven Bi-State East Conference championships, seven Region II championships and went to the National Junior College Athletic Association National Tournament seven times. He has coached three WNBA players and 12 All-Americans during his tenure. He was inducted into the NJCAA Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010.
In 27 years as head coach at Westark/University of Arkansas-Fort Smith, Whorton is 590-223. He remains motivated by the challenge of building a program.
“What I really enjoy is the process of building a team,” said Whorton. “I enjoy taking these freshmen and building them into young ladies and college basketball players. That’s what keeps me going. And, as long as you work with young people you don’t get old yourself.”
Success, he believes, is measured by growth and achieving one’s potential.
“If you can look back at the end of the season and say we became the best basketball team that we could, then you had a good season,” he said. “Some years your talent will take you further. Our national championship team went undefeated, but it wasn’t necessarily our most talented team. I’ve always said my best team was probably at Subiaco Academy where we won six games. They played up to their ability every night.”
For Whorton, coaching goes beyond the wins. He has been a father figure to countless players over his years as a head coach. He instills self-discipline within his players, an attribute he hopes will continue in their life after basketball.
“I think my former players would say that when I learned to listen to what Coach Whorton was saying, rather than how he said it, I got along with him fine,” he said. “And after being coached by him, the rest of my life has been pretty easy. If there is one thing that players took away from our program it is self-discipline. I enjoy seeing them grow into independent young adults. If it were just the wins, I would have done something else a long time ago.”
He doesn’t foresee retirement in the near future. However, his wife, Pat, will retire after this school year following a 27-year career in the Alma School District.
“My wife is retiring after this year, and I’m not retiring at the same time she does because I would go from working for UAFS to working for her, and I don’t want to do that,” quipped Whorton. “I had no idea I would coach for 37 years. When I look in the mirror I see an old man, but I don’t feel that way inside. I still want to make a difference in these kid’s lives. I’ve coached all these years and I’ve never got up and went to work a day in my life.”
“To be married to a lovely woman like Pat and with the chance to coach, I feel like I’m the luckiest man in the world. I wish everyone could have enjoyed their careers as much as I have. I think if UAFS knew how much fun I had, they would charge me to work here. Coaching never gets dull for me.”
Louis and Pat are the parents of one son, Jeremy.
A lunch honoring Whorton and the other 2013 inductees will be held in the Rogers Conference Center at 11:00 a.m. January 12. The induction ceremony will take place at halftime of the women’s basketball game in Mabee Gymnasium that day. To purchase tickets for the lunch, call the alumni office at (479) 979-1234.
Photos courtesy of UA-Fort Smith Sports Information Office.