By JP Widner
Dublin- Last Friday, I had the privilege to sit down in the home of a Pulaski County basketball legend. The individual himself does not believe he is a legend, a good coach, or anything of the sort. He just feels extremely “blessed” by all the years of successful coaching. That someone is the infamous Coach Embert “Buddy” Farris, Jr., a recent retiree of Pulaski County Schools and current Dublin Middle School Lady Duke basketball and track coach.
Born in Newbern, Virginia to Embert, Sr and Myrtle Farris, Buddy grew up on his father’s dairy farm. Being a shy boy, Buddy used sports to socialize at Dublin High School. He played basketball and was a speedy split end for the Dublin High School football team. He fondly recalls catching three long passes against rival Pulaski High his senior year, including two touchdown passes (one was called back).
Upon graduating in 1963, his father wanted him to follow in his footsteps on the family’s dairy farm. Instead, Buddy left to play basketball and study business at Bluefield Jr. College. After not doing too well in the classroom, he returned to the farm where he drove a milk truck delivering to doorsteps starting at 2am six days a week. Buddy then joined the Army National Guard and took basic training in Fort Jackson, South Carolina. He returned home to take a job at Corning. When his father passed away in 1966, Buddy returned to the Newbern family farm to work with his uncle Henry Farris.
His minister told him about a college in Georgia called Atlanta Christian College (now Point University). Buddy went on to play forward for the college’s basketball team, averaging 14-16 points per game his final three years. While at Atlanta Christian College, Buddy earned a B.S. in Ministry. He graduated on a Friday, and the next day got married to his lovely bride Harriet (May 12, 1973).
After college, Buddy became the Camp Maintenance Manager at a church camp in Lake Aurora, Florida. His job was deleted after three years, so he went back to school at Milligan College in Tennessee to earn a teaching degree in Physical Education/Health and a minor in Biology.
Buddy returned to Southwest Virginia for his mom’s funeral in 1978. One day later, former superintendent Ken Dobson told Buddy that he should apply for a recent vacancy at Dublin Middle School. Buddy did and he was hired that summer as a PE/Health teacher. He also became the head basketball coach for both the girls and the boys. Buddy explained that the girls played in the fall while the boys played in the winter. Richard Lewis became his assistant coach. “I truly believe that the Lord guided me in the right direction,” Coach Farris told me. “You have to know the right people and have the right timing to get certain jobs.”
Rod Reedy had been the high school coach for the Lady Cougars. Buddy’s wife, Harriet, was Reedy’s assistant coach when he left to coach at Radford University. Buddy was hired as the head girls’ basketball coach at PCHS then while Harriett and son, David, took over the Dublin Middle School girl’s program. Richard Lewis took over the boy’s program.
For the next seven years (1995-2001), Farris compiled an amazing 112 wins-47 loss record. Despite inheriting only one returning starter, Farris guided the Lady Cougars to a 19-6 record, the Roanoke Valley District Championship and a top eight finish in the AAA Regional round. Farris earned the distinguished VHSL Coach of the Year award in his first high school coaching year for Pulaski County. In his second year, the Lady Cougars went 23-2, claimed the Northwest Regional Championship and finally lost to Mt. Vernon in the Virginia State Championships quarterfinals held at Radford University. In 1999-2000, Pulaski had a 20-2 record and lost to Danville in the regional tournament held in Lynchburg. In his final year at PCHS (2000-2001), Farris led the Lady Cougars to a 15-8 record. Right after the season, he was called to the main office at PCHS and was told he was being fired for not teaching fundamentals. Farris was denied any second chance to straighten out the apparent “fundamentals” problem and the administration let him go despite winning three district championships, a 112-47 record and never a losing record in seven years. Farris sat out of coaching for 1-2 years after that series of events and continued to teach at Dublin Middle.
Coach Farris reentered the coaching realm as he returned to guide the Lady Dukes at DMS in 2003. At the middle school level, his teams have compiled an impressive 231-68 win/loss record. Besides coaching at the middle and high school, Farris has coached AAU basketball, including a trip to the National Championships in Oklahoma in the mid-1990s where they upset the #6 team in the nation in the first round. Farris was also involved in the famous 5-4 contest where the title of the newspaper read “This is not a baseball score, it’s basketball.” Dublin held the ball the majority of the game of the game vs Pulaski, a team that had beat them by over 20 points earlier in the season. That strange strategy along with Pulaski refusing to come out of their zone defense resulted in the unique score and victory.
“I’ve never cursed at a player,” Buddy recalled. “But I have thrown a few clipboards. I even became Bobby Knight one game.” During a game at Hidden Valley, his eighth grade team was being called for an unbelievable amount of fouls compared to his opponent. He turned and kicked a chair in disgust only to have it launch off his foot and land on the stage behind the team bench. Luckily, the referee didn’t notice, but his foot did as it swelled up immediately afterwards. His team went on to win that game and became one of his many undefeated teams.
“Playing for coach Farris was a great experience,” recalled Anthony Akers, the Parks and Recreation Director of Pulaski County and former basketball player for Elon University (1988-1992). “I have played for several great coaches during my basketball days. The thing I remember most about coach Farris was the constant encouragement for his players to be the best they can be. Having played two years for him, he always emphasized doing the right thing both on and off the court. Matter of fact, he was more concerned about his players being more successful as both a person and student more than basketball. Having played football at DMS as well, I can remember coach Farris always being very supportive even though he was the basketball coach. I vividly remember coach Farris telling me if I wanted to be a better ball handler, dribble in the grass as much as possible to help you learn control as the ball would bounce in several different directions. Well, I took that to heart and it proved to help me dribble with both hands, which is an essential part of the game for a point guard and smaller player such as myself. I have always looked up to coach Farris and am grateful for our wonderful relationship to this day. He has had a tremendous amount of success coaching both boys and girls in basketball at the middle and high school level. If he ever decides to retire from coaching, it will definitely be the end of an era of great success as well as a loss of profound wisdom and love that has been passed on to numerous kids throughout the past several decades. It was an honor and privilege to play for coach Farris and I am forever grateful.”
“Coach Farris is a very humble person,” said Sydney Anderson, a former player at Dublin Middle School and current Pulaski County High School track standout. “He’s the type of person that will put the feelings of others before his own. He was a coach on the basketball court and the track but also a friend to all his players and athletes. He’s given me advice that I will carry with me the rest of my life. I’m very grateful that I got the chance to be coached by him.”
“I care for the girls,” Farris explained. “I work them hard, I care for them and we practice to win. I’m not a great coach. I try to get down on the kid’s level as their friend and coach. I just want them to do their best, and I want the best for them. The joy of coaching overshadows the bad parts. I pray that I can help and guide these kids every day.”
Trophies and plaques line his office walls and basement, along with numerous videos and scorebooks of games he has coached. After teaching 34 years at Dublin Middle School and compiling an amazing 341-115 record in middle and high school basketball for almost a 75% winning percentage, Coach Farris sat contemplating how many more seasons he’ll coach his favorite sport.
“The greatest coach is Jesus,” said Farris as he pointed to a painting of Jesus Christ on his office wall at home. Perhaps a few coaches could take a page out of his book to bring Cougar sports back to their glory days that so many have been discussing recently. Time will tell of course. Meanwhile, the legendary coach will be teaching basketball “fundamentals” to middle school ladies, piling up victories, and molding young student-athletes into something Pulaski County can be proud of.