by PETER DORFMAN
When Bloomington High School South boys’ basketball coach J.R. Holmes recorded his 807th win in February 2019, he became the winningest high school basketball coach in Indiana history. The milestone would be noteworthy in any state. In hoops-crazed Indiana, it made him a legend.
Holmes was a 16-letter athlete and three-year starting point guard at Needmore High School, one of seven small schools later absorbed in the Bedford North Lawrence High School consolidation. He then went on to coach freshman basketball when he attended Indiana State University. After college, he was head coach for two years at Tunnelton High School, and spent 10 seasons at Mitchell High School before starting his 38-year run at Bloomington South, where he also serves as athletic director overseeing 20 sports.
Holmes, 73, is now in his 50th coaching season. “I’ve won a lot of games,” he says. “I’ve also lost hundreds of games. I handle losing now better than I did when I was starting out. I’m satisfied that I’ve prepared my guys the way I was supposed to. But anybody can have an off night.”
He hasn’t had many off nights lately. When high school winter sports ended prematurely in March, the Bloomington South Panthers were 26-0, ranked first in the state in both the Associated Press and Indiana Basketball Coaches Association polls, and Holmes’ BHSS record stood at 693-221.
This season, he is one of 23 National Coaches of the Year selected by the National Federation for High School Sports. He was a USA Today National Coach of the Year in 2009. Holmes is matter-of-fact about honors like these. “It’s something our kids can tell our grandchildren about,” he says. “My grandkids call me ‘Coach.’ They’ll know Coach did something right.”
Holmes coached state championship teams in 2009 and 2011. “When you win state championships, you automatically become smarter,” he muses. “People look at you differently. But really, some of my favorite teams were in the early ’90s. I had 8-12 seasons with teams that shouldn’t have won a game. They just played their butts off. That was some of the best coaching I ever did.”
Holmes says he’ll probably be back for at least one more season. If so, it won’t be to defend his most-wins record. Lawrence North High School’s Jack Keefer is right on his heels. “I’ll have the record a year or two, worst case,” he says. “But if I go on, it’ll be because I’ve still got the fire in me.”