If not for the influence of one high school coach, Don Edwards might have been a farmer. And while that likely would have been farming’s gain, it would have been a major loss for the sporting world in northwest Missouri.
Admittedly, Edwards grew up with the same dreams of every other American boy. He wanted to play baseball in the Major Leagues or basketball in the NBA. But once he got to high school, he caught the coaching bug after helping North Harrison High School in Eagleville to a pair of district titles and a state Final Four.
“My high school coach, Larry Parman, was a great role model and that got me thinking about being a coach,” Edwards said. “He was my coaching inspiration.”
That inspiration helped guide Edwards to an astonishing coaching career, one that included more than 800 basketball victories in 20 years as the boys and girls head coach at Jefferson High School in Conception Junction. Among those 824 wins were a combined three state championships (girls in 1989 and 1997; boys in 2000).
For all of those accomplishments, the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame proudly inducted Don Edwards as a member of its Class of 2023.
From the outside, spending 20 years simultaneously coaching boys and girls basketball may seem like a daunting task. But for Edwards, it was no big deal.
“I was a little skeptical at first,” he said. “But during my experience as a student teacher as a senior in college, I worked under a high school coach who coached both boys and girls. Also, during my first two years working at Jefferson, I was the assistant coach for both boys and girls teams and coached both boys and girls junior high teams. By the time I became head coach, I felt pretty comfortable working with either team.”
According to Edwards, there wasn’t a lot of difference coaching the boys and the girls.
“For me, I didn’t feel there was much difference,” he said. “No matter whether boys or girls, you still have to get to know your player’s strengths and weaknesses, when to praise, when to criticize, and how to motivate them. You deal with different personalities and emotions of players no matter which gender. Good coaches handle individual players differently at times. That goes for boys or girls.”
And Edwards was certainly a good coach. Overall, he appeared in six Final Fours, won three state championships, 18 conference championships and 16 district titles. He also was a three-time Missouri Basketball Coaches Association Coach of the Year.
He also coached Jefferson softball to six Final Fours and three state titles (1981, 1987, 1998), cementing his status as one of Missouri’s all-time coaching greats.
Basketball and softball may not seem too similar, but Edwards says coaching the two sports isn’t all that different.
“Knowledge of the sport is really the only difference when it comes to coaching different things,” Edwards said. “How you handle players and how you motivate is basically the same.”
Edwards is quick to deflect attention when asked about what made him so successful. He credits most of his success to hard work, both on the part of himself and his athletes.
“First of all, the Jefferson school and community were awesome to work for,” he said. “Parents were very supportive, and their kids knew the value of hard work. It’s amazing how ‘lucky’ people get that work hard.”
Edwards also never stopped learning, never stopped trying to be a better coach.
“I was eager to learn as I attended many clinics, camps, and hung around successful coaches, and tried to be a sponge,” he said. “I felt like I continued to learn things every year I coached.”
With all that success, one might be tempted to move on to supposedly greener pastures. But Edwards never really felt that way.
“There were a few opportunities I seriously considered but every time it came down to making a final decision, I decided where I was at was the best place for me,” he said.
Several people influenced Edwards through out his career, beginning with Parman. Along the way, people like Northeast Nodaway coach Claude Samson, William Jewell coach Larry Holley, Missouri State coaching legend Cheryl Burnett and Northwest Missouri’s Steve Tappmeyer made a mark.
“You are known for who you surround yourself with and hang out with,” Edwards said. “I’ve been so fortunate to have many great friends, mentors, and assistant coaches.”
And the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame is fortunate to claim Don Edwards as one of its newest members.