While covering the Mid-Piedmont 3-A girls basketball championship at Ledford High School on Friday, I spoke with John Ralls, a 35-year veteran of coaching basketball. 

As Ledford's head coach, Ralls has won multiple conference and state championships, including this year's MPC conference crown. Ralls spoke of coaching influences who helped him develop as a head coach, reminding me of another championship coach who recently received the Chairperson's Award at January’s Tom A. Finch YMCA awards dinner. 

Phil Kanoy, former wrestling coach at Thomasville High School, helped the Bulldogs win a state championship in 1973. Kanoy and Ralls both offer insight behind their storied careers and what it takes to become champions in the Chair City, while 

Emmalee Thomas — a senior at Ledford — talks about what it’s like playing for one of Thomasville’s most successful coaches.

My preacher gave me an article out of the Sports Illustrated back in April about a guy from Chicago who was 30 years old, a great athlete in high school and at Indiana University. Then he started coaching; he was tough. When I read it, he inspired me. He had a lot of gang-related-type kids, many of whom come from bad neighborhoods. 

He encouraged them to go out for wrestling, and within five years, he had won the dual team wrestling championship. All of a sudden, when he was 33, has was diagnosed with polymyositis. He's now had it three years, is fighting it and has lost a lot of strength, but is still trying to coach...I think, 'Gosh, how can you be so upbeat?' If I were ever given those bad cards, could I handle that? You wonder. This guy coaching in Chicago, he preached all this stuff. 

Grit your teeth, bow your neck and always be positive. But when you're put in that situation, what are you going to do?

— Phil Kanoy


I’ve tried to find good guys (coaching colleagues). I had great coaches in college at Guilford, Jack Jenson, Buzz Dunning and Bob Burke, my good friend Robert Kent. 

When Coach Krzyzewski came to Duke, Freddy Johnson at Greensboro Day got us on to work at their basketball camp. Being around those guys and getting to listen to Coach Krzyzewski and those guys...Coach K was great, he would talk to us about how their season went, what they did. That was a huge influence. 

Don Myers was another one. He went over to lunch, me, Robert and Freddy at Stamey's. We're talking with him about his coaching academy. He would say, 'You can come in to my library and get everything you want, my secretary will copy it for you.' What a great guy. I say a prayer for him every night.

— John Ralls


I started in the fourth grade and have had good coaches ever since, in AAU and in school. I've been coming to Ralls's camp since I was little, and he has worked with me on the basics and everything. 

My other coaches help out a lot at practice and they all play a big part. They focus a lot on teamwork and defense. They're all great coaches.

— Emmalee Thomas