Legendary Winter Haven Coach Jack Deedrick Passes Away

Jack Deedrick loved basketball. He loved coaching and was a fixture at the college final four for decades until he stopped going in 2016 at the age of 93.

At Winter Haven, where he coached for 30 years, he led the Blue Devils to their only state boys basketball title in 1973 with a team led by future NBA star Otis Birdsong. Through all the years of coaching, one word is consistently used to describe him by former players and opposing coaches. He was a gentleman, one of the most respected coaches of his time in Polk County.

Deedrick died of pneumonia Monday night at Winter Haven Hospital. He was less than two months shy of his 96th birthday. His oldest son, Mark, said Deedrick’s health had been in decline the past six months.

“He loved basketball,” Mark Deedrick said. “He loved helping the kids and teaching them to be the best they would be.”

Gorman Ayers, who was an assistant under Deedrick for nearly 20 years, saw that devotion up close.

“Jack was a perfect gentleman,” Ayers said. “He was a great basketball man, a great person and he loved kids. He could see potential and develop it. He really was a master at that.”

John Richard Deedrick was born April 30, 1922, in Marietta, Ohio, and his family moved to Gary, Indiana, where he graduated from Horace Mann High School. He began college at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, but eventually moved to Lakeland and graduated from Florida Southern. He married Betty Lou in 1945 and they were married for 67 years and had four children: Mark, Marsha, and twins Gary and Gail.

Deedrick began teaching at Lakeland High School in 1950 and moved to Winter Haven, where he taught and coached for the next 30 years, retiring in 1983 after compiling a career record of 503-307.

“He reminded me of John Wooden,” Birdsong said. “He was such a good teacher. We really learned the fundamentals.”

Deedrick was far from the emotional coaches who are demonstrative on the bench. He was always calm and in control.

“He stayed on the same even keel throughout the game,” said Mitch Harris, who was the starting point guard as a sophomore on the ’73 team. “It was amazing.”

And Deedrick was the same in practice as he was in the game.

“He ran a tight ship,” Harris said. “He just had the respect of all the players.”

Deedrick also was one of the most respected coaches within the coaching fraternity.

“He was a very good coach,” said former Lakeland coach Dough Walstad, whose Dreadnaughts played Deedrick’s Blue Devils for 14 years. ″His kids always acted with class, just like him.”

Walstad said he and Deedrick often went to the NCAA tournament together.

“He was same person on and off the court,” Walstad said. “He was easy going and a very nice person.”

Added former Lake Wales coach Aubrey Whitaker: “I never heard anyone say a bad word about him.”

The state championship was the highlight of Deedrick’s coaching career, especially after the disappointments of the previous two seasons. In 1971, Winter Haven lost in seven overtimes to West Palm Beach Twin Lakes in the state semifinals. Then in 1972, the Blue Devils were upset in the district tournament and didn’t make the playoffs.

Winter Haven defeated Pensacola 68-55 in 1973 to finally capture the state title. Birdsong, who scored 59 points in a game against Haines City that season, scored 22 points before fouling out along with two other starters. Dan Brownyard came off the bench and made 10 of 11 free throws.

“We had some good individuals, but they really came together as a team,” Ayers said. “We had kids who came off the bench who really helped us in the state tournament.”

Of course Birdsong, who went on to an all-star career in the NBA, was the star of the 1973 team. The summer prior to his senior year, Deedrick gave Birdsong the key to the gym and the key to the weight room so he could work out.

“Coach and I had a very good relationship,” Birdsong said. “He did everything he could to help me get ready for my senior year.”

Birdsong maintained a relationship with Deedrick over the years. He said they spoke Saturday and his former coach didn’t sound good, so he kept the conversation short. He has many great memories of Deedrick.

“It’s hard to pick one memory, but seeing the joy and excitement on his face after we won is probably my top memory, especially after losing in seven overtimes in 1971,” Birdsong said.

Deedrick, who also won six district titles, coached through the 1983 season before retiring. In retirement, he liked to travel and had homes in New Hampshire, then Tennessee. He also was a substitute teacher for 17 years and stayed in touch with the Winter Haven coaches who followed him.

“He was a role model for all of us young coaches back then,” said former Winter Haven coach Jim Morrison, who led Winter Haven to the state tournament for the first time since the ’73 season in 1995.

Tyrone Woodside, who is trying to lead the Blue Devils this week to their first state title since 1973, said he spoke with Deedrick often over the years.

“He just talked about the way you manage athletes who play multiple sports,” Woodside said.

Deedrick, along with Birdsong, was inducted as part of the inaugural class into the Court of Legends Hall of Fame, established by the Florida Association of Basketball Coaches in 2009.

“I didn’t expect it,” Deedrick told The Ledger in 2009. “There are so many people that deserve to be in there. I guess they wanted to get some of the old guys while they still can.”

The Winter Haven High School gym was also named after him in the 1980s.

“He wasn’t in it for the name recognition,” Ayers said. “He’d have been perfectly content with that never happening, but you’d be hard-pressed to find someone more deserving.”

Visitation will be held at Central Baptist Church in Winter Haven from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Friday. Funeral services will be held at 10 a.m. on Saturday (3/10/18)

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