When Walter Banks and Mark Oates got together over the years, it was usually as friends.
They often talked about everyday things, such as work, family and sports.
They are also high school coaches. Banks is the football and girls basketball coach at Lake Minneola, and Oates, a longtime girls basketball coach at Leesburg who led the Yellow Jackets to three state Final Four appearances in 12 years, is coaching at Winter Garden West Orange.
As a byproduct of their profession and friendship, some of their sports conversations would turn to upcoming and previous games, and what might be the best way to beat an opponent. Occasionally, they’ve faced off as adversaries, with each standing on opposite ends of the scorer’s table.
The latter happened for the first time in many years on Thursday, when Lake Minneola hosted the Warriors in a non-district contest. Despite keeping the game closer early on with 3 pointers, Lake Minneola fell to their Class 8A opponents 60-35.
The game maintained a competitive edge from start to finish. Players from both teams dove for loose balls and every shot was contested.
Still, for those who knew of the long-standing friendship between Banks and Oates, the game seemed more like a reunion than a basketball game.
“Walter has been a very good friend to me for a very long time,” said Oates. “I met him for the first time in 2002, but I really got to know him the following year when I took over the basketball program at Leesburg and he was coaching at South Lake. I didn’t know much about teams or players in the area, and he gave me a lot of advice and really helped me get my program established. And he hasn’t changed over the years.
“Probably the biggest compliment I can pay him is that Walter Banks is the same person now that he was when I met him in 2002.”
Banks shared many of Oates’ sentiments. Before the game, they stood just behind the benches and remembered past matchups and specific incidents from individual games.
They laughed about situations that likely had not been noticed by anyone else in the gym for those games, such as conversations with each other as their teams played.
“We always had fun (when our teams played each other),” Banks said. “Mark had a lot of talented players in those years, but he never tried to embarrass my teams. He’s just a great person to be around. He’s very competitive, like me and he has a great personality. Mark treated everyone with kindness and respect.
“I can talk to him about anything, and I know he’ll give me some good, sound advice. He’s one of the best friends I ever had.”
After Thursday’s game, they shook hands as coaches and exchanges hugs like friends. Then, as each headed to their locker rooms, they likely began pondering their rematch, set for Jan. 18 at West Orange.
Christina Kline led the Warriors (3-4) with 19 points, followed by Ciara Thompson with 17.
Lake Minneola (3-5) was led by Joseline Ramos with 13 points. Javonia Ellis dropped in eight, all coming in the second half.