Unlikely pair push each other; Coach, student form lasting bond

By Austin Jackson | Published Saturday, March 9, 2019

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United by Passion

UNITED BY PASSION – Jerry Rushing has been a constant on the sidelines at Decatur basketball games for the past seven years. Messenger Photo by Austin Jackson

For the past seven years, Jerry Rushing has prowled the sidelines at Decatur basketball games, letting refs know where they went wrong.

He also coaches, yelling advice from his chair on the floor, reinforcing the message of Decatur coach Drew Coffman.

“As soon as they take the second shot at the free-throw line, I yell, ‘box out,'” Rushing said. “I yell whatever he says, ‘Watch for the back screen. Get back on D.’ I watch for whatever comes.”

Rushing’s intensity during the game might only be matched by one of his closest friends and mentors, Coffman.


BROS – Decatur coach Drew Coffman took student assistant Jerry Rushing to watch Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers take on the Mavericks at the American Airlines Center in Dallas a few years ago. Coffman and Rushing have been friends since they both arrived at Decatur High School. Submitted photo

The unlikely friendship started in 2012, and Friday it found the pair on the floor of the Alamodome in San Antonio with the Eagles battling for a state title.

Rushing was a freshman at Decatur High School, cloaked in his favorite Miami Heat jersey when he rolled into Coffman’s physical education class.

Rushing is a fan of Lebron James, while Coffman is a Kobe Bryant guy. The two had their differences – black and red versus purple and gold. Coffman is an athlete and former college basketball player. Rushing suffered a spinal cord injury in utero that left him in a wheelchair or on crutches.

None of that has mattered to their friendship.

“He’s like my big brother,” Rushing said. “I love him.”

Rushing and Coffman were brand new to Decatur when they met. It was both of their first years at the high school.

The two bonded over a similar passion – basketball, more specifically, Decatur basketball.

“Me and him, we share a love for the game,” Coffman said. “It’s what started our relationship. We’ve always shared that. We have always been real close. He’s helped us.”

They have been together the past seven years. For four years, Rushing was Coffman’s student. In the past three years, he’s been more of a student teacher, getting close with the Decatur Eagles basketball team.

Rushing assists where he can. When he can arrange travel to road games, he goes. He keeps clock for the team, living and dying on each possession.

He even gives Coffman some pointers on occasion.

“Ever so often he’ll send me a text or show me a play he saw on TV,” Coffman said. “He knows his stuff.”

Rushing is learning as much as he can from Coffman. His dream is to one day be a basketball coach like Coffman.

“I’m learning from a great one,” Rushing said.

They’ve gone through playoff runs and tough seasons. They’ve made road trips to college and NBA games.

They went to Norman to watch Rushing’s buddy Parker Hicks play for Texas Tech. They also traveled to the American Airlines Center in Dallas so Rushing could watch his childhood hero Lebron James play.

“We got Jerry on the floor and David Blatt, the Cavs coach at the time, comes up to Jerry, and they start talking,” Coffman said. “I asked him, ‘What did you tell Blatt?'”

“I told Blatt to tell J.R. Smith to stop taking stupid shots,” Rushing said.

That’s just one of the memories Coffman reflects on with Jerry.

For as much as Rushing has learned from Coffman in coaching, Coffman has learned, too.

Coffman said Rushing is an example of grit – a quality Decatur’s 2019 basketball team has proven along their march to the state tournament.

“His disability has never held him back,” Coffman said. “That goes to his toughness and his character. He joins games and plays basketball with the kids. He’s right there. He’s never let anything hold him back.

“Our players love him. He’s kind of a legend in our part of the world. He comes through, and I hear the players chanting ‘Jerry, Jerry.'”

For Rushing, in his seventh year of eligibility, it’s his last shot to see his team and his coach claim a state title.

He’s currently enrolled in the 18-plus program, which helps students with special needs learn to live independently. He will graduate this year.

“This trophy would mean a lot to DHS and mean a lot to me,” Rushing said. “I want them to bring it home for me. This is my last year. I won’t be here anymore.”

But he’ll be there for Coffman win or lose, like he has since 2012, with the two having a lifelong friendship and ‘brother’ to lean back on.

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