Pete Kelley doesn’t feel like he did anything “extraordinary” in his coaching career. The record book says differently.
During a 14-year stint leading the Kinston boys basketball team, Kelley guided the Bulldogs to three state tournament appearances, highlighted by a Class 1A state title in 1981. In addition, KHS won five straight Southeast Alabama Conference titles, several area/region titles and had a 30-game winning streak in one stretch in his tenure. The Bulldogs also averaged 19 wins a season under his direction with only one losing season.
Kelley’s success earned him two state Class 1A Coach of the Year honors (1979 and 1981) and five conference coach of year accolades.
A high school and junior college basketball standout who also had a decorated Army tenure, Kelley will be inducted into the Wiregrass Sports Hall of Fame this Saturday night, largely on his coaching success at Kinston.
“It is quite an honor,” Kelley said. “I never thought I did anything extraordinary in my coaching career. I thought it was just my job. It is nice that my colleagues recognized and my former players supported me being nominated.
“It is quite an honor to be inducted with all these great coaches in this class along with the players, not just in this one, but the ones who have gone before. It is a thrill.”
Kelley played basketball and baseball in high school at Straughn – the only two sports offered at the Covington County school at the time. He was a standout in basketball and was selected to play in the state North/South All-Star Game as a senior.
He became the first player to sign to play with the Enterprise State basketball team and became a part of the first two Boll Weevil teams. He earned all-conference honors in both of his years at ESJC.
“I went to Enterprise State Junior College on the first team they ever had,” Kelley said. “I had a couple other offers, but my parents wanted me to be close to home, so I did.”
After leaving Enterprise, he had a two-year stint in the U.S. Army, serving one year in the Vietnam War where he received two Bronze Stars. Bronze Stars are awarded to members of the United States Armed Forces for either heroic achievement, heroic service, meritorious achievement, or meritorious service in a combat zone.
Upon returning back to the United States, he earned his degree from Troy University and took his first coaching job at Samson as an assistant football and basketball coach in 1973. After two seasons, he was hired at Kinston as head basketball coach and as an assistant coach on the school’s first football team.
He would coach the Bulldogs from 1975-76 to 1987-88 before moving into administration as principal at Andalusia High School. He later served as Andalusia City Schools Superintendent.
“My kids were all athletic and played, but once my oldest son (Hubble) came into junior high – he was a pretty good basketball player – I decided it was time for me to get out,” Kelley said. “I wanted him to enjoy the experience. Playing for me would have been kind of difficult.
“ At the breakfast table one morning after a game, I might throw something at him for something he did the night before.”
His 16 years of coaching are some of the best years of his life, said Kelley.
“My fondest memories go back to my coaching days,” Kelley said.
The days of coaching basketball were particularly special to him.
“We played fast,” Kelley said. “Defense was important, but we believed in scoring points. I think we were videoing other teams and practices before anyone really got into it. We were using Beta Vision – a big, hunky thing. I still have the tapes for some of the players.
“Anytime you win a state championship that would be a highlight. There were so many highlights – different teams I played for and different teams I coached.
“I loved competition. I loved facing the other coaches. We were good friends off the court, but all business on the court.”
Noting it was during his high school days when he “knew I wanted to be a coach one day,” Kelley credited a lot of his success to two very influential people in his life.
“I had a lot of admiration for my high school coach and my dad,” Kelley said referring to coach Doyle Kinsaul and his dad, Jack Kelley. “My dad wasn’t a coach, but he provided me the opportunity to play and that meant a lot to him (for me to coach).”
He also credited former Kinston coach Creigh Purnell, who guided the Bulldogs’ first two state championship teams (1966 and 1968) and is a Wiregrass Sports Hall of Fame inductee. He was the man Kelley replaced as Kinston’s head coach.
“When I was in school (at Straughn) I was aware of how good Kinston was and what he did,” Kelley said. “My senior year, we had the North-South All-Star game. He won the state championship that year and was the coach of the South squad and he chose me to play on his team. That was quite an honor for him to choose me.
“As I got more involved in coaching, I watched his teams play and he was a lot of help to me (about coaching). When I moved on to Andalusia to be the administrator for the city schools, he and I saw each other on a daily basis and we talked. We maintained a good relationship all through the years.”