Ridaught: Beckham logical choice for Hall of Fame

Earlier this week former Bronson and Gainesville boys basketball coach Kelly Beckham was inducted into the Florida High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame.

His basketball career spanned six decades, first as a basketball player for Cedar Key from 1973-77, including one season at Central Florida Community College from 1977-78, and as a JV assistant coach at Bronson from 1978-1981.

His first head coaching job was at Dunnellon High School from 1982-1983, followed by the head basketball coach at Glades Day (Belle Glade) from 1983-1984.

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He would end up being the head coach at Bronson for 24 seasons (1984-2008), and he was the head coach for 13 years at GHS (2008-2021).

He led Gainesville High School to the 2009 Class 5A state championship and led the Hurricanes to the 2013 state semifinals. Beckham’s 2014-15 team finished 29-3 and were state runners-up and he finished with a record of 268-108 at GHS, including eight seasons of 21 or more wins.

“I can’t think of anyone more deserving than Kelly to be in the Hall of Fame,” said longtime assistant Phillip Knight, who will take over the athletic director duties fulltime at Gainesville next year. “I was fortunate enough to be his teammate, to be coached by him my senior year when he was the assistant coach, and to be his assistant for 36 years.”

While at Bronson, he led Bronson to the Class A state championship games in 1989 and 2002, finishing as state runner-up both times.

“How fortunate I am to have coached in the state tournament five times (1989, 2002, 2009, 2013, 2015) and winning the state championship in 2009,” Beckham said.

Knight noted that Bronson had fewer than 150 students in the high school. There weren’t a lot of great basketball players walking the halls, but through his player development system, he won over 500 games in 24 seasons there (this was prior to Class 1A being made up of only rural public schools). 

“To put that achievement in perspective, Bronson High School had only one winning season and six different head coaches in the 13 years since he became the head coach at Gainesville High School,” Knight said.

Beckham is third all-time in wins in Florida with 798 victories.

“To win 80% of your games in a season is a remarkable achievement,” said Knight, who submitted the nomination. “Coach Beckham has averaged over 20 wins a season for 39 seasons.”

Joe Fenlon of Tampa Prep is second all-time. Fenlon won his 800th game during the end of the 2021 season and finished 14-12 this past season.

According to Buddy Collings of the Orlando Sentinel, retired Oviedo coach Ed Kershner is the state’s career wins leader with a 901-377 record over 45 seasons, but that included his early days in Indiana.

In 1980, Kershner moved to Central Florida and was the coach at Osceola (Kissimmee), where he coached for 10 years before coaching at Oviedo for his final 21 seasons (1996-2017). He won 783 games in 36 seasons in the Sunshine State.

Kershner, who passed away in December on his 81st birthday, led Osceola to a state title and its only undefeated team during the 1982-83 season. 

Kershner was inducted into the FHSAA Hall of Fame in 2006. Fenlon was inducted in 2019.

Beckham seemed the logical choice to join them.

“Being honored is a tribute to the players and coaches I’ve worked with and the success we enjoyed together,” Beckham said.

Knight said that Beckham used the same philosophy for success – hard work, accountability, and player development. Beckham prides himself on being a coach that outworks other coaches.

“He instilled in his players and coaches the rules he lives by to do things the right way and follow the rules, perfect the fundamentals and work harder than everyone else,” Knight said.

In addition, Beckham reached eight Regional Finals, won 15 District Championships, and he had 24 20-win seasons.

The championships and big wins are something he will always cherish but it’s not the thing that he will remember most about his career.

“The relationships I have with the players and coaches that I’ve worked with over the years,” he noted.

 

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