Former Grand Rapids Community College men’s head basketball coach, Gene Paxton, will be inducted into the Grand Rapids Sports Hall of Fame as part of the 2018 class.
Paxton, 86, was the head coach at GRCC for 25 years from 1965-1990 and is the winningest coach in school history with an impressive record of 517-280. He also led GRCC to five league championships during his tenure.
Paxton talked about what this award means to him and what an honor it is to be recognized for his accomplishments.
“It’s everything because you know, it’s one thing when your peers, when the people that you coached against and you competed with…when they vote you into something of that nature indicating that they thought you had done a good job, that really makes it seem a lot more worthwhile,” Paxton said. “I’m very happy about it, naturally.”
Paxton took great pride in his work and that shows in his resume. He looks back at his 25 years at GRCC with fondness and talked about the friendships and memories he and his wife, Mary, made along the way.
“We made so many lifelong friends that we’ve kept in touch with,” Paxton said. “We just have nothing but great memories. All of our memories and all of our experiences and everything else are of a positive nature. I can’t say enough about how positive an experience it was.”
Coaching on the junior college level can have its challenges. He didn’t always get the biggest, fastest, or strongest players, but his coaching style brought the best out of the players he led.
“So many of our players – maybe they weren’t the very best player in the area,” Paxton said. “But, they made that up with extra hustle. A lot of the players that came to us were the kind that a lot of times other schools would overlook. We were a running, pressing kind of team.”
Paxton and his wife now live in Spring Lake, Michigan. They both touched the lives of so many students who came through GRCC during his 25-year tenure. One former player that Paxton had an impact on is Dave Selmon. Selmon became the head coach of the program two years after Paxton retired. Selmon held that title for 19 years and is the second winningest head coach in school history behind Paxton with 416 wins. Selmon discussed what Paxton was like as a coach.
“Very high energy, very aggressive as far as offensively, he was sort of an offensive minded coach,” Selmon said. “He was into winning and anything else in his mind was unacceptable.”
Selmon appreciated Paxton’s support of him when Selmon was the head coach and talked about what it meant to him.
“I talked to him a lot, he was at a lot of games,” Selmon said. “Of course when we played for the national championship he was there. He was always there for me, always…from the motivation of academics to life to athletics.”
Selmon discussed many aspects of what Paxton meant to him, but he wanted one thing to be known above all else.
“It’s a pleasure to have been coached by him and be mentored by him,” Selmon said.
Paxton’s accolades speak for themselves, but he gave advice that covers not just coaching but life in general when it comes to doing something you’re passionate about.
“The main thing is, I don’t care what you’re doing, if you don’t love it, you better learn to love it,” Paxton said. “You don’t need somebody else patting you on the back and telling you you’re doing what you want to do. You want to be doing that because you’ve worked at it…you’ve put in all the extra hours late at night as well as early in the morning.”
Paxton described his time coaching as “the best years of my life.”
He is one of four people being inducted this year. Joining him in the 2018 Grand Rapids Sports Hall of Fame induction will be former NBA all-star Chris Kaman, 10-year NFL veteran David Harris and Former Michigan State women’s golf coach Stacy Slobodnik-Stoll. Also being honored this year is the O-K Conference Commissioner Jim Haskins. He will be the recipient of the 2018 Warren Reynolds Lifetime Achievement Award for his 48 years in local athletics. Carl Paganelli Sr., Carl Paganelli Jr., Perry Paganelli and Dino Paganelli are being named the Outstanding Team Honorees for their work as NFL officials. The three sons have all had the honor of officiating Super Bowls.
The Grand Rapids Sports Hall of Fame has not yet released the date for the induction ceremony, but will release the date as well as the ticket information in the coming days.