Condensing a life well-lived into a few stories or anecdotes is never easy. The ones about longtime Capitol football coach Roman Bates could fill a book.
He was a high school coach who won 225 games. He was a mentor. A star athlete at Southern University. Most importantly, Bates was a person who impacted the lives of many people, which is why so many tributes came after Bates died at age 86 on Friday.
Even before that, it was never hard to get other coaches and former players to share their stories. Here are a few.
In the mid-1990s, Capitol was in a basketball district with Glen Oaks, Belaire and Central. The Lions were scheduled to meet Central in district playoff game and Bates approached his former player and Lions basketball coach Alvin Stewart at lunch with an idea.
Bates used the items on his tray to illustrate a version of a blitz defense that would send two “guards” running at the shooters at the top of the key. The Lions won and it became a part of Stewart’s defensive repertoire.
“If you played for coach Bates, you knew he played defense (at Southern) and he loved to blitz,” Stewart said. “I named (the defense) the blitz for him and he asked why. It was his defense.”
By the hairs
Bates and legendary John Curtis coach J.T. Curtis coached together in an LHSCA Football All-Star game in the late 1970s. Their friendship lasted decades.
As the coaches planned for the week, Bates asked Curtis a question he never expected about Afro hairstyles. Curtis turned the question around and asked Bates for his opinion.
“He said he did not like them, so I said, ‘Roman, would you like to take the lead on that for us,” Curtis said. “And he did. Some guys got a trim. We had a great week coaching together. Roman … he was something.”
Bates was a role model for former Southern Lab and Madison Prep football coach Mike Roach. While learning a work ethic from Bates at Capitol, Roach said he also played in the high school game of his life.
Capitol went on the road and beat Covington, one of the top programs in the state in the 1970s.
“That was the easily the biggest game of my high school career,” Roach said. “Covington had a quarterback, Curt Baham, who went on to play at Tulane. It was physical and we knocked (Baham) out of the game.
"Then we scored with five or six minutes left to take the lead. Nobody ever thought an inner city school could do that. Covington had not lost at home in years. We carried coach Bates off on our shoulders that night.”
About those socks
Bates made a bet with his players the year Capitol advanced to the Class 4A title game at the LHSAA Prep Classic. If the Lions made it to the title game, Bates would shed his coaching trousers and wear a pair of the red knee socks the players wore.
The Capitol players kept up their end of the bargain and so did Bates, who wore shorts to display those red socks. Curtis won the game 16-0, but Bates, then 64, no doubt won over some admirers.
There are many more. Of the Bates’ tributes I’ve seen over the past two days, one stands out.
East Iberville girls basketball coach Mark Temple approached Bates at a scrimmage both were watching a few years ago. Temple asked Bates how he managed to coach for so long.
The response, “Do everything out of love.”
Good words to live by, I think.