E.R. "Doc" Gray belongs in this hard-to-define category. He began his coaching and teaching career in Harlan in 1956 at Rosenwald High School in the days before integration and hasn't slowed since, collecting championships in track, basketball and cross country during parts of six decades on the sidelines.
Gray, who turned 77 on Nov. 1, was selected several years ago as a member of the Kentucky High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame, and a banner honoring him hangs from the rafters of the Harlan gymnasium. Gray will add another distinction to his resume Saturday as the E.R. "Doc" Gray Classic tips off at Harlan High School.
Harlan basketball coach Casey Lester and assistant Leo Miller came up with the idea to honor Gray at the end of last season with what both hope will become an annual event.
"Leo Miller and I came to the conclusion at the end of last year that it would be nice to honor Doc for all the hard work and dedication he has given this school," Lester said. "Doc has been very important to the school and to the athletic programs. When you coach a team as long as he has and accomplish some of the things Doc's teams have accomplished, it's absolutely amazing."
The Doc Gray Classic will open at 2 p.m. with the Harlan girls playing Frankfort, a team coached by Harlan County native Rick Parsons.
Gray had many of his best teams as coach of the Harlan girls basketball program. His first tenure, with the then-Dragonettes, came in the late 1970s through the early 1980s. He returned in the 1990s and led the Lady Dragons to 13th Region titles in 1998 and 1999 and five straight 52nd District titles from 1996 through 2000.
"Coach Gray is full of knowledge. He is always willing to help," said current Harlan girls coach Chuck Mitchell, who worked with Gray as an assistant before taking over as head coach after the 2002 season. "Doc has been around so long that everywhere I go in the state people will ask about the legend Doc Gray. People just have to come in the gym, look on the wall and see what Doc has meant to Harlan. I consider him a great coach and, most of all, a great person."
Three boys games will follow the Harlan-Frankfort matchup with Cumberland taking on Magoffin County at 3:45, Clay County facing Carroll County at 5:30 and Harlan taking on Newport at 7:30. Gray will present MVP trophies after each game and will be honored in ceremonies before the Dragons' game.
"It's an honor. I was shocked when I heard about it," Gray said. "I'm looking forward to it."
The event was made even more special with Newport's invitation. Gray's son, Junior, is an assistant for Newport and works as an attorney in Cincinnati. The younger Gray was a guard for the Dragons in the late