ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — For more than seventy years — Coach Joe Gaither has called the Roanoke Valley home. His early life shaped heavily by his family’s African roots – even growing up in Salem. In the 1960’s he went the segregated all-black G.W. Carver High School before spending his senior year at a desegregated Andrew Lewis High School. Gaither was basketball athlete at both schools…he learned a lot between going to the two schools.
“I went to my Junior year at G.W. Carver being class president and SGA president of a class of like 67 I believe which would have been my graduating class to a class of 440 at Andrew Lewis so you see the transition I had to make to break those barriers,” said Gaither.
After graduation in 1970….Gaither was drafted into the Army during the Vietnam War.
“Vietnam was hot and heavy. I had a recruiter that told me ok look, you have got a lot of administrative skills…the military is short of military administrators right now…he said I know you just got drafted, you have the option of going 2 or 3 years. If you go for the two you might not get a school he said with the background you have…utilize this to your advantage get into an administrative school,” said Gaither.
His military career — finished in 19-78 — when Gaither began working at GE and the local post office. That’s when he says he heard the call — to coach for Roanoke’s Inner City Athletic Association first with football then organizing the basketball program. In the mid 1980’s, Gaither formed one of the first local AAU basketball programs. Gaither’s teams have had players from all of there area….winning state and national titles — and he says one key element from his military days contributed to the success.
“You have got guys from all over the country and everyone have different mindsets because when you put on the uniform we are brother’s now regardless if you are from the east coast or the west coast there isn’t any difference it doesn’t matter where you from. We need each other,” said Gaither.
Gaither’s story is now in print as Army veteran Barry Brown and Ted Edlich joined forces to write a book about Gaither.
“I am amazed when I wake up I just think that 400 to 500 people would have bought this book. I didn’t think people would do that,” said Gaither.
Many of Gaither’s players have gone on to play college and pro basketball. But beyond their successes on the field or court — Gaither says he’s even more proud of the men they have become.
“You are accountable for what you teach these players, the way you teach it and the way you handle yourself and the way you live your life because at the end of the day they are watching you,” said Gaither.