Johnny Beaver: My Coach, My Director, My Friend

By Comp Shelton

John L. Beaver

Capt. John L. Beaver, from the Hargrave Military Academy yearbook, The Talisman, 1951.

During the school year 1951-52 I [Comp Shelton] was a postgraduate cadet athlete at Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Virginia. My basketball coach was Johnny Beaver. His team enjoyed considerable success, playing even with any opponent and winning over most. His greatest achievement that year, without a doubt, was the win over Lynchburg's E. C. Glass, a perennial power in Virginia. Glass had won the state public school championship the previous season and, at the time, was in its 13th game undefeated with practically the same team.

John L. Beaver

Johnny Beaver, Hargrave's Athletic Director, as pictured in the 1951 yearbook.

After the game Coach Jimmy Bryant of Glass, the most accomplished public school coach in Virginia, wept openly. Coach Beaver was as calm and unassuming as he had been during the game — suggesting, reminding and directing us. Using today's lingo, he would have been called “Coach Cool!”

Four years later Coach Beaver, as athletic director, was the reason I became the basketball coach at the academy. My first season was miserable, but I received not one word of discouragement, not one negative word from my mentor.

I was nevertheless humiliated. I sat a lot in glum silence, staring at nothing except mementoes from highly-successful teams on which I had been a player. I asked Coach Beaver, “What's wrong?”

Before the start of my second season he casually approached me. “It is important how you look at details. Try to do the little things right, then when the big things come it will be easier to handle them [I think he meant that sometimes coaches do not have many accomplished players]. You can take a lot of satisfaction in these details.”

Comp Shelton

J. Compton Shelton, author of this article, as basketball coach at Hargrave Military Academy in 1961 (from that year's edition of Hargrave's yearbook The Cadence.

In my immaturity I only vaguely understood what he was talking about. I understood later, of course, that he was talking about pride in oneself and what one has to work with. I learned from Coach Beaver's manner and message that I must know the limits of the team as well as each player, and that I should never push beyond those limits. As a coach he had kept things simple and orderly. Other coaches overextend their players by designing elaborate plays which often seem to backfire and discourage the team. Those coaches want to show people how much they know. Johnny Beaver coached in a way that kept the attention on the team, not himself.

All of the teams I coached afterwards had winning seasons, with the 1961 Military Schools Conference championship in my last year. Coach Beaver deserves a lot of credit for that.

HMA Basketball Team, 1951

HMA's varsity basketball team, as pictured in the 1951 yearbook. From left to right: J. Compton Shelton, James H. Fallin, Lamar A. Bell, Jr., Victor B. Batchelor, Robert S. Plaster, Donald M. Bailey, M. M. Scott, Jr., R. E. Zampetti, James F. Dalton.

This webpage is sponsored by Mitchells Publications and the Sims-Mitchell House B&B, Chatham, Virginia.