By Rob Knox (@knoxrob1)
It’s been less than a week since I was hit with the devastating news that Larry Yarbray, Sr. was killed in a biking accident in Delaware on Saturday. I am still in shock and numb. It’s still surreal to type. You never get used to death, even though we all have an expiration date.
This one hit everybody hard.
Current Arizona State women’s basketball assistant coach Darrell Mosley, who was a member of Chester’s 2005 PIAA Class AAAA championship team, was stunned. Mosley enjoyed a solid playing career at Lincoln before finding his calling as one of the best young women’s basketball assistant coaches in the country. Yarbray was an assistant coach on that state championship team.
Larry Yarbray coaches at Chester during the 2012-13 season. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
“Such a tragedy hearing of the passing of my former high school coach,” Mosley said. “He was such a players’ coach, developer, and teacher of the game. During my time in high school, he worked with the guards on many skills sets and most importantly managing the game. He was such an icon at Coppin State, and he would share many of his MEAC stories when I was deciding to go to Delaware State.”
A south Jersey native, Ron “Fang” Mitchell, Yarbray’s college coach at Coppin State had the same reaction upon hearing the devastating news. Mitchell coached at Coppin State for 28 years.
“It was of my sorrowful moments of my life when I heard about it,” Mitchell said. “He was a no-nonsense type of person beyond basketball. Larry didn’t have a lot of words. He was a take charge type of person. He never worried about scoring. He worried about winning. He was a winner from the beginning. When you come out of Chester, you can’t be nothing but a winner. That’s the reason why I wanted him.”
Yarbray, who helped Coppin State compile a 78-42 record during his career, earned All-MEAC honors and was the starting point guard on the Eagles' first NCAA Tournament team in 1990. Yarbray's 622 career assists are a school-record, and he held the MEAC record in the category for nearly three decades. Yarbray's 194 steals also rank fourth in school-history.
Yarbray was also the starting point guard in one of the biggest victories in Coppin State history, a 70-63 road triumph at Maryland in 1989.
“I owe him because that’s where it all started for our program when we got that win against Maryland,” Mitchell said. “After that, we knew we could beat anybody as far as Coppin was concerned. That helped me in my career. He was small and had a big heart. He loved the challenge of playing at Maryland and it was nothing to him.”
All of that was a prelude to greatness for Yarbray, who made his mark as a Chester High assistant coach and ultimately, head coach for nine years.
Yarbray positively impacted so many student-athletes during his decades of serving the community of Chester and most recently at Delaware County Community College.
The best part was it was never about Yarbray, a humble and selfless person.
After guiding Chester to its only unbeaten season in school history in 2012, he stood off to the side even though he was drenched in water after receiving the obligatory celebratory shower. He deflected credit while his players celebrated a rare dominating run through the PIAA Class AAAA bracket, by winning its final three games over Coatesville, Central Dauphin, and Lower Merion by a combined 86 points. Chester finished with a record of 32 wins and zero losses.
After all, it’s the point guard mindset.
Yarbray is a thread of Chester greatness and part of the lineage of terrific point guards to ever step foot on the sacred orange-and-black hardwood. He played for legendary coaches Alonzo Lewis at Chester and Mitchell at Coppin State.
He became a member of Fred Pickett’s talented staff where he was instrumental in working with standout guards Jameer Nelson, Karon Burton, Charlie Swiggett, Darren Govens, Darrell Mosley, and countless others.
Ultimately, he took the keys to the Chester program in 2008 after Pickett retired and raised it to another level. The 2011-12 Clippers finished the season ranked in the top 10 of every national high school basketball poll.
Yarbray won 214 games and had seven 20-win seasons during his nine years. Under his leadership, the Clippers won five Del Val championships, four PIAA District One championships, and consecutive PIAA championships. He is the only coach in Chester history to win two straight state championships.
In addition, 91 percent of Coach Yarbray’s former high school student-athletes continued their education at an institution of higher education. This is the best statistic and a true testament to Yarbray’s commitment to his athletes of the Chester program.
Coaching Chester isn’t like most jobs especially during the digital age when everybody shared their opinions and kids had more distractions and outside influences. Yarbray was the rock of stability that the Clipper program needed.
He was always focused on the big picture of life for his players and understood that basketball was a game. Yes, important, but just a game.
In a place like Chester, Yarbray was perfect because he could relate to his students while demonstrating the necessary empathy needed to push them to achieve beyond the basketball court and in the classroom.
He stressed the value of education and being well rounded with the young men of Chester. Yarbray used his highly-visible platform to not only win games and championships, which was secondary, but to inspire others, empower his athletes, and transform lives.
A treasure of excellence, Yarbray’s accomplishments off the court transcend statistics. Words will never do his legacy proper justice. He will be missed.
“The news hit me hard and shocked me because I’ve driven bikes with those guys many of times,” Mosley said. “So, for that to happen was really a tough pill to swallow. I will continue praying for his family at this time. I know our city of Chester will keep his legacy alive.”
Rob Knox is an award-winning professional and Chester native. He currently serves as the Senior Director of Strategic Communications for the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. Knox enjoyed a distinguished career as an athletics communicator for Lincoln, Kutztown, Coppin State, Towson, and UNC Greensboro. He also worked at ESPN and for the Delaware County Daily Times. Recently, Knox was honored by the NCAA with its Champion of Diversity award. Knox is a graduate of Lincoln University and a past president of the College Sports Information Directors Association of America (CoSIDA).