Charles Portis, regarded as one of the top boys’ basketball coaches in state history, was recently inducted into the Minnesota Basketball Coaches Association HOF during a banquet held last week at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Minneapolis.
Portis’ coaching career began in the spring of 1980, at Ramsey Jr. High School in St. Paul, where he also served as a guidance counselor.
His first coaching job at the high school level was at Como Park in 1983, where he coached Cougar legends Donald West, Frank Shaw, and Tony Smith. In 1988, he moved on to Highland Park, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Portis remained at Highland for the next 22 seasons leading the Scots to the Class AAA state championship with players Mark Wingo, Terrance Stokes, Maurice “Moe” Hargrow, Tom Miley, and Joe Mathew.
“That team was very special,” said Portis after his induction. “It was quite an accomplishment, but my career was about more than basketball. It was about helping them become men and contributors to the community.”
That theme resonated from the interviews of Portis’ former players, whose comments were read during the induction ceremony.
St. Paul Central boys’ basketball coach Scott Howell, who played for Portis at Ramsey Jr. High from 1980-81, said Portis is an important person in his life to this day.
“Pops came into my life at a critical time,” said Howell, who is also the school’s head football coach. “My parents passed away when I was in eighth grade. During that time, he was the counselor and the new boys’ basketball coach. I played for him,” he continued, “and he has been my father figure ever since. Coaching against him was like coaching against my father.”
“The one thing I remember about Coach Portis is how he communicated and interacted with his players,” said Stokes, the point guard on the state championship team. “We won state and all, but it was about way more than just basketball. Playing for him changed my life.”
“Coach Portis was about having fun while playing the game of basketball, but he also was about business,” said Mark Wingo, a power forward on the state championship team. “When it was time to have fun, we did. When it came game time, he was serious about the players giving their best effort.
“Most importantly, Coach Portis prepared us for life. He didn’t just want us to be great basketball players,” continued Wingo. “He wanted us to be great men. He was a great coach and mentor. I use what I learned from him in my everyday life. It was a privilege to play for him.”
“I didn’t realize it at the time, but Coach Portis was preparing me for life after basketball when I started playing for him,” said Hargrow. I was 15 years old. He allowed me to be myself and his guidance helped me believe I could play at the University of Minnesota as well as professionally. He had a sign on his door that read ‘The main thing is to keep the main thing, the main thing.’ I laughed every time he said it while playing for him. But it still resonates with me today. It was about more than basketball with Coach Portis. He was the perfect storm for me.”
While Portis’ career will be remembered for his accomplishments, Howell noted two memories of his mentor that will never fade away.
“Coaching basketball is about more than the sport,” said Howell with a smile. “And he was the best-dressed coach in the state of Minnesota.”