LAKE CHARLES, La. (KPLC) - The Lake Area lost a coaching legend Wednesday night. Former Washington-Marion basketball coach Albert Hartwell died at the age of 72.
Hartwell is remembered not only as a championship-winning basketball coach but a man who knew how to make an impression.
“He always loved wearing the opponent’s colors, that was his thing,” said DeRidder coach Edwin Kelly. ”He said, I want you to see your colors while I beat you.”
His wild suits spanning nearly every color was always a sight to see.
“Even the opposing teams [would look],” said longtime assistant coach Patricia Clarence. “They’d be looking to see what he’s going to be wearing this time.”
In his own words, his attire was always about making that impression last.
“You can always give them something for the people to remember you by— find something unusual, unique and different,” said Hartwell in a 2013 interview with KPLC. “Whether you win the game or not, they’ll say, you look good.
But the people will remember much more than just Hartwell’s style.
“He was a fiery competitor. He had a tendency to put together the best group of athletes that he felt was necessary for him to be able to win,” Kelly admitted. “To win ten straight district championships, that speaks volumes.”
He brought a state title back to Pineview Street, securing his legacy alongside Clyde Wilkins at Washington-Marion.
“That [title] meant the world to him because it had been 30 years since we had won,” said Clarence. “That was just the icing on the cake for him.”
The 2017 championship was the culmination of being so close to a title so many times but always coming up short.
“That state championship was a, ‘I told you so.’ I told you I could coach and I could win one at Washington Marion,” said former assistant coach Clarence Ceasar. “The first time he went to the Top 28, y’all told [him], ‘that wasn’t [his] team,’ so [he] built [his] team from scratch.”
Former Charging Indians believe that championship changed the outlook for basketball in Southwest Louisiana.
“The whole thing changed for Lake Charles and it showed a lot of people that you can make it to the championship. People were always thinking, no we can’t win. He really put a lot of faith in a lot of guys that thought they couldn’t do it,” said Baylor forward Mark Vital Jr. “There’s a lot of guys in college now because of what he did then.”
It’s his coaching style people say is what got them there.
“One thing about Coach Hartwell is he’s not all hugging and stuff like that, he doesn’t even shake people’s hands. You walk up to him and he will say leave me alone’ and stuff like that,” laughed Washington-Marion head coach Robert Palmer. “But you knew he loved you because he would talk to you and he would plan things out with you. He wasn’t a hugging type, but you knew.”
But Hartwell definitely had an incredible love for his players.
“He didn’t break down [and cry] a lot, but that’s when I knew that’s my man. I’m going to give everything I have for Coach Hartwell and we all felt that way,” said former Charging Indian Christian Edwards on Hartwell’s emotional interview with KPLC in 2017. “Whatever we have we’re going to give it for Coach Hartwell because he deserved it.”
Even helping those like Vital who transferred out of the Washington-Marion program.
“He put me in the position where I am at now. Without Coach Hartwell, there would be no Mark,” said Vital. “You can put that in whatever words you want, but his legacy will live forever.”