By Doug Gorman
When the school bell rings in August, Ken Ross won't be sitting in a classroom or walking through the Riverdale High School gymnasium.
After 41 years of coaching basketball, Ross has announced his retirement.
Saturday afternoon, former players, managers, opposing coaches, principals, referees, friends, and family members gathered at Riverdale High School for a retirement send off, that at times resembled more of a roast, as well-wishers gathered to take jabs and share stories about the legendary coach.
Ross worked at only two schools during his four-decade career rolling up 642 victories.
Through it all, Marie, his wife of 44 years, has been by his side. For many of those years she kept the Riverdale scorebook, keeping her husband straight on fouls and timeouts, and perhaps even keeping him grounded.
Many who spoke about the coach first stopped to honor the coach's wife.
Together they have three sons, Ken Jr, Kevin and Keith. The couple also has six grandchildren.
After graduating on a football scholarship from Middle Tennessee State University in 1962, Ross accepted a job at College Park High School.
He stayed long enough to roll up 384 wins, which is still a Fulton County coaching record.
Those College Park teams of the mid-1970s became a state dynasty, winning titles in 1974, 75 and 76.
There was also a 56-game winning streak during that era. He is the only coach in Georgia to take a team to the state tournament in every classification.
"Coach Ross is a great guy and a great coach," said Atlanta Tip Off Club president Jackie Bradford. "Had he chosen to move up to the college level or even to the pros, he would have been just as successful."
When College Park shut its doors for good, Ross was hired as head coach at Riverdale in 1987.
More success followed as Riverdale became a county, region and state power.
His 258 wins with the Raiders are still a Clayton County record.
Despite all the success, Ross was known to ruffle some feathers along the way, but as Saturday's reception proved, he earned the respect of those who came his way.
"With Ken Ross, what you see is what you get," said former College Park head football coach Paul Snyder. "With Ken you always knew where you stood."
Former Morrow girls basketball coach Scott Terry, who is now a head coach at Brookwood called Ross a great teacher.
"I began my coaching career here," he said. "I learned so much about basketball just watching him."
Although Ross is best known for what he accomplished on the basketball floor, he spent 25 years as an assistant football coach, including several seasons as a defensive coordinator at College Park.
One of his most inspirational speeches came not as a basketball coach, but on the gridiron.
According to several players who came to Saturday's reception, Ross had just returned to the sidelines from a stay in the hospital after having an appendicitis operation.
Still in pain and little bit weak, Ross got upset over members of his College Park defense being pushed around the field. After listening to them grumble and talk about how much pain they were in, Ross lift up his shirt to reveal stitches from his operation.
As the story goes, College Park went on to win the game.
That was just one example of how Ross demanded discipline in his players.
"It's so hard to believe he is not going to be coaching basketball in more," said Chris McFarland, who plays at Appalachian State and is one of many players who returned for the reception. "He taught us so much on and off the court."
One of Ross' biggest demands was being on time.
It didn't matter if a player was a superstar or a bench warmer, if they weren't on the bus when it was time to leave they got left behind.
Ross didn't take it easy on his own children either. Ken Ross, Jr. was once kicked out a practice. According to the coach's son, the worst part of the ordeal was the two had to ride home together after practice.
The younger Ross, who followed his father into the coaching profession, also recalled how he and a teammate were once left at an opposing school's gym for taking toolong to get dressed after a game.
"If he will leave his own son behind or kick him out of practice, you know he demands respect," he said. "I learned so much about coaching from him, I'm a little more mild-mannered than he is, but I've learned so much from watching him over the years," said Ken Jr.
Current Henry County High School athletic director Chuck Miller has been friends with Ross for years.
The two coached against each other, first when Miller was the boys coach at Cartersville, then many times when Riverdale and Henry County played each other.
"I've told him many times he is one of my best friends, but I hate his guts," said Miller. "He is one of the most intense coaches I've been around."
For Ross, stepping aside wasn't easy, but it was a decision he made before the end of the last season.
"I decided not to retire because I'm tired of basketball or working with young people," he said. "I'm retiring because I felt like I was cheating the kids. We weren't getting the job done, and I wasn't being fair to them."
Several times during Saturday's event, the famous song by Frank Sinatra was brought up.
"I borrowed from a lot of people during my coaching career, but more than anything else, I did it my way."
Ross also referenced one more famous performer during his remarks to Saturday's well-wishers.
Like Bob Hope, Ross thanked the gathering for the memories.