GRETNA, Va. — Last Tuesday, the Pittsylvania County School Board approved the dedication of the Gretna High School gymnasium in honor and memory of the late Robert Locust, a Gretna teacher and basketball coach for over 40 years.
“We have received a nomination—it’s been approved by the committee and sent to you guys for a vote tonight—to name the gymnasium at Gretna High School in memory of Robert Earl Locust, who was a coach there for many, many years and did a lot of good things for the Gretna community and Gretna High School,” PCS Board Member George Henderson said.
Locust passed away in January of last year, leaving behind a 40 year-career’s worth of players, students, family and friends whose lives were changed for the better by his time as coach and mentor.
The request to rename the gymnasium was brought before the PCS School Board by Reverend Raymond Ramsey, pastor of Greater Mount Parish Missionary Baptist Church. Ramsey met Locust roughly 25 years ago while working as a teacher and principal in the PCS school system.
“Mr. Locust was a very quiet, humble individual,” Ramsey said. “He was very caring about people and very outgoing in that he always was…a person who tried to help people. With the young people that he worked with, he was an excellent mentor to them. He was very encouraging and had good, high moral values that he tried to relate to his students, and he practiced them in his everyday life—he shared them, and that was the kind of thing that he required his students to have: to work hard, to improve, to set high goals and work hard at actually attaining those goals.”
In the early stages of proposing the dedication, Locust’s wife asked Ramsey if he would be kind enough to write a letter showing his support of the renaming effort that had been initiated by other community members. Delois Locust also contributed significantly to Gretna High School athletics in coaching the school’s cheerleading team.
Kell Stone was another primary figure involved in spearheading the dedication process. Stone is a pastor at Gospel Tabernacle Outreach Center and graduate of Gretna High School.
“This is something that had been on our radar now for a while, and the process was pretty intense,” Stone said. “We had to go through all the paperwork, follow every step, and then once we got all the paperwork done, we turned it into the school board, and the process went from there…I reached out to Mrs. Locust and kind of shared what my idea was to see how she felt about it, and we got 100% support from her and her children; they were all behind it. They thought that this was a great idea as well, and she was very instrumental in giving us a lot of the resources and information that we needed to make this happen.”
Though he didn’t play on Locust’s team himself, Stone fondly remembers Locust’s tremendous leadership role in the Gretna community.
“He was a father to those young men that didn’t have father; he was a big brother; he was a role model for men and all,” Stone said. “He was more than just a coach. He was an intelligent man, a man that loved God. So just his overall impact to the community was why I felt that he would be a great candidate for the naming of this gymnasium.”
Realtor Ramsey Yeatts is a Gretna High School graduate who played on Locust’s team in the early 1980s.
“He taught me a lot about basketball, but I would have to say he taught me a lot about life as well…He was very encouraging,” Yeatts said. “He always had a very positive attitude [in] trying to make connections on the floor and off the floor with his players. [He] certainly focused on hard work and being persistent and practicing to be better, on the floor and off the floor. I also remember him as a very patient man, not someone who would just really dig into you for no reason, but very patient and allowed you to make progress but also to make mistakes and have the opportunity to do better.”
Yeatts attributes much of his success in his collegiate basketball career to the guidance of Coach Locust while he was a student at Gretna High School.
“He very much impacted me as far as being able to go and further my basketball career, as I was able to go on to play Division One basketball at James Madison University and also finished up at Bridgewater College—two years at each of those colleges,” Yeatts said. “I’m just thankful for Coach Locust and how he prepared me to play at the next level, but also how he prepared me for life in general and some of the challenges that all of us experience in life.”
Shaun Miller will be a new football coach at Gretna High School this season and is a former Gretna student who played on Coach Locust’s team, starting in 1996 on the JV team.
“He was very instrumental to our community,” Miller said. “He coached as long as I can remember. I had the opportunity to watch him coach some of my older family members and friends as well. He was dedicated to basketball—for both girls and boys.”
According to Miller, Locust even had the opportunity to coach his sons in the late 1900s as well, when they were going through Gretna High School’s basketball program.
“He was a leader, a family man,” Miller said. “He preached togetherness, mental toughness and doing what is right.”