Louis Whorton, the Hall of Fame head women’s basketball coach for the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, died Sunday (Dec. 5) at age 70. He is the winningest UAFS women’s basketball coach in program history.
Whorton compiled a 648-277 overall win-loss record at the NJCAA and NCAA Division II levels over a 30-year span with 19 20-win seasons and six 30-win seasons, the university reported Monday (Dec. 6). He was inducted into the UAFS Athletics Hall of Fame in 2019 and the NJCAA Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010, and is a member of the University of the Ozarks Eagles Athletics Hall of Fame.
“Coach Whorton is a UAFS legend,” said UAFS Director of Athletics Curtis Janz. “He set a standard for not only UAFS Women’s Basketball, but for the entire department. He set a standard for excellence on the court and made an impact on so many people’s lives. Coach will be missed, but he will always be remembered here. We love him and his family, and they will always be in our hearts.”
Whorton won a national championship in the 1994-95 season by going 35-0 and was named the NJCAA Coach of the Year. His team placed second in the NJCAA national tournament in 1993-94. In their 1997-98 and 2005-2006 national tournament appearances, the Lady Lions finished seventh. In 2003-04, they finished in fourth, and in 2004-05 and 2007-08, they finished third.
“Words can’t describe the impact that Coach Whorton has had on my life on and off the court,” said Tari Cummings, a former UAFS women’s basketball head coach who served as an assistant coach under Whorton. “He was my coach, my mentor, and he was like a father to me; I’m thankful God brought us together. I will forever love and cherish him.”
Cummings played for Whorton while attending UAFS and now serves as an assistant coach at Baylor. Former players and friends of the coach filled Facebook with memories and messages Monday as news of his death spread.
“I literally am at a loss of words. To my very first college coach, the one who pushed me and believed in me, invited me into your home and added me to the list of daughters that you already had. Truly truly heartbroken Coach, I just…man this one really hurts. You’re such an inspiration to who I’ve grown to be, you taught me how to be tough in areas I didn’t know existed. I’ll forever love and miss you,” said Nola Darling of Charlotte, N.C.
“One of the greatest coaches I ever had! It was an honor to play for you and call you Coach! You will definitely be missed,” said Ashley Coleman of Dallas.
“I hope to be as influential of a coach, as Louis Whorton was to his players, for my players one day. Almost 10 years ago Coach, you came to my house and recruited me even after seeing how sick I looked in person and frail … My name my freshman year was pretty much ‘Dammit Followell,’ and through it all I’ll never forget the lessons I learned from you, through you, and by you. This man gave me many opportunities and still stuck by my side (until) we both walked out of UAFS to move onto the next chapters of our lives,” said Candice Followell, a former assistant women’s basketball coach at Iowa Central Community College.
Whorton was the third head coach in the history of the UAFS women’s basketball program in the spring of 1986 when the school was still Westark Community College. He retired after the 2016 women’s basketball season. His 42-year coaching career included high school and collegiate coaching positions. At the high school level, he coached at Hector, Hoxie, Blytheville, Subiaco and County Line.
During 23 seasons of competition at the junior college level, Whorton compiled a 538-195 record – an average of 23 wins per season. His junior college teams posted 16 20-win seasons and six 30-win seasons, UAFS noted in a statement. In that span, Whorton guided the Lady Lions to one Arkansas JUCO Conference championship, three Arkansas State Tournament championships, seven Bi-State East Conference championships and seven Region II championships. His teams also were Region II runners-up six times. Whorton’s junior college teams produced four WNBA draft picks – Kim Williams, Alisa Burras, Gillian Goring and Tanisha Smith.
A celebration of service will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday (Dec. 9) at Heritage Church in Van Buren. A private committal of ashes is planned at Fort Smith National Cemetery.