John H. Locke, “Johnnie” to all who knew him, was born on a homestead timber claim in Kill Creek Township, Osborne County, Kansas, on January 25, 1907, to Will and Tina (Hill) Locke. One of six children, he continued to work that farm until the time of his death on August 11, 1990. As a toddler Johnnie had been assigned the chore of going to the bottom of the hill to pump water and tote it back to the house. He progressed to milking two cows before breakfast and the mile walk to school. The work ethic was installed very early and remained with this man until the final few days of his life.
To many Mr. Locke was a basketball coach – and was he ever! However, this man was also a full-time teacher, farmer, family man, horse lover, and so much more. Locke loved the game of basketball early on. He played while in high school at Covert, Kansas, where at the start of his senior year of 1925-1926 the school district informed the basketball team that it could not afford to hire a head coach. As the lone senior, Johnnie went before the school board and asked if he could coach the team for the year. The board agreed and with Johnnie as player/coach the Covert boys team reached the state tournament in March 1926, the smallest school in Kansas history to do so. John graduated valedictorian of his class and attended then normal school at Hays, Kansas, which qualified him to teach at Star and Enterprise one-room country schools. He earned his degree in 1932 and became the principal at Covert Grade School, and three years later he was an instructor at Covert High School. In 1931 John married Bonnie Carlin and they had a baby girl, Lavetta. In Covert he coached both boys and girls basketball. Often he had only five boys that went out for basketball but they won and won, sometimes playing with only four boys when someone fouled out. Yet his Covert boys teams won 135 games and lost only 18 during his nine years there. Records for the Covert girls teams were not kept, or his win total would be even more.
Bonnie died in 1936 and two years later John married Wretha White. They had five sons and a daughter – Delwin, John, Ferryl, Leneal, Janelle and Marlin. In 1944 he moved his growing family to Natoma for a first stay of nineteen years in the school system. During that stint the boys’ basketball record stood at 401 wins and 87 losses. Back-to-back Kansas state championships were won by the boys’ team in 1958 and 1959. In 1963 he moved to Stockton and had more success there. In ten years his teams compiled a record of 115-84 and in 1966 the boys’ team reached the state championship finals. He returned to Natoma in 1973 and took both the girls’ and boys’ teams to the state Class 1A tournament in 1975. The girls took second place and the boys claimed Natoma’s third state basketball title, John’s 700th career win. He was named National High School Basketball Coach of the Year in 1976. and in 1977 the girls’ team took second at state again.
In 1979 John retired from coaching. During his second stint at Natoma his boys’ basketball teams compiled a record of 80 wins and 14 losses, putting Locke’s final coaching record at 731 wins and 203 losses over a forty-four year career. 1979 also saw John selected as an assistant coach for the All-Star McDonald’s team. In 1983 John was inducted into the Kansas State High School Activities Association Hall of Fame. The next year he was of the five inaugural inductees into the Kansas High School Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame.
Locke also bred and raised quarterhorses on his farm southwest of Natoma and raced many of his horses in several states. After his retirement from teaching in 1979, he spent even more time with his horses. He raised cattle and did extensive farming, and was also an avid coyote hunter and had many coyote dogs. John Locke lies buried in the Natoma Cemetery.
Kansas All-Sports Hall of Fame
John H. Locke
Born: January 25, 1907 – Osborne County, KS
Died: August 11, 1990
Graduated: Covert (KS) H.S. 1926; Fort Hays State University, 1932
Overview: Johnnie Locke won 731 high school basketball games, more than any boys basketball coach in Kansas history, in his 44 seasons spanning five decades from 1933-1979. One of the five inaugural inductees into the Kansas Basketball Coaches’ Hall of Fame in 1984, Locke was named district and national high School Coach of the Year in 1976 and served as an assistant coach for the 1979 McDonald’s High School All-Star game.
Coaching Legend: After helping his Covert High School of 1926 to the Class B State Tournament, he later returned to begin his coaching career at his alma mater from 1933-1944. Locke’s Covert teams won 135 games while losing only 18. From there, Locke moved to Natoma where he won 401 games in 19 seasons, won back-to back state titles in 1958 and 1959, and put together a string of 51 straight victories. In 1963, he moved to Stockton where he turned around a program by winning 115 games against 84 losses with two trips to the state tourney during his nine seasons. Locke returned to Natoma in 1973 and picked up where he left off with 80 wins against just 14 losses, including the undefeated state championship season in 1975. That same year, he also coached the Natoma Girls team to a 25-1 record as state runner-up. All totaled, John Locke won 731 games against only 203 losses (78.3 percent), won 14 sub-state titles and three state championships. Locke coached all five of his sons during his career.