Arlen White isn’t much one for slowing down.
The 81-year-old Texan has been everything from a bus ministry director and counselor to a disaster relief leader and a county judge since “retiring” as a public school basketball coach in 1986.
So it’s little surprise that White, at age 78, returned to full-time coaching.
“It was a great joy,” White said about the last three years at Cornerstone Christian School in San Angelo.
“It was especially good for me to be back at what I love so much, and on top of that it was great to be around kids again,” he said.
It was also educational.
“The kids have changed with all the iPads and iPhones and all that stuff,” he said. “Whenever they stop, they hop on those phones.”
But White has done a lot of hopping himself. His resume of professional and ministry activities is so varied that he struggles to keep it all straight sometimes.
He doesn’t apologize for that. Instead, he credits his maker.
“I can sit on the front porch and rock, but I don’t think that’s what the Master told us to do,” White said recently from his home at the Baptist Retirement Community in San Angelo. “We are to be about his ministry.”
For White, just about any activity counts as ministry if it provides an opportunity to be of service to others.
Inspired to coach by coaches
That ethic began during his athletic childhood near Big Spring, Texas. He numbers some of his basketball coaches as his most important teachers and mentors.
One of his college-level coaches had been a Marine and a man of faith. White said this made a huge impression on him.
“He taught what it meant to be fair and not talk down to people, but to treat players with dignity and to respect each person,” White said. “He had a quiet, soft, positive way of motivating you as an individual.”
White played two years at Howard College in Big Spring and another two at Howard Payne University in Brownwood.
From those experiences sprang his future professional interests, White said.
“I wanted to become a coach and that was the motivation – the coaches I had.”
But that dream was delayed to follow another coach-inspired aspiration: to be a United States Marine.
White served as an active duty infantry officer for the first four years after college. He then entered the reserves. He retired a lieutenant colonel in 1984 after 20 years.
After leaving full-time service, and while a reservist, White embarked on his dream career as a basketball coach. He took public school teams to nearly 20 district championships and two teams to state.
He also coached golf, baseball, girls track and there was even a stint as assistant football coach.
He retired from coaching in 1986. But he didn’t slow down. That year he began the first of two terms as a judge in Crane County, located near Odessa and Midland, Texas.
“I loved the work — hated the politics,” he said. “I still hate politics.”
‘I never really retired’
Even with the judgeship and the coaching in the background, White was known for keeping busy. He trained to be a chef and also dove headlong into disaster relief work with Texas Baptist Men.
He now leads a TBM feeding crew and portable kitchen capable of deploying anywhere in the nation and feeding 10,000 meals a day. He’s served in multiple hurricane, tornado and flood zones.
“The last one I went to was the flooding in San Marcos last year.”
He was 80 for that one.
“I never really retired,” he said.
But it was some of his TMB colleagues that encouraged – or dared – him to apply for an open head basketball coaching vacancy at Cornerstone Christian School three years ago.
“I said who’s going to hire a 78 year old?” he said. But they continued to push him.
“I figured they would take my application just to be nice.”
A few weeks later, White and his TBM crew were in Louisiana feeding storm victims when his cell phone rang. It was a representative of Cornerstone offering him the coaching position.
“I had forgotten all about it,” White said.
“He said ‘the board voted last night to hire you. I said are you pulling my leg?”
“I have spent three years there and had a good run,” he said.