Joseph Anthony Yates Sr., who became the first black football coach in Baltimore County public school history when he was named head coach at Parkville Senior High School in 1971, died Saturday of a brain tumor at Good Samaritan Hospital. The longtime Forest Park resident was 83.
Mr. Yates was born in Eufaula, Okla., and raised in Mesa, Ariz., where he graduated from high school in 1940.
In 1942, he joined the Army and served with a combat trucking unit in Europe that carried ammunition for the 3rd and 6th tank divisions of Gen. George S. Patton Jr.'s 3rd Army.
After being discharged with the rank of corporal in 1945, Mr. Yates used the GI Bill and enrolled at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, N.C., as a pre-med major. After switching majors he earned a bachelor's degree in health and physical education in 1950.
He did graduate work at Kent State University and at Springfield College in Springfield, Mass., and while at Springfield, was recruited in 1952 by Baltimore County public schools to teach at the old Banneker Elementary School in Catonsville.
While teaching at Banneker, Mr. Yates fell in love with the former Dr. Edmonia Townes, a math and science teacher, whom he married in 1960.
Mr. Yates subsequently taught and coached at Sollers Point Junior-Senior High School in Turners Station and Catonsville High School before taking the coaching job at Parkville.
"It was very important to us to encourage minority coaches to get head coaching jobs, and Joe Yates was both a pioneer and role model," said Dr. Robert Y. Dubel, a former schools superintendent.
While Mr. Yates coached basketball, track and cross-country at Parkville, football remained his first love. And during his 11-year tenure at the school, he was the county's only black head football coach.
"There were only four black physical education teachers in Baltimore County at the time, and I was the only one interested in football," Mr. Yates told the Parkville Reporter in a 1980s interview.
"Joe knew no color differentiation. He didn't want to be regarded as a black coach but rather as a person and a human being," said Bob McCubbin, former assistant football coach at Parkville. "He never made color an issue and never discussed it. He was very well accepted at Parkville, and there were never any overt actions against him in classes or during games."
He added: "He never ruthlessly promoted himself and was the consummate professional. He was knowledgeable, always prepared and left no stone unturned."
When his teams lost, Mr. Yates "never offered excuses, alibis or looked for a way out. He was always content that his players did the best they could," Mr. McCubbin recalled.
Rich Zink was an offensive lineman at Parkville in the early 1970s.
"He was a wonderful man who touched a lot of people's lives. With him, it was not about winning or losing, but about preparing for life. He was our coach, mentor and friend," said Mr. Zink.
"I'm looking back as a 49-year-old, and you appreciate what sports and his coaching taught you about life. We didn't have great teams, but we had a lot of fun, and he had a great sense of humor," he recalled.
He added: "He had a very laid-back coaching style. He never yelled or screamed at his players and was rarely upset. He wasn't too excited when we won or too low down when we lost."
Mr. Yates left Parkville in 1981 and coached for a year at Franklin High School before retiring.
In his retirement, he earned his real estate license and sold houses and volunteered at the old Liberty Medical Center.
He was a life member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, a past president of the Zeus Club and an active member of the Hillsdale Heights Neighborhood Association.
Mr. Yates and his wife were travelers and celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary on the Queen Mary II.
"We've been to every country except China and Japan," said his wife, retired deputy superintendent for Baltimore public schools and former state school board member. "He was also an avid golfer, and the biggest mistake I ever made was buying a house across the street from the Forest Park Golf Course."
Mr. Yates was a member and deacon at Forest Park Community Church, 3805 Fairview Ave., where services will be held at 11 a.m. Monday.
Also surviving are a son, Joseph A. Yates Jr. of Baltimore; a daughter, Dr. Patricia R. Yates of Fishers, Ind.; a sister, Alma Yates of Las Vegas, Nev.; and three grandchildren.