SHERMAN — Before a full house at Austin College’s Sid Richardson Center on Aug. 4, Melissa’s Claude Webb was presented one of the school’s top honors: The Coach Joe Spencer Award for Meritorious Service and Lifetime Achievement. The occasion was the school’s annual Legends gala where AC alumni and former coaches are honored for their accomplishments in the field of athletics.


Also honored this night were six new Athletic Hall of Honor inductees and two alumni Coaches of the Year.


The Joe Spencer Award, now in its 22nd year, was established in honor of the late former head football coach who served Austin College in that capacity from 1955 to 1960.


A 1977 AC graduate, Webb completed his master’s degree there two years later. He was a member of the Kangaroos conference-champion swim teams from 1973 to 1977 and won conference titles in the 200-meter butterfly, the 400-meter medley relay and the 400-meter freestyle relay.


Webb has been director of girls’ athletics at Melissa High School since 2007 and was the head coach of Lady Cardinals basketball as well until 2015. He led Lady Cards hoops to 11-straight playoff appearances and nine district championships, with four-consecutive district titles coming without a district loss.


At Saturday’s event, Webb garnered two raucous standing ovations — one as he was introduced and one as he concluded his remarks.


“There’s one thing about all those former [Joe Spencer Award] recipients that can’t be denied,” Webb told the enthusiastic crowd. “Even when they were young … everyone knew that each of these men was destined for greatness. But me, I can assure you – and there are plenty of guys here that can attest to this – no one who knew me when I was at Austin College would have predicted I would be here today.”


He added, “But the more I thought about it, the more I realized there’s never been a better candidate for this Joe Spencer Award than me.”


That was no boast, Webb explained, but pointed to how much he owed to the people of Austin College.


He went on to recount how each step of his career had been aided by his ties to AC graduates or coaches — from Coach Bob Mason, who convinced him to finish his master’s when he’d decided he’d never need it, to his first coaching job at a Mesquite middle school, to an unexpected job offer from Crowley High School, to his first head coaching job, boys basketball at Forney High School.


Webb noted that even while he coached for two years at a struggling university in Malawi, East Africa, he received boxes of shoes and uniforms from Austin College friends and associates.


Upon returning to the U.S., and after serving Grayson County ministries for a time, Webb became girls’ head basketball coach and athletic director at Sherman’s Texoma Christian School. There, he assembled an all-AC-grad staff and led TCS to the state finals three-straight years, winning the title in 2007. His teams were also two-time winners of the TAPPS Henderson Cup, signifying the top overall private program in state.


“When my oldest three daughters won a state championship in basketball,” Webb recalled, “or when my son Hondo led his Melissa team to the state [basketball] tournament in 2011 or when my son Jackson was racing down the field to score a 67-yard touchdown at JerryWorld to win state in [Melissa] football — at every one of those events there was an entire section filled with Austin College friends supporting my kids.”


Among family members joining Webb for this celebration were his wife of 35 years, Susie Webb, five of their six grown children — Emily, Caroline, Jessica, Hondo, Jackson and Katie — and Webb’s father, Claude Webb, Sr. Son Jackson was unable to attend, as was Webb’s mother, Jo. Emily, Caroline and Jessica are also Austin College graduates.


Webb honored his wife with, “There’s no way I’d even be here tonight, much less win an award, without her.”


For his parents, Webb said, “From the time I was old enough to understand, they said, ‘You’re going to go to college.’ They worked so hard. They were so determined.”


Webb called the 11 years he’s been at Melissa “an incredible adventure” and noted the school’s rapid growth from Class 1A enrollment to a large 4A.


“We have a fantastic group of hard-working kids there. It’s a very supportive community with a great administration. But, again,” he added, “it was Austin College friends … who joined my staff [there] and built a solid program.”


Webb concluded, “There is no honor more precious to me than this one and no title more revered to me than to be called ‘Coach.’ … My being named the recipient of the Joe Spencer Award is more than anything else a tribute to what Austin College can do for a person.”


Later in the evening, Webb took a moment to reflect on this experience.


“This is probably the greatest honor I could get,” he said, “because I got it from my friends that I love and from the school that I love. I’ve already gotten several text messages from former players. That’s the real thrill — the kids I’ve gotten to coach. They made this possible — and the coaches I’ve gotten to coach with, I mentioned all of them. As far as honors go, to me, there’s none that can top this.”


What was his reaction to learning he’d been chosen?


“I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding,’” he laughed. “All of those people that have won this, they are my heroes. I never in a million years put myself on a level with them.” And the standing ovations? “I just had a bunch of buddies here,” he laughed again.


“I’m so proud of him,” Susie Webb said. “He’s so deserving of the award. He’s done a great job of coaching and mentoring not only students but the coaches he works with. It’s an exciting time for our whole family.”


Susie teaches 7th-grade reading at Melissa Middle School and was MISD’s 2017 Teacher of the Year.


“It means a lot to him,” Hondo Webb said. “And to be nominated by his peers and people who have supported him his whole life, I think it means even more to him. … We grew up in the Austin College family. To see him get this award tonight is just indicative of his hard work and his dedication to his family, friends, Austin College and everything he does.”


A perhaps perfect ending to Webb’s portion of the proceedings came just after his second standing O had subsided. New Austin College president Steven P. O’Day spoke next and soon remarked, “Claude, you are really hard to follow, my friend.”


That he was — and will be.