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Longtime Butte College basketball coach John Abell accepts Tom Harrington's Chico Hall of Fame award during the Chico Sports Hall of Fame Banquet on May 6, 2014, at Manzanita Place in Chico. 

John Abell left his legacy becoming one of the most winningest coaches in Butte College history. 

Abell, who coached the Butte men’s basketball team for 17 seasons, died on July 10. Abell was 85.

During his tenure as the Roadrunners head coach, Abell won two state championships and 14 conference championships. He guided the Roadrunners to 15 California State Junior College Tournament appearances, including 10 in a row. 

“He is a legendary basketball coach at Butte College,” said former Butte athletic director and football coach Craig Rigsbee. “If you go into the gym a lot of the (championship) banners are his teams.”

Part of Abell’s success includes producing 15 all-American and 28 all-conference players. His team had also won 70 consecutive conference games including a winning stretch of 115 of 116 games. He was honored as the conference coach of the year 12 times and he is also a two-time state coach of the year.

Rigsbee had known Abell since he first was hired at Butte College. The two shared neighboring offices on campus. Rigsbee was in his early 20s when he met Abell. 

“One of the things that stands out in my mind, he really helped (former Chico State basketball coach) Art Acker. I thought that was really cool that he brought Art around and really helped him,” Rigsbee said. “I used to tease him. I’d say I’ll do that for you when you get old.”

In a 1993 Enterprise-Record article written by Scott Hanson on Abell’s induction into the Chico Sports Hall of Fame, Abell credited Acker for his basketball knowledge and thanked him during his hall of fame speech. Acker had died two years before Abell’s induction. 

“I wish he could be here so I could tell him how much he meant to me. I spent almost every day with him for 20 years. I got my degrees from college but my education came from him,” Abell said during his speech.

Abell grew up in Sitka, Alaska. He played basketball where he was named all-territory, the equivalent of being named all-state, but Alaska wasn’t a state then. He attended Oregon State University. Before he was hired as the head coach at Butte in 1970, he coached high schools in Oregon where he won six conference championships, one state title and was named the 1962 Oregon Coach of the Year. 

He achieved a record of 210-57 as a high school coach and 395-108 at Butte College. He won back-to-back state junior college championships during the 1974-75 and 1975-76 seasons. Rigsbee said the significant part about those state championships was that it was done with local players. 

“He had a lot of influence on a lot of kids especially local kids,” Rigsbee said. “All those kids got scholarships to go all over the place. The five he started were all from Butte and Glenn county.” 

Two-time state player of the year Paul Henderson of Paradise, Rocky Smith and Carl Whitfield, both of Oroville, Matt Maderos of Chico and Steve Spooner of Willows were all part of the state championship team.

When he finished his coaching career, Rigsbee said Abell was still very much passionate about basketball. 

“He liked to tell basketball stories. He liked to go watch basketball,” Rigsbee said. “He’d come out to the Butte games and watch by himself. He really enjoyed the games.” 

Abell was inducted into the Chico Sports Hall of Fame in 1993 and also served on the Chico Sports Hall of Fame committee. He’s also part of the Butte College Hall of Fame. 

“He’s a dominating coach,” Rigsbee said. “He leaves a big legacy behind.” 

Abell is survived by his wife Jean and his son Michael.

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