DES MOINES, Iowa — Sam Powell is one of the most successful girls’ basketball coaches in Des Moines East High history. Now, a group of former players and coaches want the Des Moines School Board to recognize Powell by naming the high school gym in his honor.
Powell spent 15 years as the girls’ varsity basketball coach where he won over a dozen metro league conference championships and a state title in 2011; the same season he was also named Class 4A coach of the year. He was the first Black coach to win a championship in Iowa girls’ high school basketball.
Tiara Mays open enrolled at East High with her sister, Tia, to play for Powell from 2004-2007.
“We’ve all hung up our Nikes at this point. We’re all done playing but we’re great human beings now, we’re good citizens and part of that comes from that being molded into us. We had to do community service, we had to be active with our school, we had to get good grades,” Mays said.
Several of Powell’s players received scholarships to play Division I basketball in college.
“I loved the girls and despite how loud coach Powell may yell, sometimes I had to discipline them, but at the end of the day I think they all would consistently say ‘we always knew he loved us,'” Powell said.
Powell retired from coaching in 2019 to focus on being a dad. His oldest daughter played basketball at Georgetown University, his youngest daughter is also playing college basketball at Merrimack University in Boston. He now works as a Polk County juvenile probation officer.
“I love going to my job every day knowing I can make a difference in the lives of many young people who made some mistakes and need me right now,” Powell said.
Current DMPS policy states for a building to be named in honor of a person, that individual must be deceased for at least two years. That does not apply to a facility such as a gymnasium.
Right now a committee is reviewing the recommendation and will present its findings to the full school board. A vote to name the gym in Powell’s honor could happen as soon as the October 18 board meeting.
“Some things in life I knew, but I don’t know I truly understood the impact and what I meant in a lot of young people’s lives,” Powell said.