The basketball world has lost an icon.
We called him “Fletch.”
There never was anyone quite like Fletcher Arritt Jr. He could have been one of the Reader’s Digest “Most Unforgettable Characters” without a doubt.
That’s why we’re going to miss Fletch so very much. Arritt passed away Wednesday at the age of 79 in Fork Union, Virginia, near the school he devoted his life to and the wife, Betty Jean, he adored.
Arritt coached the postgraduate basketball team at Fork Union Military Academy. It basically was for players that hadn’t received good enough college scholarship offers — or any at all. So, this gave them an additional year to improve under a phenomenal coach.
Fletch compiled a record of 890-283 in 42 years. He sent more than 200 players to NCAA Division I and some to the NBA. In 1994, when the University of Virginia played Virginia Tech, five of the 10 starters were from FUMA.
Arritt was proud of those numbers, but they didn’t begin to define who he was. I know because we were good friends.
I can’t remember exactly when Fletch and I first met, but it was at a high school basketball game and it was like we had known each other for years. It seemed like we talked the same language, whether it was basketball or life.
We talked a lot about both.
Fletch would talk about the railroad tracks behind his backyard, and I would talk about the kid who needed to work on his left hand.
In my mind, I still can see Fletch walking toward press row at the Charleston Civic Center Coliseum with a grin on his face and his glasses pushed up on his forehead where he usually wore them.
He was looking for me. It was time to talk hoops. And we did. Many, many times. Fletch and I carried mutual admiration for each other. He often came to ask me what I thought about a certain player. And he always trusted my evaluations.
We talked a lot of basketball, but we talked a lot about life, too. And even if it had been months or even a year since we’d last seen each other, we always seemed to pick up where we left off.
Fletch was a proud man. He was proud to hail from Fayetteville. He was proud to be a West Virginian.
Arritt was a tall, thin blade of a man who had the metabolism of a hummingbird. He didn’t sleep much. He was too busy living. He looked like a track athlete and was a dedicated runner.
I’m not sure I’ve ever met anybody who loved his life more than Fletch did. He coached his young men. He improved them as players and as people. He helped them succeed in life.
What more is there?
Fletch hung it up with one final home game in 2012 after 42 years. Such well-known coaches as Terry Holland, Craig Littlepage, Dave Odom, Jeff Jones, Mack McCarthy, Bill Dooley and Charlie Woollum attended the game to pay their respects.
He was once asked why he had coached for so long. His answer was pure, classic Fletch.
“If you like what you’re doing,” he said, “you keep doing it.”
Those are words to live by.
And die by.
Knowing he is gone makes me sad, yet when I think of his face I still smile.
Fletch and I smiled a lot.