March 14, 2003 Elmore Fortner coached basketball at four Shelby County high schools in 28 years.
Although he was Coach Fortner to several generations of players, longtime fans of the University of Memphis basketball program will remember him as a player on the first Tiger team to go to the NCAA tournament.
Mr. Fortner, who helped change the way basketball was played in Memphis as a coach and player, died Wednesday of cancer at Methodist Healthcare- Germantown. He was 69.
Mr. Fortner came to what was then Memphis State College in 1952 from Puxico, Mo.
Tiger basketball coach Eugene Lambert signed Fortner and several other players on the Puxico team after they won a state championship.
The Puxico team played a very aggressive, fast-paced game in a high school gym made out of logs.
Fortner and his Memphis State teammates made it to the post-season NCAA tournament in 1955 and 1956 - the first two times the school played in the tournament that determines college basketball's national champion.
After graduating, Mr. Fortner became basketball coach at Messick, Bolton, Central and Wooddale high schools, where he spread the new style of basketball.
He retired in 1993 after nine years as assistant principal at the Messick and Southwest Vocational Technical Centers. In 1997, Mr. Fortner was inducted into the University of Memphis M Club Hall of Fame.
"He loved the coaching business," said his wife of 46 years, Elaine Hall Fortner of Lakeland. "He gave all in the world he had to it and he touched a lot of lives."
Mr. Fortner was a deacon at Bellevue Baptist Church. He was also a member of the Memphis Restaurant Association. Mr. Fortner bought the heating and air-conditioning business Authorized Services in 1987 after working there for 15 years. The company installs and repairs heating and air-conditioning systems and other equipment for many Memphis restaurants.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Fortner also leaves a daughter, Melanie Runyon of Bartlett; two sons, Brad Fortner of Memphis and Russell Fortner of Japan; a brother, Leslie Fortner of Collierville, and two grandchildren.
Services will be at 1 p.m. Saturday at Memphis Funeral Home Poplar Chapel with burial in Memorial Park.
The family requests that memorials be sent to a charity of the donor's choice.