A slightly soaked Coach Mitch Lancaster (pictured left)?celebrates a sectional championship in 2004 with members of his team, Dan Hoover (center)?and Craig Greenwood.
Coach Mitch Lancaster wasn't interested in any sort of pomp and circumstance regarding his retirement from teaching the game of basketball. In fact, only those very close to the coach even had an inkling that he was planning on hanging up his whistle following the conclusion of Northview's basketball season.
Alas, the year came to much too quick of an end on the heels of a narrow 40-37 loss to Terre Haute North on Saturday.
It was following that game that Lancaster told his team that they would be the last under his tutelage. And after the game, Mitch told members of the media, well, I guess that would be just myself and Andy Amey from the Tribune Star.
Shocked, Andy and I both didn't' really know what to say since neither of us expected the announcement. Undoubtedly, there would have been much more fuss if others had known too, but that's not what Mitch would have wanted.
Spending those final moments with a team that he feels is one of his favorites is exactly what I think Mitch wanted to do.
I've enjoyed working with a lot of coaches during my tenure at the Banner Graphic and the Brazil Times, but Mitch and his staff will certainly go down as being in the top echelon.
Part of it might have been the introduction that Lancaster gave me to an outstanding turkey burger at a tailgate at Vincennes Lincoln during a lightning storm-delayed football game. Or perhaps it was the kindness that he always showed me when I was induced by deadlines to show up unannounced at practice to borrow some of his valuable time. But I'd guess that a lot of it has to do with the respect he's earned from his peers and players by teaching the game the right way. A handful of his players have graduated and returned to coach at the high school or junior high level and that tells me that he helped his players learn the game and not just play it.
Lancaster was always quick to shirk the spotlight, preferring to praise other members of his coaching staff for their scouting or his players for their unselfishness on the court. While some coaches might lash out and blame others for losses, Mitch typically credited his team's opponent for their play and simply being better on that evening.
More often than not however, Lancaster's teams came out on the winning end. In fact, Lancaster won 254 times, more than two-thirds of the game's in which he was the head coach. Between Rockville and Northview, Lancaster posted an impressive 254-133 record in 17 years as a head coach.
An impressive feat to be sure.
Seven years ago, Lancaster was welcomed back home to Brazil where he was a member of some strong Brazil Red Devil teams. Lancaster even reached the state semifinals with his 1981 Red Devil teammates before class basketball diluted the field.
Seven years ago, Mitch took the Northview coaching reigns after Jon Crooks.
The cupboard was pretty stocked when he got here and he coached Northview during some of the best years in the school's history. Packed gyms watched the Knights reel off 21-3 and 21-5 records in the first two years. Northview won a Pizza Hut Wabash Valley Tourney championship that first year and then followed that by competing in the prestigious Hall of Fame Classic Tourney. Though Northview lost its two games there, the competition featured some players that you might be familiar with in Lawrence North's Greg Oden and Mike Conley as well as White River Valley's A.J. Graves.
Oden and Conley are now in the NBA, while Graves is leading Butler to another NCAA Tourney berth.
That 2003-04 season featured one of my favorite moments as a journalist.
Covering Northview's emotional 45-40 sectional championship victory was pretty special for me. Being there to see a very talented group of seniors win a sectional trophy left me with a lump as big as a Granny Smith apple in my throat. Watching as Tyler Akers showered Lancaster with a celebratory cup of water, I couldn't help the smile on my face.
But afterward, Lancaster's comments again focused on his players.
"It means so much to these kids to win a sectional for a school that hadn't had one since 1988," Lancaster said. "To not get one would have been really hollow. These are such great kids."
That's what makes Saturday's loss just a little bit hollow as well. Another great group of kids fell just a few points short of experiencing that same joy. But I'd be willing to bet that those kids, knowing that Lancaster was in his last game, would have loved to have won that one for a really great coach.
I'm sure that I'll be amongst many that will miss having Mitch on the sideline, but I'd be willing to bet that he won't be too far away in the stands, still rooting on the Knights.
Thanks Mitch for everything you've brought to Northview as a coach and a teacher.