Lazasz was ‘old school’ as a coach

Today, if a coach stays at their trade for more than three years, they are considered veterans in their field. Milestones are measured by months and seasons and not careers. In Ohio, teams can win sectional titles in one of six classes in basketball and one of four in most other sports as compared to just two classes statewide years ago.

And coaches, young and old, are remembered only as long as they coach and until their replacement is hired.

It’s a different world of high school sports today. Coaches with longevity should be applauded. “Old school” coaches should be commended for following the footsteps and advice of those that they followed. And our great coaches of the past should be thanked and honored, before they are all gone. The time will come, when today’s coaches will be the ones giving the advice to the new coaches, when “old school” will describe them and a veteran coach is one that truly grows old with the game.

Buckeye Local is one of those schools that consolidated a bunch of smaller schools with rich tradition in sports and a long list of not only great players, but great coaches. This weekend, the area lost another of those great coaches with the passing of Henry L. Lazasz. Commonly known as “Herk” by all his friends, but called “Coach” by all those student-athletes that had any contact with him, lived the last few years with the aid of a wheelchair, but with the undying love of the game of basketball.

There are many with past memories of Coach Lazasz; players, fellow coaches, sports writers, former and current teachers and friends from throughout the valley and state. A wonderful educator, a student and teacher of the game of basketball, a caring individual and a person that would keep you in a conversation for hours.

Through the years, when I told my wife I was going to stop and visit with Coach Lazasz, her words were simply, “I’ll see you in the morning”. He could and would talk about anything.

He was one of the first to call me when I was hired to coach at Bridgeport and again at Buckeye Local. He was one of the first to offer his condolences when both of my parents passed away. And it was his last call to me that he asked the condition of my wife’s health without discussing his own. As tough and driven as he was on the court, he was equally caring of all his past students and players and their families.

Being a center on the high school football team under Coach Dick Thurnes, it was Coach Lazasz that was the line coach and the voice I heard so often at practice. He was my biology teacher at Warren Consolidated. And although, I wasn’t the greatest of students, he chose to sit a student by me that he said he thought I could help. Of course, I still haven’t figured that one out.

Later, after graduating from high school and moving on to “adulthood” and as the years passed, he became not only a former coach and teacher, but a very dear friend.

He coached high school basketball for 34 years and in that time won 405 games and lost 306. Twenty-three of those teams had winning records. He coached four different schools, but never moved. His “stops” were at Warren Consolidated from 1957 to 1972, Buckeye South from 1972 to 1988, Buckeye SouthWest from 1988 to 1990 and the first year of the Buckeye Local consolidation in 1990-91.

His Warren Consolidated team of 1969-70 was a phenomenal group of scorers that raced through the school’s only unbeaten regular season at 18-0 and then pushed the record to 22-0 before advancing into the Regional at Canton where the Ramblers were eliminated by Sebring High.

His start at Buckeye South, which was the merger of Warren Consolidated, Dillonvale and Yorkville, was very impressive. In the first 10 years of the school, his teams posted a 158-65 total record. The 1973-74 Rebels advanced to the Regional finals in Athens before losing to Columbus Bishop Hartley. The 77-76 loss left the school just one point shy of a trip to the state tournament.

Just one year later, his Rebel squad finished at 19-3, losing by two in the Class 2-A District. Two other teams, 1978-79 and 1980-81 both finished at 17-5. The earlier team lost in the District semi-final and the later came back from a 1-4 start to the season to coming within two points of a return trip to the regional’s.

His 1976-77 team was one that was able to match the unbeaten team at Warren Consolidated. That Rebel team swept through the regular season unbeaten and beat state-ranked Ridgewood in the District finals. They lost to Ironton in the Regional at Athens the following week finishing at 22-1.

His coaching career included 13 Sectional Championships, three District Championships and one Regional Runner-up. He coached six 1,000-point scorers, Chuck Zerger, George Nemeth, Gary Orban, Jim Prati, Bruce Yance and Dave Dittmar.

He graduated from Warren Consolidated in 1950 as an All-Ohio performer in both football and basketball and then went on to Bethany College where he played both sports for the Bison. After a stint in the military, he returned to his alma mater to begin his lengthy coaching career.

As luck would have it, Coach Lazasz’s career opener was set for December 3, 1957, but was cancelled that day due to a heavy snowstorm. Three days later, on December 6, 1957, he made his debut in a tough 56-53 loss to Martins Ferry. On December 10, 1957, he won his first, beating Warwood, 72-70. The Vikings were coached by another coaching legend, Jim Foti.

Coach was selected as the UPI Ohio coach of the year in 1977 and AP Eastern District coach of the year, the same year. Four of his teams won OVAC titles in ’61, ’70, ’77 and ’81.

He was honored as a lifetime member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame by the Ohio High School Athletic Association in 2001 and inducted into the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference Hall of Fame in 2009.

For a while names like Henry Lazasz, Dick Potts, Jim Foti and Claire Cribbs were as common as the President. Their accomplishments were described with words like “outstanding”, “unbelievable” and “amazing”. As time moves into the rear window, it is our memories that of those times that we see ahead of us.

Today, to all that know men like Henry Lazasz, refer to him with just one word, “Coach”. Always was, always will be.