Death Of A Legend

Sometime in January of 2016, Maryville’s boys junior varsity and varsity basketball team went to Kansas City to play a Christian team made up of home-schooled kids.  It was a rag-tag bunch, some with talent but all with hustle.  That last trait was easy to explain.  Their coach was Bud Lathrop.

I had heard of the legendary Bud Lathrop.  He coached at his hometown of Raytown for 45 years.  All 45 years at Raytown South.  He won four state titles at Raytown South.  Ten times he was in the championship game.  In all but 11 of his 45 years at Raytown South, his team won conference championships.

His former players will describe him as the most competitive person they had ever met.  He would do anything to gain an edge.  More than once he had the custodians turn up the heat in the Raytown South gym because he knew his team was in better condition than the opponent.

One of the great stories I heard about Bud Lathrop came from Kelvin Parker.  Parker starred at Northwest Missouri State under the coaching of Steve Tappmeyer, a pretty competitive person himself.  Kelvin has taken his skills to Europe since his playing days at Northwest.  He played for Bud Lathrop at Lathrop South.

Kelvin told me they had played in a Christmas Tournament that featured many highly ranked teams.  Raytown South finished second.  As the bus turned on Interstate 70 for the ride back to Raytown, Coach Lathrop felt his team was feeling too good about themselves with their second-place finish.

Coach Lathrop told the bus driver to stop on the bridge that spanned the Missouri River right on Interstate 70.  He took the second-place trophy and threw it over the bridge. There was no doubt with any of his players what he thought of second place.

After 42 years, Raytown South hired an administrator that didn’t like Lathrop’s techniques.  This will sound negative, but almost every player he ever coached loved Bud Lathrop.  In 2003 he was suspended for using a paddle for punishment for missing free throws in practice.

In 2004, he was suspended again for verbally abusing his players.  His players never complained.  The complaints always came from teachers or administrators that didn’t understand the Lathrop was showing love in his coaching style.

Finally, in 2006, Lathrop retired instead of facing another suspension.  The coaching career that had begun in Rock Port in 1958 appeared to be over.  In what seems like irony to me, Northeast Nodaway’s famous long-time coach Claude Samson, missed facing and equally famous Bud Lathrop by one year.  I’d pay money today to see that game.

Samson had 1,199 career wins.  Almost an identical number of wins with his boys’ teams as his girls’ teams.  Lathrop 956 games just coaching boys.  Samson has the most career wins in the state of Missouri and Lathrop has the most career boys’ wins in the state of Missouri.

In 2015, the Christian team came to Maryville.  Bud Lathrop was having dialysis and didn’t make it to the game.  The team was disciplined but not near as talented as Maryville.  The Spoofhounds won in a fairly easy game.  I was disappointed Coach Lathrop wasn’t in attendance.  The Spoofhounds would travel there the following year.

In 2016, I didn’t see Coach Lathrop during the first half of the junior varsity game.  Most of the parents felt confident he would be at the game.  About at halftime of the junior varsity game, this old man very slowly entered the gym.  He walked with a cane and would stop and talk to a fan or parent as he made his way toward his team’s bench.

You could tell he was a proud man.  He didn’t have a walker but used a cane.  I’m sure a walker would have made his journey easier, but he didn’t want the easy way out.  He had on khaki pants and a pull over long-sleeved coaching jacket.

He arrived at the bench about the time his varsity team started to warm up for the feature game.  Coach Lathrop sat still on his special seat beside the bleachers.  I couldn’t hear how he was coaching.

Trey Olgesby had almost single-handedly shot Maryville off to a fast start.  Trey hit from three-point range.  He drove and hit pull up jump shots.  The Maryville team was very talented.  John Zimmerman was one of the best point guards in Class 3.  The Spoofhounds had young and older, experienced big men.  It looked like the Spoofhounds would overwhelm the Christian team.

At halftime, Coach Lathrop gave his halftime speech from the bench.  He wasn’t mobile enough to make it to the locker room.  Despite not having the safety of the locker room walls, Coach Lathrop still let loose in his normal coaching style.  He let his team have it.

He did one other thing.  He coached.  His team came out the second half in a box and one defense, intent with limiting Trey’s shots.  The adjustment worked.  The defender on Trey did his job, getting help from the “box”.  The four players in the box were active and made it tough for the Spoofhounds to get a good shot.

The strategy worked.  The Christian team, led by Coach Lathrop’s defensive adjustment, came from behind and beat Maryville.  His body was letting him down, but there was nothing wrong with Coach Lathrop’s mind.  He knew basketball and he knew how to coach.

After the game, I talked to Sam, my son.  I told him to go over and shake hands with Coach Lathrop.  I tried to explain what a legendary coach he would meet.  Sam did go over and shook his hand.  Coach Lathrop did more than shake his hand.  He had a conversation with this junior varsity player from another team.  Coach Lathrop would talk basketball with anyone.  He loved the game.

Thursday, Bud Lathrop finally succumbed to age and kidney disease.  If he hadn’t been the most competitive person anywhere, he might not have coached another game.  However, coaching he did.  Sadly, at 82 years old, a coaching legend died.