ON SPORTS: Players pay tribute to longtime mentor, coach Jan Lahodny
June 12, 2013 at 1:12 a.m.
Peyton Manning has nothing on Jan Lahodny.
Just like the NFL quarterback, Lahodny, 66, underwent surgery in March 2012 to fuse four vertebrae in her neck and left the surgeon shaking his head.
"Your sister must have been a bull rider," he told Lahodny's sibling after the operation. "I've never seen a woman with so much scar tissue."
Toughness was never an issue with Lahodny during her 29-year career as a girl's basketball coach at Shiner, Victoria High and Schulenburg.
She worked her teams hard, and the payoff was 707 wins, 10 trips to the state tournament and three state championships.
But as proud as she is of the success her players enjoyed on the court, she is even prouder of the lives many of them have experienced off the court.
"Back in the day, it was extraordinarily important for them to get into college, get an education and have a better life for themselves," she said. "So many of them have accomplished that, and I am so proud of them."
A group of Lahodny's former players have decided to show their gratitude by holding a tribute dinner Saturday from 6-9 p.m. at the Victoria College Banquet Hall.
"She's been such an inspiration to all of us," said Victoria East girls head basketball coach Yulonda Wimbish-North. "She's a great mentor and a great teacher. She's our friend now."
Wimbish-North won a state championship as a player under Lahodny at Victoria High and went on to win a national title at the University of Texas before going into coaching.
Wimbish-North wanted to play for Lahodny after attending a summer basketball camp before her freshman year of high school.
"There was something about her personality," Wimbish-North said. "She had a drive to push you and motivate you. I went to my mom and told her I wanted to play for her.
"I didn't know anything about what she had done," she added. "Really for me, I just think it was a destiny thing. I really believed with her being my coach there were other doors, and the opportunity to further my career in college."
Lahodny left coaching after the 1997-98 season but continues to stay in touch with the game through camps, clinics and the books she's written.
But Lahodny admits she'd have a difficult time returning to coaching.
"Are you kidding me?" she said. "I'd be in a lawsuit in a heartbeat. It's such a hands-off situation. It's really sad because I think we had so much fun because we were so sarcastic.
"They were sarcastic toward me, and I was sarcastic toward them. We could have fun with one another and poke fun at each other. The humor just breaks up the pressure of the situation."
Wimbish-North hasn't forgotten what she learned from Lahodny and tries to impart many of the same lessons.
"There are some things that I emulate," Wimbish-North said. "Definitely her philosophy and different things like that. We're all different and unique. With some people, it's just a gift that they have to connect with people.
"She motivated and held high standards for all of us. She set high expectations and pushed us to be the best that we could be."
Lahodny tries to stay in contact with most of her former players and coaches, a task made easier by social media and email.
"It's wonderful," she said. "I love watching all of them have great successes. They call on the phone, and we talk all the time. I'm pretty much the listening ear because I've been there and done that. It's different. I'm their mentor now. They just need to bang it off somebody."
Lahodny led her teams to the playoffs in 18 of the 21 years she was at Victoria High.
She would love to see Wimbish-North, former assistant and Victoria West coach Sandra Jimenez or another of her former players or coaches duplicate the feat.
"I think you can sustain success," Lahodny said. "I think it will take a lot of years to do that. It would have to be a really big commitment by the administration, the athletic department, the AD and everybody to make sure that everything is being taught exactly the way it's going to be when you hit the varsity.
"It needs to be taught in seventh grade. My players never knew any other way to do it. By the time they got to me, they had no idea there was any other way to play the game."
Mike Forman is a sports writer for the Victoria Advocate. Contact him at 361-580-6588 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or comment on this column at AdvoSports.com.