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In Play with Craig Mattick: Larry Luitjens

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In Play with Craig Mattick: Larry Luitjens
Rapid City Journal

Long time coach Larry Luitjens is one of the most successful coaches in South Dakota high school history. Throughout his 45-year career of coaching boys basketball, he won 748 games, which is the state record in boys' high school hoops for the Mt. Rushmore state. He also won seven state titles throughout his career.

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Larry Luitjens, Former Custer Boys Basketball Coach

We're talking about Larry Luitjens of Custer. Larry joins us now on In Play. Larry, you live in Sioux Falls now, but I know you still travel. You go see your beloved Custer Wildcats. In fact, just recently you went to see them play St. Thomas Moore. Cavaliers got the win. Did you watch that game any different today in the stands when you were on the bench all those years with Custer?

Oh, yeah, yeah. I watch it different. You don't have anything to say when you're a fan. I mean, beat all the rest maybe, or something. I don't do that. I don't do that. I don't, I'm just kidding. You do it different. You don't have anything to handle with the squad. No matter what you're thinking, you can't do anything about it.

There's no pressure, either, no pressure at all.

Yeah, well, that's true. That's true.

You played high school basketball at Britton. How good were those Britton Braves at the time when you played?

You know, we were pretty good. We really were. We ended up going to the state tournament when I was a senior and got beat by Willow Lake in the first game. They ended up getting second, and then we ended up playing Provo for the consolation championship and we beat them in double overtime. Back in that day, it was sudden death. It took six seconds and we scored the basket and won the game.

Help us out for some of us long timers in South Dakota, and the newcomers. Where's Provo, South Dakota?

Provo is down next to Edgemont. They have all the bombs that they stored there. Back in 1960, they had a high school and had a squad. They had a pretty good team, pretty good. They were a pretty good team.

Who were some of the other guys that you played ball with at Britton?

I played with Dave Watson, Rich Steele, who was killed in a car accident when he was going to college at Yankton. Dave Watson, Rich Steele, Gary Grosse. Those are the seniors on the squad. Then we had a few juniors that played on the squad, too, a kid by the name of Wayne Hoyniss. We were a pretty good squad.

You got to play college ball at Northern. Bob Wachs was there, of course. How many other colleges wanted you to play for them? Or was Northern the only one?

Not very many, not very many. I had an offer at Yankton. Yankton College was still going then. I thought about going down there and then it just didn't hit, I guess, right. I decided not to. In fact, I transferred to South Dakota State. I was at South Dakota State for two quarters. It didn't take me very long to see that they had a lot of talent and I probably wasn't going to play much. They were the South Dakota State team that, four years later, won the national tournament. I guess I had it picked out right.

Yeah, but you loved the game of basketball. You loved it a lot. What was it, who was it, that decided, "You know what? I'm going to coach this game I love."

I think, Craig, it goes back to when I figured out I wasn't going to play in the NBA, I probably should coach at the high school level. I didn't want to get away from it. I wanted to stay with the game, so that's why I started coaching. I loved it. I loved it when I quit. I quit because I wanted to see my granddaughters play and, also, I was kind of bogged down by Lupus. I was coaching in practice from a chair. My legs were so bad I couldn't stand up. I thought, you know, it might be time to hang it up, and that's when I did hang it up.

How much of an influence did Bob Wachs of Northern have on you as a coach?

A lot, a lot. I mean, he was intense. People would ask me, "Well, how could you handle that?" I said, "Well, it was easy to handle it, because when he was yelling at me, I knew I'd done something wrong and I just listened. I didn't argue, I didn't say, oh, no, you're wrong." If he said something to me about, "Got to get it on the boards," I knew I had to get it on the boards.

He really influenced my defense. He played all man to man back then and that's the way I started out, playing all man to man and playing a lot of pressure. I got all that from Bob Wachs.

You liked the fast break, too. I mean, you loved that?

Yeah, he liked to run the floor and we'd run the floor with most of the teams that I've had.

Your first coaching job was De Smet, 1968, I think. You were there four years, but you won two titles. Here you are, in only your third and fourth year of coaching, and you're winning titles already. What was going through your mind at that time as a young coach?

I was thinking, "Boy, this is pretty easy."

No. I knew I had talent and I did. I had a lot of talent. The longer I was away from those kids, the more I realized how good they were. You take Randy Jinks and Terry Long. I mean, they were good basketball players. Then Rick Tibbetts, Dave Andries, and Glen Klinkel.

They were all good players. Jenks went out his senior year and didn't come back until tournament time. We still were right there winning games, games, games, because we had a lot of talent to back him up.

Before you won those two titles back to back at De Smet, it was 1969. You lost to Onida in the finals. It was 93 to 90. And remember, there's no three point line. That's a lot of points going back and forth.

That's a lot of points. There were a lot of free throws shot in that game, a lot of fouls called and a lot of free throws shot. That's the reason the score got up as high as it did. It's all free throws. I think Jenks was, I think he made 21 free throws in that game.

How many times did you coach against your high school alma mater, Britton, when you were at De Smet?

I coached against Britton just one time at De Smet, when I was at De Smet. They had a classic up in Britton where you come out and played a couple games. I just coached against them that one time.

Britton won the title in '72. Was that the year you were at St. Mary's at New England, North Dakota? Your only year there?

That was the year that I was farming.

Craig Mattick:

You were farming?

That was the year I was farming.

Well, you know, you were at St. Mary's in New England, North Dakota. You left De Smet after four years. You went 19 and 4. You lost in the districts on a Saturday and then fired the following Monday. How cruel was that? How cruel was that? You were there just one year and then you said you never wanted to coach again.

Well, I didn't. I mean, I got fired and the priest told me. He said, "You either change and play a zone and walk the ball down the floor, or you win the state tournament, or you get fired." Well, we got upset. We got upset on Saturday night and I got fired on Monday morning. He was a man of his word.

So you sat out a year. What did you do? You just told me. You went farming for a year?

I was on the farm. I was helping out a friend do his farming. Then I went back and helped my stepdad at his fueling station. It wasn't anything that was too trying on the brain.

Yeah, but who was it that convinced you that, "Hey, you're 109 and 20 now as a coach. You got a couple of titles. You should go back to coaching." Who was the one that said, "Larry, come on. Get off the tractor and get into the basketball room?"

It was Dick Vonsen who was, he was my neighbor. He was a pastor in Britton and he was my neighbor right across the alley and became really good friends. He went to Custer and he came to the filling station twice and said, "Well, why don't you just come out and interview?"

Well, I just figured I owed it to him, because of everything he had done for me, to go interview. I interviewed and watched young kids play and I thought, "Yep, I think I want to come here."

Custer had never been to the state tournament finals before you got there. You went zero and three in the finals before you got that first title in 1990 versus Red Cloud. What were the emotions like in that state tournament? The first one for Custer, your third overall.

That was a big game. It was a big game. We had a good team. I still have a picture of Lance and I embracing after that game. I mean, I was excited and I was excited for him. He had a great tournament. It was fun. It was fun. There was no doubt about it. You love to win the tournament, you love to win all of them, but that was a big one for me and for the Custer Wildcats.

You know, after that title with Red Cloud, then it was unbelievable. Match ups with Lennox. Custer and Lennox, you guys met six times in the finals. You got four of them. What were those battles liker with Lennox in the stadium of basketball?

Unbelievable. Unbelievable. I was visiting with Jay Steele when I was out in Custer and he was talking about he and Rops became really, really good friends. He was talking about how when they got ready to introduce, he comes out there and Rops says, "How you doing, hillbilly?" They just got along really great and that was kind of true. I mean, that was true of all of them. We got along really well with the Lennox kids. Did we want to win the games when we played them? Absolutely. That was a big time rivalry.

I want to talk about the LNI, the Lakota National Invitational. Custer won it seven times. You were the first non-reservation school to win it. I know Bryan Brewer, who founded the tournament, told me once that there was a time where they were wondering should Custer even be in the LNI. But they got together one year and they said, "Of course. Of course we want Custer. Just makes the tournament better."

But I think you had a very special relationship, Larry, with the LNI, with the Native American schools, the region, West River. What was the LNI? What did that mean to you and to Custer?

That was big time. When I came to Custer was right after the burning of the courthouse in Custer. AIM was just getting started again and getting active again, I guess you would say. My superintendent told me, "You don't have to go down." We had a game with Klein [inaudible 00:13:05]. "You don't have to go down and play that game, you know, if you're concerned about that." I said, "Listen, you want to play the best teams that you can. If you want to get better, if you want to be a good basketball team, you got to play the best teams and they're one of the best teams in the state of South Dakota. Of course we want to play them."

That was the big thing. Nobody else, no other non-native team would go down to the reservation and play. We were the only one that would. So Bryan Brewer and Chuck Cooney got me on the phone, on a conference call there one day, and said, "You know, we'd like to have you play in the LNI." I said, "I would love to do that. I would love to do it." That was how we got started.

It was great. I got a lot of really good friends from the reservation between of the LNI. There's a lot of really, really good Native American basketball coaches, too. Dusty was probably one of the best coaches in the state, Dusty LeBeaux.

We tangled a few times in the finals of the LNI. In fact, in 1990, we played them in the finals of the LNI and the finals of the state tournament, and beat them by six points both times. Great games.

I would see you coaching on the sidelines. I'd see pictures. I'd see you in person and you would always, most of the time, have a medallion or some sort of a necklace around your neck. What did that mean? What was that?

Those were gifts and I'd gotten one from Bryan Brewer and one from the Crow Creek coach. They were just pretty special to me that they would make these, they made them themselves, and then give them to me. I felt real proud to wear that and wear it in LNI tournament.

Larry, you were a big supporter of the Native American schools and everything that they are trying to get bigger. You were a big supporter for them. It was special.

It was special to me. I went to my rheumatology doctor here in Sioux Falls, first time I'd ever seen him. Lo and behold, the nurse was a former cheerleader from Red Cloud High School and her best friend was Dusty LeBeaux's daughter, who was a really good friend of mine. I mean, every time we'd go to a game she'd come up and give me a hug and everybody was wondering, "What's that Native American cheerleader doing hugging that coach?"

It's a small world. It's a small world. I was doctored for Lupus and she knew more about Lupus than the doctor did.

You've been a great coach. Of course, a father. You're a mentor to a number of high school kids. They've had their own personal problems, but there's been a couple of times where, I think, the community and the basketball team really looked to you, Larry. One of those times, unfortunately, was that starting point guard you had, Derek Paulsen. What a great player he was. He passed away in a car crash in 1999. It was devastating for the community.

That was a tough one, Craig. There's no way to explain how you handle something like that, because you don't. I knew that I had to take care of Pretty and I knew I had to take care of Eileen. That was the cheerleader's mother. Both of them taught for me. Both of them worked for me in the school and it was tough. It was tough. I mean, they were both in my office every day for probably six months. They were two great, great kids. Just super kids. Derek was a great basketball player, but on top of that he was just a great kid.

He came to me on the Sunday before he was killed. He came up to the house and he said, "Coach, I wanted to talk to you. I'm thinking about not going out for football. I know that people say that you talked me out of going out and I just want to know if you're okay with that, if you're okay with me not going out." I said, "No, you can do whatever you want to do, Derek. I'm not going to tell you you have to play football." He had decided then that he wasn't going to play football and then it was that following Friday when they were killed in that car accident over by Alpena.

Tell me about the bike accident. That was another time you thought you would never coach again. What happened on that day?

I tell you, I had lunch with Dr. Stott's. He was one of the doctors. He was one of them in the emergency room. He was in the emergency room there in Rapid City just visiting a friend of his that was on call that night. He heard them call my name over and he said to his friend, "I'll take this one if it's all right." He said, "Yeah." He was my doctor there when I came in.

I had eight multiple broken ribs is one of the things I had wrong with me in that crash. I was doctoring with him afterwards, and I was whining about it, because it hurt. Ribs are painful. I was whining to him and he puts his hand on my shoulder and he says, "You know, Larry, you need to just thank the Lord that you're here, because there wasn't one of us in the emergency room thought you'd make it through the night."

Well, nobody'd ever told me that, Craig. I mean, I knew it was a bad accident, but nobody'd ever told me it was life and death. I quite whining about the ribs.

You got hit by a vehicle, right? You got hit by a vehicle?

Yeah, I got hit. A vehicle was passing and it had hubcaps on the trailer. It was pulling a trailer behind an RV and the hubcap caught me. I don't remember it, but I saw it in the pictures and everything afterwards. I got caught by the hubcap and it banged me off the side of the trailer. I hit my head twice, because I broke my helmet in two places. That's what was the toughest thing recovering from, was the traumatic brain injury that I ended up having. I ended up counseling for a year with the greatest psychologist in Rapid City and visiting the greatest psychiatrist for the meds. I got two great guys to take care of me. If I hadn't, I probably wouldn't be here right now.

Who was the one that said, "Go back coaching. It's time, it's time for you to get back on the court." You didn't miss much time, though, did you?

No. I was out a year and I missed it and I wanted to get back in. It was me.

You've had former players as coaches. I remember Nick Redden was a coach up at Belle Fourche for a while. In fact, I know that Nick was coaching Belle Fourche when you played them your last home game of your career. Any idea, have you kept track of how many former players have been or are currently coaches?

You know, I never, ever did keep track, but what I probably did keep track of is the number of calls that I got from them. None of them ever wanted to know how to handle a 1-3-1 or what's a matchup or anything. All of them wanted to know, "How do you handle parents?" How do you handle parents that do this or do that. That was the sad thing, to me, that that's what they were concerned about, is they had parents that were tough on them. I understand it. I see it, I know it. I was fortunate that I didn't have that many. I think in De Smet, I didn't have any that I remember. In Custer, I had one, one tough parent. He was tough. I mean, he was tough enough that a couple times when his kid didn't play much, I'd check underneath my pickup when I got back from the game, make sure he didn't put a bomb under there.

What do you tell those coaches today, the young coaches how want to be a coach or are coaches? How is coaching today different than when you first started?

It's with the parents. What I would say when they're told is you got to listen to them, don't argue with them. You'll just have to tell them, "Well, I'm in charge here and I'll do it the way I believe and the way I was taught, and I'm sorry you disagree, but that's the way it'll be." I don't know how they came out with it. I don't know how they did it. Some of them called me back and told me, "Yeah, it worked pretty good." Some of them said it didn't work at all.

You had a chance to coach your son, Lance. How tough was it being a father and a coach for Lance?

Easy. It was easy. He had the same love of the game, Craig, that I had. He rode back and forth to school. He never had his own vehicle, so he rode back and forth to school with me. We lived about a mile away from the school and he rode with me every day. We never, we never talked basketball in the pickup on the way from the gym unless he brought it up. If he said something, if he brought it up, then I would talk. Otherwise, we just didn't do it, because I just didn't think it was fair to him to have me talking basketball to him all the time. So I didn't. I never did, just at the gym.

From 1988 to 2003, in that span of 16 years that was the heyday for Custer Wildcat basketball. You were at the state tournament 10 times. You had five titles, three runners up. Did your coaching change at all during those 16 years when you were constantly going to state tournaments and being in the finals?

I don't think so, Craig. I think we were doing it because we had great kids and basically coached the same way. I think my coaching probably changed more in the last six, seven years I coached because of the Lupus. I mean, I was in a lot of pain and I know now when I look back, I wasn't a very good coach. I wasn't doing a very good job. It's probably best that I did get out of it, because I know I wasn't doing a good job. I just, I knew that, but I guess when you're in a lot of pain, sometimes it's hard to stay focused on what you should be focused on.

Was there ever an opportunity to get into college, be a college coach?

No, not really. Uh uh, no. I never had any desire to and I never had anybody come chasing me.

Because, you know, when you're winning titles and winning a bunch of ball games, schools are going to call those coaches and say, "Hey, are you interested?"

Yeah. No, I really didn't. I really didn't.

How about girls' basketball? Would you have had a chance to coach girls' basketball at one time?

I coached summer ball for three years with Lance, coached Brook, my oldest granddaughter, and I helped Lance. I loved it. I loved it. I loved working with the girls. They were probably a little more excited about the game, wanting to do well, wanting to please the coach, than the boys. I did, I loved coaching the girls. It was fun.

When it came to coaching, was it 24/7? Was it year 'round? How much time did you spend working with your kids in the off season to get ready for the following year?

As much as they wanted. It was pretty much 24/7. I never made them come to the gym, but I didn't have to. Most of the time they wanted to come to the gym, they wanted to be there, and I certainly obliged them whenever I could.

Right off the top of your head, and this might be a tad difficult, whether they were Custer players or not, during your time who were some of the more exciting players that you had a chance to see on the court, whether they were a Custer Wildcat or there was an opponent? Can you name a couple of them?

It was a great thrill for me to coach my own son, and he was a good basketball player. That made it easy for me to coach him. Trevor Long was a great basketball player, probably as good a shooter as I ever had. Derek Paulsen and Page, his younger brother. They were two good basketball players. Derek probably would have ended up being the best basketball player I ever coached if he had played senior year, because he was good.

Do you want material about him?

Back when I was at De Smet, I had Randy Jenks and Terry Long and Tommy Hine, Larry Hine, Dave Andries.

Man, they made you look good, Larry. Oh, my goodness.

They did. They made me look really good, and they were super. I've had some really good basketball players, Craig. I mean, I've been really blessed with some real talent. It was fun. It was fun to coach them. They were very coachable. Lance asked me, he was working on the book and he asked me, "How many T's did your kids have in the years you coached?" I had to do some calling and I had to do some checking, and we ended up I think with three.

Three technicals?

Three technicals. One was the first year, I got a kid that came for Chicago and he was a little bit wild and he got a T when we were playing up at Sturgis, but he liked to play and I benched him when he got the T and he didn't play anymore that game. That was the last time that he ever had a T. Then I had a kid that bounced the ball off the floor. It wasn't really that serious a bounce, either, but he got T'd. I figured he deserved it. I didn't think it was, could have just as well been avoided. Then I had, the third one was a kid going up to dunk the ball and it was in the LNI and he had a Native American kid underneath him. He held on the rim so he wouldn't fall on the kid and he got T'd up for hanging on the rim. The only one that was really a serious T was the first one. The other two were too bad.

Did the kids know if they got a T, they were going to be sitting down?

Yeah, yeah, they knew that. They knew that if they got a T, they didn't play anymore that game.

You never got a technical?

I don't think I got very many. I was trying to think. I remember getting one in Custer when I was wondering if the charge wasn't a block or the block wasn't a charge. I can't even remember now.

Two more for Larry Luitjens. You won 70% of your games, but what school was always that craw in your side that it took a bunch of work to always beat them, or maybe they beat you more than what you thought? Was there one team that Custer played that always was tough?

Well, back when we were really, really good, both Spearfish and Belle Fourche were really, really good. It seems like some of those years where we had 24 and 1 records, the one was Belle or Spearfish. Both of them were well coached and they had talent. They had talented players. They were a good basketball team. We always had to do a lot of preparation for both those games, and sometimes we didn't prepare enough, because they would get us in those years. That was probably ...

Then playing any team that Dusty had, Red Cloud especially, those were always tough games. They were a good, good basketball team. They probably won as many games as we won. There's not a lot of teams that can say that.

Lastly, Larry, what do you want people to remember you most about being a coach?

Well, there's more to the game than making a free throw or making a layup. I hope that the kids that played for me believe that themselves and know that there was more to the game than that.

Great to reminisce some of those great years with Larry Luitjens. 748 wins, winning 70% of his games, 45 years of coaching. Just a great coach, a great guy, and fun to talk to him. Certainly, we talked about some former players, some former players who became coaches, but the one he enjoyed the most, of course, wouldn't surprise me. He got to coach his son for a while. In fact, four years at Custer.

Lance Luitjens, Larry's Son

Lance Luitjens is one of those guys who had a chance to play in the state championship game, not only his freshman year, but his sophomore year, his junior year, and his senior year. Lance Luitjens joins us now on In Play. Lance, when I talk about those four years of being in the state championships, what first comes to your mind?

I think that many people remember the Lennox-Custer rivalry. Personally, for me, my 8th grade year we were beat in the first round. We were playing Lennox and we had a lead and the momentum, and it was the blizzard year, and the lights went out.

Oh, that was out in Rapid City that year, I believe?

Yes, that was out in Rapid City. We ended up getting consolation. I didn't play in that tournament. I was on the team that year, but I remember the taste of that and I remember looking at those other teams saying, "We could beat that team. We could compete with that team." It was just this burning desire to get back as a freshman.

It was a strange thing, because there was just nothing else that you would accept besides, "We're going to make it to the state championship next year." It almost just became an expectation. We came up short to a great Vermilion team. Still friends with the Houska's, the Houska twins. I just remember that. They went back to back, you are absolutely correct, and we got the second half of the back and came up a little short. I remember Jason Houska coming to me and saying, "Hey, you're going to be here again. You're going to have a great career," as the game was closing out. It was just a classy thing to do. I just said to myself right there, "Absolutely, we're going to get back."

That sophomore year, it was the first time Custer had ever won a state championship and to do it in undefeated style against Red Cloud.

And actually against Red Cloud, so it was a team that we had played in the Lakota Nation Championship and had beat them by six points in a barn burner there. Here we do, they ended up pulling a couple huge upsets, beating Lennox as one of their upsets, and we get them in the championship in another dogfight to the end and end up with that first win. That was probably, that'll always still be my first memory, I think, of that first championship, just that first celebration that you always remember.

The following year, '91, Lennox comes back to beat you, but then as a senior you beat Lennox in the championship by seven points. You got three out of four.

You know, we did, and ironically it was a Custer-Lennox championship there three years in a row, Custer getting the last two of the three. But my senior year was one, once again, that we wanted that redemption. The year before Lennox's sights were on us. We had a 49 game win streak going into that game and they had been playing their whole year hoping to play us. Then the following year, we kind of did the same thing. We wanted to avenge that loss and go out as state champs, and that's the way it ended up.

Some great high school years playing basketball, but, Lance, when you were in elementary school, your dad is a basketball coach. What was life like watching your dad on the sidelines at the basketball games?

I grew up not knowing anything else. I mean, I grew up sitting on his lap watching videotapes of Don Meyer teaching different defenses and I'd be down in the basement and then we would go to games. I can remember being at the games as young as I could walk. Going out there and chucking up some shots at halftime of a game. Back then, they didn't kick you off the floor quite as quick. It was just always part of my life and I just looked forward to the day that I was going to get to play like those big Custer Wildcats.

Doug Herman was a name that I'll throw out, because he was my high school idol. Probably the best athlete to ever play at Custer High School. He ended up going to the University of Nebraska and getting drafted in football, but also ran track and was a four time all state basketball player. I just was engrossed in basketball and in the culture of Custer Wildcats.

But you knew your dad was going to be the coach?


And you knew what his style was. You knew what he was like on the sidelines. Nothing was going to surprise you, but how much time off the court did you two sit down and talk strategy, talk basketball?

You know, we talked basketball as often as I wanted to talk basketball. It was one of the things that I knew that he was always going to be a little bit harder on me and I welcomed that. I wanted to be the best I could be anyway, but we had an agreement that when practice was done or when a game was done, if I wanted to talk basketball, then I'd say, "Hey, Dad, I want to talk basketball," and if I didn't, then he wouldn't push it. I think that's really what made our coach-son relationship a lot more unique than what many others may have experienced.

Was there a memory of a game where maybe he got on your case a little bit more than usual? Do you remember? Were there any of those types of games?

There was always times where he would bite at me and get after me. He would do that at times when I deserved it, and then he would do that at times when he just wanted to get everyone else going, but I guarantee you that usually if he was doing that, it had something to do with the defensive end, because that was the end that was 100% with him about effort and hustle and heart, and he knew that on the offensive end, there would be days when you had it and days that you didn't. That's where he did most of his barking.

Lance, how many times you're with Dad going downtown Custer, maybe going to the grocery store or maybe got to stop at the post office or maybe you got to stop at the hardware store, get something, and all the sudden you get to where you're going and someone is there and they want to talk to your dad? They want to talk to your dad, they want to talk basketball. I assume that happened a lot any time that your dad went downtown?

Well, it did, and unfortunately my dad enjoyed talking basketball. I knew that and he would talk basketball with someone he didn't even know. He'd just introduce himself and all the sudden they'd be talking and it was ball, but yeah, it happened quite often. You got used to it and it's something that, I can't take him anywhere even today without someone stopping and wanting to talk basketball.

What was it like playing in the Lakota National Invitational?

Such a hard thing to explain if people haven't experienced it. I would say I know that they couldn't have it this year, but if there's anybody listening that has never gone out and experienced it, you need to do that as a fan first. Then you'll have a little bit of a taste, because that was a close of an atmosphere of a state tournament as you could possibly have, except it probably easily was much more pageantry and celebration than what you'd have in a state tournament. A lot more time around the teams and just celebrating each other.

Having Custer be part of that, I became really good friends with a lot of those kids that played from Red Cloud and that played from different parts, whether it be Pine Ridge, Little Wound, Cheyenne-Eagle Butte, Crow Creek, et cetera. It was a very unique experience and one that we knew as Custer going in there that we would always have everybody there cheering against us, but as soon as we'd be walking out amongst the fans and everything like that, you had people coming up to you that you didn't even know saying, "Hey, love watching you play." It was an experience that I wouldn't give up for anything.

Lance, you know that there are a lot of coaches' sons who get into the profession. They become coaches, too. They want to be like their father. You got into education. You're an assistant principal now in Sioux Falls. You've been in town now for about seven years. How about the coaching angle? Where did that arrow point the other direction instead of coaching basketball?

Excellent question. I loved my years of coaching and I had some great memories in Vermilion as the head girls basketball coach down there. We got to make it to a championship game against [inaudible 00:43:53] and came up just a little short. Then I had four great years out at Rapid City-Stevens. When we moved to Colorado, I became a head principal and it was that next step for me, as I really wanted to focus on that part and I wanted to focus on my own two daughters. I really enjoyed coaching them. Toward the end of my time there in Colorado, I was a varsity assistant with just a super friend that was down there in Parker, Colorado, and I got to get my taste bud back in it there for three more years.

But not every district allows that once you become an administrator. It really consumes your time in a big district. It became that choice of having to make that decision. Sioux Falls is just a great school district to be a part of. I do miss the coaching, though.

Your dad lives in Sioux Falls as well with you. How much time do you guys spend talking basketball today?

You know, with all the games that I have to go and watch the kids and the fans, et cetera, prior to this year with COVID, I would drag him along to some of those and we would always be talking about different scenarios that happened in the game and I wonder what would have happened if. It's something that, for him, he can't ever truly get that out of his blood. I think he watches every game and says, "You know what I think I would have done right there in the third quarter?" It's definitely a topic that comes up often, because it's still part of what I do. I'm still at all those Roosevelt games now and I was at all those Lincoln games when I was an assistant over there as well.

You were involved with a book about your father. First, when did this idea come about to write a book?

Bob Parsons, who was my fifth and sixth grade basketball coach, and he's been a coach out in Custer. He then went into Fellowship of Christian Athletes and he's now with an organization called COIN, which is Coaches Of Influence. He came up with the idea. The book is called Larry Luitjens, A Coach of Influence. The whole purpose behind the book is, it's to talk about his career and the legendary career he had with being the winningest coach in South Dakota history, but along with that this is also a book that is written to try to glorify Jesus and the faith aspect behind what my dad believes in and what we believe in and what is so strong to us and how just those principles really are a catalyst for what you're trying to do and what you're trying to teach kids as a coach.

The book will highlight all of the different influences that he has had throughout his career. What we've done, I'm helping Bob write it and the two of us are putting this together. We've written one team talk devotional that goes with each of the years that he coached. You get to see a picture of all, well, there's 47 of them, because he had two assistant coaching years, so we went ahead and put 47 together. You can see the team with a little summary of the year and a devotion that goes with it.

Along with that, the influences of Custer being the first team that was in the Lakota Nation and Custer going down to the reservation when it was not the best time in the '70s. To play the best competition. Those stories start to come out with some of that reconciliation and it's really going to be a neat book, which all the proceeds will go back to the nonprofit organization of COIN.

When can I start getting the book? When's it going to be available?

Well, you know, Bob has done a great job of putting the outline together. I would anticipate, the first goal was to have it ready this year, and then we said, "Let's see what COVID does." I think what we're going to do is have this ready for next year. It might be ready, in print and ready for the Lakota Nation next year would be the guess. The book is - right now, it's just cleaning it up.

Certainly can't wait. It's going to be called Larry Luitjens, A Coach of Influence. Bob Parsons, Lance Luitjens putting it together. I hope it comes out much quicker than what you're hoping. I can't wait to read it.

I think it will. We're just trying to decide. I think it would be kind of neat to debut it at the Lakota Nation there, but I'm guessing the book will be done before that.

Tough question, because there's been so many great things with your dad, but what are you most proud of about your father and what he's done?

Interestingly enough, the fact that I have jumped in and started writing this book, it would be easy to give you a nice, cheesy answer to that question right there, but when you start going back, there's a lot of these stories that I didn't know. There's people that have come back and have said, "Here's what Coach Luitjens did for me and I wouldn't be the person that I am today had he not taken an interest in me." You start to read those and then you realize that the influence was a little bit deeper than I might have thought.

That's what I'm proud about, because it's easy to say my dad's the winningest coach in South Dakota history, but that's just a statistic. It's when you get to step back and you start looking at different lives that have been changed because he had an impact on them and he took interest in that person as a whole person rather than only having an interest in, "How can I motivate you to be a basketball player?" For me, that's probably what I'm the most proud of, and how he did that trying to keep Christ in the center of his life and really keep his priorities with helping kids first.


Larry Luitjens | South Dakota Almanac

He’s the winningest high school boys’ basketball coach in South Dakota history. Larry Luitjens, who won seven state titles throughout his legendary career, is a name that needs no introduction.