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LaFon back in charge as Ironton basketball coach

Mark LaFon is back. He feels like he never left.

After spending one season as an assistant coach, LaFon is back as a head coach after being hired as the new Ironton Fighting Tigers boys basketball coach.

"I love being at Ironton. It is a town that loves its athletics and the people support it. It's nice to be part of that atmosphere," LaFon said. "I knew with the job move last year it was a good thing to be an assistant.

"Following a team that just went to the state excites me. I expect the expectations to be there to go (to the state) again. I want people to expect us to win. The challenge excites me."

LaFon was the South Point boys head basketball coach for six seasons after serving as the girls head coach and boys assistant coach at Chesapeake under Norm Persin for six previous seasons.

The Lady Panthers won their only league championship under LaFon's guidance.

"At Chesapeake I was around basketball all the time. That was a great experience. The boys were 20-0 back-to-back. The girls' program had won three games in three years. I was learning and trying to build a program. I think we did a pretty good job there," LaFon said.

LaFon inherits a program that enjoyed its finest season in school history under Roger Zornes who resigned after three seasons. Ironton was 26-1 last season and the Division III state runners-up.

"I enjoyed last year, but I knew I wanted to get back into it (as a head coach)," LaFon said. "I love the kids and I love the athletic program here. The people here have high expectations and I would rather have that than the alternative."

LaFon will get a baptism by fire. Tentatively, the 2005-06 schedule could include defending Div. III state champion North College Hill, West Virginia Class AAA defending state champion Huntington High, Capital, W.Va., Louisville St. Thomas Aquinas, Groveport, Columbus DeSales, Chesapeake, Wheelersburg, South Webster and Kentucky powers Ashland and Russell.

"It would have to be the toughest schedule ever played in our area," LaFon said.

Ironton's only returning starters are All-Ohio guards Brigham Waginger and Dennis Gagai.

"We'll have to play different than last year. We'll be strong at guard. We'll have to press more and stretch the floor more. The seniors played that way their first year, so they'll be used to it," LaFon said. "We'll have to get better at rebounding. We'll have to stress that."

LaFon said his past coaching experiences under Zornes and Persin have helped mold his coaching style.

"I learned a lot under coach Zornes and coach Pesin. I've been fortunate to coach under two great coaches. Both of them have had different ways of how they went about their coaching, but the principles are the same," LaFon said. "I got to learn there are different ways of doing things. I have total respect for what coach Zornes did. Now we just have to keep building on it."