LaFon gives fans#8217; answer to questions

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 3, 2006

Before the season began, Ironton basketball fans had a lot of questions.

What about a schedule that might be the toughest ever for any team south of Columbus? What would this team be like with only one starter and no lettermen returning from a 26-1 state runner-up? And who was this new coach Mark LaFon?

All of those questions were answered. Ironton was 15-5 against the schedule fans never expected 10 wins. The young team developed steadily and its lone returning starter, Dennis Gagai, was the quiet leader who set a new school scoring record along the way.

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And fans found out who this LaFon guy was.

Oh, LaFon had coached before. He won the only Ohio Valley Conference championship in Chesapeake Lady Panthers history. He had some solid teams at South Point and beat Chesapeake twice in one season.

Last season he was an assistant under Roger Zornes, a man with 500 coaching wins who was named the Associated Press Division III Coach of the Year.

With so many obstacles stacked against the program, LaFon pondered whether or not to take the Ironton coaching job. He sat discussing it with a friend, South Point junior high coach Doug Graham, and his wife, Tiffany, who is an Ironton graduate and teacher at West Ironton Elementary.

LaFon was talking about the difficulty of the schedule when Tiffany said, “So what? This is Ironton. We’re used to taking on all comers. We may not win, but we don’t mind playing the best.”

The reaction from an Ironton fan made LaFon realize he wasn’t in Kansas anymore. He also realized that he liked that kind of approach. It was the deciding factor.

“I like that kind of attitude and I like the fact that the people in the community understand the demands of a tough schedule and like the challenge,” LaFon said.

Although LaFon learned a lot about coaching as an assistant under Chesapeake’s legend Norm Persin, he said he still picked up some important tips from Zornes as well.

“I learned patience and I needed it this year. With such a young and inexperienced team, I knew it was going to be difficult and that I would have to have a lot of patience. I don’t think I would have been able to handle it as well in the past,” LaFon said.

But LaFon brought more than patience. He has a discipline about himself that carries over to his team.

As a player at Chesapeake, LaFon showed his discipline in the district tournament. After making a pass, a player from the opposing team punched him in the stomach.

LaFon doubled over, stood up and looked for an official hoping to get a call. No one but myself saw the play and the game continued. So did LaFon.

After collecting himself, LaFon proceeded to play the game as if the incident had never happened.

To say LaFon has a temper and doesn’t get upset would be a gross understatement. His fiery nature is more controlled, but is ever present. Just ask his players.

“The thing that impressed me most about Ironton kids is their toughness, physically and mentally. And the school and community given us great support,” LaFon said.

The credit for Ironton’s surprisingly successful season ultimately goes to the players, and rightly so.

Also, the entire coaching staff deserves a bonus free throw for their work.

But Mark LaFon has earned some credit, too. He took on a job nobody else wanted and did a job that very few could have accomplished.

Any more questions?

Jim Walker is sports editor of The Ironton Tribune.