Grit requires longevity to prove it true. When you drive over Chickies Hill and descend the long funneling way into Columbia, Lancaster County, what strikes you as you peer down upon the industrial town along the Susquehanna River is the tenacity it houses. In a very good way, Columbia is gritty, and it is quite easy to have respect for that kind of discernable toughness.
Coach Lamar Kauffman is Columbia – born and raised – where he learned how to compete and excel in sports. He played basketball at Columbia High School in the 1950s and then was an assistant at the school under Coach Elmer Kreiser. There coaching for the Crimson Tide, Coach Kauffman learned the lessons of playing hard all 32 minutes, and it’s where his trademark full-court trapping defenses were born.
After stints as head boys’ varsity coach at Columbia and Manheim Central, Coach Kauffman landed at Lancaster Catholic in 1982 to take the reins of the girls’ basketball program. When he retired in 2014, the legendary coach had amassed 764 wins against just 183 losses – that’s 947 basketball games and a remarkable 80 percent winning percentage. In 32 years of leading the Crusaders, his teams won 18 Lancaster-Lebanon section league titles, 10 league championships, 12 District 3 championships and two PIAA state championships in 1989 and 1996.
“The worst thing about new books is that they keep us from reading the old ones,” Coach John Wooden of ULCA said after winning one of his 10 NCAA men’s championships. He also said at the same time, “A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment.”
In an interview at his home on the west end of Columbia, Coach Kauffman and his wife Carolyn graciously shared their wisdom and memories of a coaching career steeped in success. “I think the most important thing in coaching is respect – if you have respect for your players, they will respect you,” Coach Kauffman said.
A barometer for testing if a team respects their coach is to watch whether the team’s eyes are on their coach listening during a timeout. Not digging for a water bottle, looking into the stands or chatting amongst themselves. To a player, a Lancaster Catholic timeout was Coach Kauffman’s time, and it was unmissable to see the respect and command he had with his players – hundreds and hundreds over the three-plus decade career at Lancaster Catholic.
“The reason everyone bought in is because of the style of play we played with,” Coach Kauffman stressed. Whether the best player or the number 12 player on the team, you knew that you were going to get a chance to play at any moment or any time.”
The style of play the Crusaders unleashed on opponents was a relentless full-court press. That press was never static; it could be man-to-man, 1-2-2 zone trap or a 2-2-1 soft zone meant to trap at mid-court. In addition, his teams could fall back into half court trapping defense to pounce on a team that had broken the initial press. The result: turnovers which Lancaster Catholic turned into easy baskets in transition. But most importantly, playing full throttle the entire game meant players gave 100 percent, knowing the bench was always there to spell them if they were gassed by the pace.
The Crusaders’ practices were full speed. The champion is a champion because she practices like one, is another maxim this outstanding coach preached. “If a player was not on board with our style of play, I would call them aside and talk to them,” Coach Kauffman said. “I would say, ‘Do you want to play for Lancaster Catholic, then this is the way we play.’ I never had a player not respond and want to be a part of the team.”
Arguably, the most important trait of a coach is to be able to correct without fostering that deep-seeded resentment that causes a cancer on the team. When you win dozens of championships, it is proof that your young people bought into what you were telling them.
“I had some very good players play for me over the years,” he said. “We played with discipline, you have to have that also, which comes out of respect. You cannot win without discipline. But, if you respect them first they will respect you back, and then you get that disciplined way of playing.”
On the bus going to a game there was never a peep out of the players. It was Coach Kauffman’s rule – you can speak on the way home and have fun if you win. Needless to say, there are an awful lot of happy bus rides home when you win more than 80 percent of the time.
“I miss coaching very much,” he said. “I loved coaching at Lancaster Catholic, and I really do miss teaching young people.”
Coach Kauffman still attends games, and his former players and current students always come up and greet him and make him feel welcome. At Christmastime, greeting cards and well wishes are sent to him every year since he has retired. What more proof is needed that respect is a two-way street in Columbia, where true grit still lives in a very good way.
By Chris Heisey, The Catholic Witness