Coach, principal, brings winning skills to King Cove
Despite being the smallest team in the tournament, the King Cove Rookies earned a respectful third place in the state championships for women's volleyball on Saturday in Anchorage. With encouragement from seasoned coach Gary Lamar, and a hefty dose of hard work, the Rookies placed third in the state. Lamar, who is also the school principal at King Cove, has 34 years of athletic coaching experience to draw from, including more than 500 wins in basketball and volleyball.
Lamar, who was raised on a shooting range near Houston, Texas, was an Olympic hopeful for skeet shooting in the 1980 games held in Moscow. After years of training for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team, Lamar's hopes of competing were crushed when President Jimmy Carter boycotted the games for political reasons. Lamar then decided to compete professionally, teach shooting and attend college. Upon graduation, Lamar scoured the job boards on campus and decided to apply for a position coaching football in west Texas. Soon after accepting the position, he realized coaching was his talent, and spent the next 25 years coaching football, basketball and volleyball, bringing many of his teams to state championships. During this time, Lamar was also teaching at his parent's Hot Wells shooting range, and coaching a team of skeet shooters — three of whom have won world championships.
"Coaching — it's one of those professions that doesn't pay much and in order to do it, you've got to love it," he said. "The main reason many coaches get into coaching and stay in it is they like helping folks that aren't doing very good get to a point where they do reach their God-given potential. It's so rewarding, and once you've done that a couple of times, it's catching. When you help folks, when you give and give and give and you see how much it's helped them — boy, that's a good feeling; you always want to repeat that feeling as often as you can."
To combat a high suicide rate in young males in a number of villages in the North Slope, several football teams were started in the region. So in 2008, Lamar decided to make a life change and applied for a position in Point Hope.
"I turned in my Bermuda shorts for a parka and headed north," he said.
Lamar coached the Point Hope football team into an unofficial state championship win that year, and another win the year following. He also coached volleyball, winning state championships with the team back-to-back.
Despite his coaching success, however, Lamar believes winning isn't everything.
"The sad thing about coaching is, you have a lot of coaches that just want to get what they can out of those players athletically, when they're young, without pushing them academically," he said. "A lot of them don't look out for their grades, don't try to help them, motivate them to get into college. That's a sad part of my profession, because it happens so much. And to get them to play even when they're hurt. I'm sure I've been guilty of the same thing when I was making coaching mistakes. You get this ego like you're the greatest thing in the world and you can win it all, and whatever it takes to win it all, you're willing to sacrifice to do it, even though it's not near the sacrifice for you as it is for them. Because you're their hero, they get back in the game for you. I think we need to be more careful of that as coaches."
Lamar coached in Point Hope for two years before returning to Texas to be with his aging father and sister. Lamar spent time with family, continued at the shooting range, and coached locally before being called elsewhere.
Lamar began to incorporate his passion for coaching with what he calls his "life's work," ministering for Jesus Christ. Lamar gives "all the glory and honor to Jesus Christ for all of my accomplishments in life." Lamar became involved with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, coaching in the Arctic Circle, Israel, South Korea, Romania and Mexico, where Lamar met his wife, Elba, a math professor who was also working in ministry. The two continued their life's passion together, which included volunteering in Haiti with impoverished children, and then settled back in Texas to enjoy a semi-retirement.
King Cove Superintendent Mike Siefert, who was acquainted with Lamar during his time in Point Hope, offered him the position of school principal. Lamar's wife was also offered a position teaching math at the school. In 2015, the two decided it was time to head back to Alaska, where they have remained.
Lamar will also be coaching women's basketball for King Cove this year for the first time.