Larry Lash has won more than 500 softball games during his coaching career, is in two halls of fame and has a field named after him in Wilson.
If it seems like the 68-year-old has had a long, distinguished career, it’s because he has. If it seems like it’s on the verge of coming to an end, check yourself. The Royalton-Hartland coach doesn’t plan on hanging up his protective hard hat anytime soon.
There is no timetable as to when he’ll stop for two reasons. Lash’s love for the game is one, and the other – perhaps his biggest motivation to be a coach – remains …
“I love working with young people,” said Lash, whose 506 career softball victories are believed to rank second in Western New York behind North Tonawanda’s T.K. Murphy’s 553. “Kids, they’re full of life. Especially as the aging process continues, they make me feel young. They have passion for the game. They laugh, they giggle and not a single one of them has ever asked me about Medicare.”
While working with young people is a passion for Lash, there was a time when he kept close tabs on his win total. That was early on in his career at Wilson, where he thought if he could win 100 games and a league championship, that would provide the ultimate fulfillment.
Forgive him for being so green back then.
Lash has coached plenty of winning teams during a career that began in 1975 at Wilson, including guiding one state championship outfit (1986), a state finalist (1987) and a state semifinalist (2001). But he soon realized that a championship – as great as it is to win – did not provide the ultimate rush.
That comes from the joy he feels when his players show improvement and their skills develop. The excitement they show when they overcome lack of confidence. The impact he has on a player’s development as a person – being able to teach life skills through a sport.
For years, he had hoped that was his greatest contribution as a coach. He received confirmation in 2008, when the field at Wilson High School was dedicated in his honor during his final season as the Lakewomen’s coach.
A good number of his former players reached out to him and thanked him for caring and giving them a chance. Several said they were coaching their daughter’s little league team the same way they were coached and found themselves saying the same words the same way, Lash said.
“It was the highlight of my coaching career,” Lash said. “That’s the best part of coaching.
“The number of wins is important. … But at least for me and some of my peers, (the important victories) come from your relationship with your student-athletes. Some relationships turned out well. I was able to instill some confidence in players when they weren’t doing well. Those kinds of wins with young people are the best.”
Lash, who has also been head coach at North Tonawanda and served as an assistant for three seasons at Newfane, has been enjoying his time running the show at Roy-Hart. He has guided the Rams to two Niagara-Orleans League championships since taking over in 2014. They currently stand second with an 10-3 league record, 11-5 overall.
Lash, who has piloted six Section VI and 11 Niagara-Orleans League championship teams, refuses to single out the performances of players for fear that he’ll forget someone. It’s the reason he won’t provide names of some of the best players he’s ever coached on the diamond (a group that includes former Canisius College great Meg Thompson, who still ranks seventh all-time in NYSPHSAA history in career batting average, and multi-sport star Jamie Feagin, who played basketball at Liberty).
All Lash will say about his current team is that it’s young, with just two juniors (Brianna Brewer and Rielly Albee) and a senior (Rachael Rausch). But he’s quick to note the underclassmen have plenty of travel league experience and they love to compete.
Other players on this year’s Roy-Hart team include sophomores Kayla Brown (returning first-team all-league pick), Maddisen Glena (returning second-team all-league), Katelin Corra and Delaney Draper, freshmen Maddie Fry, Lexie Lovewell, Jayden Townsend, Jamie Bower and Ashley Hill, and eighth-grader Samantha Choate.
They all played a role in him earning his 500th career coaching victory April 25 in a win at Barker. So did past players and the coaches he’s worked with over the years.
“I don’t think any varsity coach is successful without having a good JV coach or assistants around them,” Lash said. “One of my favorite quotes I read to the kids, ‘You alone can do it, but you can’t do it alone.’ ”
Just how much longer is Lash planning to coach? Until he passes Murphy’s total? Does Lash have his eye set on the all-time state record of 661 set by Jim McGowan of Bay Shore?
Will he continue until he reaches 1,000 combined wins, a milestone that isn’t all that far-fetched considering he has amassed 334 victories as a boys and girls basketball coach?
“As long as I’m healthy and they want me to coach, I’d like to keep going,” said Lash, who thanked his wife of more than 40 years, Patricia, for being his biggest supporter. “I still get excited about preparing for practice.
“This sport, girls sports have come a long, long way and it’s great I’ve been a part of the whole thing.”
Clarence coach Todd Banaszak has nothing but respect for Lash’s longevity and passion for the game.
“Hopefully, he can keep doing this as long as he likes,” the 25th-year Red Devils skipper said.
If Lash can hang on for another 11 or 12 years, perhaps he’d get a shot at coaching his granddaughter, Grace. Of course, he’d be 80, but if that blessing happens …
“I would have really good health,” he said with a laugh.