Lorin Carlon turns 70 years old this month and will hang up his whistle after the girls basketball season at West Valley ends.
He leads the Eagles in their final home game in the regular season finale tonight when they host Pullman.
Just don’t expect him to ride off into the sunset.
“The Farmer,” as he is sometimes called, is as much a part of West Valley High School as the Eagle logo and almost as constant.
If West Valley holds an event, from a football game to a band concert, you’ll find Carlon. Impressive, considering that his round-trip commute from his home in Pine City, located halfway between St. John and Rosalia, to the school is 101 miles. Daily.
Carlon had a 1975 Ford Ranger pickup when he started at WV. He put well over 500,000 miles on it (most of them traveling to West Valley) before swapping it for a new model. You could say he’s had a two-pickup tenure.
A twice-wounded Vietnam veteran and a retired Whitman County farmer, Carlon took over the West Valley program a dozen years ago, at a time when the program desperately needed someone to come in and put players ahead of personal ambition.
Carlon came to West Valley as a volunteer assistant to help fellow Whitman County coaching alum Paul Voorhees when he took over the program and stuck around when Jamie Pancho arrived the next year. But when Pancho left a year later he stepped in and injected a healthy, healing dose of stability to a program that was wobbling from an overdose of change.
But here’s the thing: Carlon wasn’t so much hired by West Valley as he and the school mutually adopted one another.
At first he promised to stick around until he turned 64.
But when that age came around he admitted – not for the first time – “I’m just a sucker for the kids.”
He’s all of that, yes. But that doesn’t begin to cover the relationship Carlon has with the school. He started by wrapping the varsity basketball team in a big, grandfatherly embrace and loving them back to health. And he loved them into being a state-tournament team.
He’s soft-spoken and quick with a joke with his players, oozing pride for them when they do well and support when things get rocky. Most of all, he’s honest with his players and they know it.
But through it all, he’s a rock-solid basketball coach and he demands much from his players, and to their credit his teams always work hard to keep from disappointing a man they both love and respect.
It’s a “Wizened Grandpa” coaching style that only a veteran coach like Carlon can pull off effectively.
This time around, Carlon seems to mean it. He’s retiring.
In all, Carlon has had a 24-year high school head coaching career. Before coming to West Valley he spent a dozen years as the girls coach at his alma mater, St. John-Endicott. He coached those Eagles to a 28-0 record in 1995-96 and the state Class B championship.
He’s notorious for telling war stories from that state championship season and using them as teachable moments with his WV players. He does it the way a grandfather teaches the grandkids by sharing stories about how their parents were when they were teenagers.
The Eagles came into the final week of the regular season with five wins in their first 18 games.
“We’re so young this year,” Carlon said, running a hand over his bald head while running the clock during a playoff football game at West Valley during the first week of turnouts. “But we’ll get better.”
That’s been true of all of his West Valley teams.
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