Hall of Fame spotlight falls on Carlson

IHS coach’s induction is Tuesday

Register Sports Editor

Photos by Jocelyn Sheets

By nature of her job as a head coach, Becky Carlson has seen the spotlight enough in her 25-year career. Carlson was an outstanding athlete in high school and college so the spotlight was on her early.
Anyone who knows Carlson knows that as a coach she deflects that spotlight onto “the kids. They do the work.”
Well, Carlson’s moment is here. Carlson, head coach of the Iola High School girls’ basketball team, will be inducted into the National High School Athletic Coaches Association's Hall of Fame Tuesday at the NHSACA national convention in Minneapolis, Minn.
The 2009 NHSACA Hall of Fame class numbers 41. Carlson and Fred Cottrell of Conway Springs are the two coaches from Kansas being inducted this year.
The Hall of Fame luncheon is Tuesday at 12:30 p.m. A contingent of family and friends from Iola and Hillsboro will be there to share the honor with Carlson.
“We knew she deserved it,” said Max Heinrichs, Hillsboro High School principal. “Becky is the ultimate professional as a coach and great teacher. She has a way of getting her players to buy into her vision of how basketball is played.”
Carlson, who is a physical education teacher at Iola’s Lincoln Elementary, is the daughter of Florence and the late Leonard Carlson. Carlson’s mother was a kindergarten teacher and her father was a farmer in the Elsmore area.
Carlson played basketball for Marmaton Valley High School, Allen County Community College under then head coach Van Thompson and at Tabor College.
She has two sisters, Sarah Banister of Iola and Anna Prockish of Salina, and one brother, Dr. Eric Carlson of Manhattan.
“Coaching is one of my passions and teaching is another. I love basketball and want kids to share in that passion for the game,” Carlson said. “It’s great to see a freshman learn how to do a left-handed layup for the first time or a kindergartner skip.”
A native of Allen County, Carlson began her playing career in Moran at Marmaton Valley High School. But she began her coaching career at Hillsboro after graduating from Tabor College in Hillsboro.
Carlson was hired as an elementary physical education teacher in Hillsboro. She also was the Hillsboro High School head volleyball coach and assistant girls’ basketball coach.
A year later, Carlson was HHS girls’ head basketball coach, too.
From 1984-85 to 2004-2005, Carlson guided the Hillsboro High girls to 333 wins against 149 losses on the basketball court. Hillsboro made 10 trips to state basketball tournaments, winning back-to-back Kansas Class 3A state championships in 1995 and 1996. Plus she guided the Trojans to a state volleyball championship in Class 3A in 1987.
As Heinrichs said, Carlson deserves the recognition of a career that continues here in Iola.“She was a good influence on my life. I was her assistant coach at Hillsboro after I graduated,” Heinrichs said.
Heinrichs said he coached with Carlson for several years then left Hillsboro only to return as athletic director in Carlson’s final few years there. He said as athletic director he knew things were being done right with the girls’ basketball and volleyball programs because Carlson was in charge.
“The kids, both her students at the elementary school and the high school students, worshiped her. She’s so positive as a person with young people,” Heinrichs said.
“It comes back to being a great teacher. We hated to see her leave Hillsboro but knew it was the right move for Becky. Iola got a great one. As a coach, Becky always has her teams fundamentally sound.”
Carlson moved back to Allen County, Iola specifically, to be near her family.
“I was speechless,” Carlson said of hearing of her induction into the Hall of Fame. “I was lucky as a young coach being an assistant to a coach at Hillsboro with a lot of experience. Then through the years, I’ve had very good assistant coaches to work with and kids who bought into what I was teaching, on and off the courts.
“I remember being excited and nervous as a first-year coach. I was the junior high girls’ basketball head coach my first year at Hillsboro. That was my only undefeated team, 17-0,” Carlson said. “As a coach, I enjoy teaching the game of basketball or volleyball to the kids. I also like to be a mentor to younger coaches.”
Networking as a coach is important, Carlson said. “A coach once said to me ‘basketball is basketball no matter where you’re coaching or at what level.’ I agree with that,” she said.
“The watermark as a coach, at least for me, is to see your team improve from the first day of practice to the final day of the season. They’ve learned the concepts of teamwork and what it means to be a part of a team. Yes, the wins are great, the championships are tremendous but for me, it’s seeing kids learn to love the game and know it as they improve from day to day, year to year.”
When Carlson came to Iola and stepped in as head basketball coach, there was a lot of pressure on her and the Iola High Fillies to win a state championship. Eight seniors with a lot of talent were on that 2005-2006 Fillies’ team.
“What you get when you play a Becky Carlson team is a hard working ground that is fundamentally sound and they understand the game,” said Kristi Snider, Labette County High School girls’ head coach.
Snider had a talented team in 2005-2006 also and the Fillies and Lady Grizzlies went toe-to-toe in two games that season, each winning one.
Snider, who just finished her 23rd year at the LCHS girls’ basketball helm, guided her team to the 2005-2006 Kansas Class 4A State Basketball Tournament. And there were the Fillies in Salina with Carlson coaching.
“I knew of Becky’s Hillsboro success and she had a very talented team at Iola. Her achievement that year was getting those seniors and others at Iola to believe in a whole new system. I praise her for that because she revamped that Iola team and they played good, hard fundamental basketball,” Snider said.
And that’s what paid off in the end for Carlson’s team. The Fillies claimed the 2005-2006 Class 4A state championship and in her first year at Iola High, Carlson had a 24-2 record. Labette County finished third at state.
In four years, Carlson’s teams have gone 58-32, putting her just nine wins shy of 400 victories. She has 181 losses. Carlson has garnered several coach of the year awards.
Most recently, she was named the 2007-2008 Southeast Kansas League girls’ basketball coach of the year. She has two Kansas Coaches Association’s High School Girls’ Basketball Coach of the Year — 1996 at Hillsboro and 2006 at Iola. She was the first woman president of the Kansas Basketball Coaches Association, 2005-2006.
“I’ve had great kids at Hillsboro and here in Iola. I’ve had great support from administrations. There’s a bond formed between coaches and players and teachers and students. I can’t imagine doing anything else,” Carlson said.
So for 25 years of teaching a game she loves, Carlson will be inducted into a national coaching Hall of Fame Tuesday.