LINGLE – The Wyoming Coaches Association’s Facebook page is filled with photos of its past president, Mike Lashley, handing awards to coaches in gymnasiums, lobbies and school grounds across the state.
What is normally a jovial reunion of coaches and opportunity to honor those voted Coach of the Year by their WCA peers, this year’s banquet was canceled and the clinic that accompanies it was moved to a virtual format due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Lashley, who has been the recipient of the award himself in previous years, wanted to give the 2020 honorees the fanfare they deserved.
“Some of these people, this could be the only Coach of the Year award they win, and I did not feel good as past president in charge of awards just mailing it to them,” Lashley said. “This honor deserves more than that.”
COTY winners did get more than that. With the blessing and help of the WCA, Lashley decided to travel to 28 schools throughout Wyoming to deliver awards to 54 coaches between June 29 and July 2. The four-day trip – dubbed the “WCA Banquet Tour” – relied on punctuality and the navigation skills of his wife, Karla Lashley, as they traversed unfamiliar towns and cities.
Day one, the pair covered 620 miles alone, ending the trip with 1,937 in total. Lashley distributed plaques to repeat COTY winners, and ring boxes to first-timers – rings themselves are backordered, thanks to coronavirus, according to Lashley.
Lashley said he was welcomed at each stop, some providing him with meals before sending him off to his next school.
It may have been different from the annual WCA banquet, but different does not necessarily mean better or worse.
“This was slightly different because it was just me and my wife,” Lashley said. “A lot of them commented that they actually felt that it was more meaningful that someone would take the time to come and present [the award].”
Current WCA President Rick Stonehouse said, while the association dealt with other matters impacted by coronavirus like all-star games and clinics, Lashley took it on himself to make sure COTY winners were properly honored.
“In the midst of a crazy time for all of us, there are a few people who have the ability to make the best of a bad situation, and this is exactly what Mike Lashley did,” Stonehouse wrote in an email to The Telegram. “We (the executive committee) discussed sending them out to school districts, AD’s, etc., but Mike wanted to let people know that – even in a bad time – we (the coaching community) appreciate their efforts, and his feeling was that personal contact would be much better than just a box in the mail.”
A journey that started at 8 a.m. Monday with the first two recipients in Cheyenne ended Friday at 4:45 p.m. in Natrona County, before the Lashleys made their way back to Lingle that evening, happy to have represented the WCA.
“It was quite a trip, a long four days, but a very rewarding four days,” Lashley said. “I hope when we left each town that each community and their coaches realized how much they mean to the Wyoming Coaches Association.”