A 7 a.m. phone call on a Sunday morning is never a good thing.
Especially when the voice on the other line is a rattled and emotional coach Bud Lathrop, who made that call to me back in 1990.
You have to remember, this is long before the age of cell phones and social media, and he called me at home to let me know about an accident that involved one of his star players, Chris Lindley, a highly recruited player who had committed to Kansas.
Lindley, who teamed with Jevon Crudup to form the best prep 1-2 front line in the Midwest, had joined a group of friends in the Kansas City west bottoms, and they were train hopping.
Something happened, and Lindley fell under the train, and it severed his foot and drug him several hundred yards. He lost most of the skin on his body from his chest to his ankles.
Back in the mid 1980s and 1990s, I was on hand for most Cardinal basketball games, and the 1990 team was special. It would go on and lean heavily on Crudup, and Lindley’s replacement in the starting lineup, Jesse Battles, to claim the fourth and final state championship in Lathrop’s remarkable career at Raytown South.
Crudup had four 50-plus point games the remainder of the season and the Cardinals finished 31-0.
That season was mentioned time and again Saturday afternoon at the Raytown South High School gymnasium that is named after Lathrop, the winningest coach in the history of high school basketball in the state of Missouri.
The Lathrop family hosted a Celebration of Life for Lathrop, who passed away at the age of 82 on July 12. His health was failing and he finally gave up on dialysis and, as Crudup said in a heartfelt speech, “Coach went out on his terms. In life and in death, he went out on his terms.”
Lathrop died at his Raytown home surrounded by his family.
The reason I mentioned that early phone call was simple – if you were close to Lathrop, he made you feel like you were a part of his family. And because I covered so many Cardinal basketball games, he wanted me to know about Lindley’s accident.
The big center recovered, and Kansas honored his scholarship, but he could never play the game again at the level he had before the accident.
But he was still a part of the Cardinal family, and before each home game, Lathrop played the emotionally charged Bette Midler ballad “The Wind Beneath My Wings,” to honor both Lindley and his teammates, who were all heroes in their coach’s eyes.
“He played that song in the Red Room before every game,” said Crudup, referring to the Cardinals pre- and post-game sanctuary that was located adjacent to their locker room. “When I heard it today (in a pre-celebration video presentation) it got to me.”
Lathrop hated to lose more than he loved winning, and that spirit rubbed off on his players – and those coaches who opposed him.
“In the early years,” said former Blue Springs and Blue Springs South coach Gil Hanlin, “we practiced every day to beat Bud’s teams. We did that because we felt like if we could beat Bud’s teams, we could beat any team in the metro area.”
When asked what it was like to coach against Lathrop, a grinning former Raytown High School coach Mark Scanlon quipped, “It depends on the year. Coaching against him when Jevon and those guys were there wasn’t a whole lot of fun. But you know what? He worked so hard at coaching, he made everyone who played his teams work hard, too. Coaching against Bud made me a better coach.”
One guest who looked a bit out of place at the celebration was 500-game winner Mark Spigarelli, who won four girls championships at Pembroke High School High School and took the Blue Springs High School girls basketball team to five straight final four appearances.
“I was a student teacher at South in 1990,” Spigarelli said, “and I spent every moment I could in the gym watching the master. What I learned was invaluable. He made me a better coach before I even was a coach.”
When the last speaker left the podium and the accolades were just a memory, one by one the South faithful began leaving the gym in silent reverence.
But I could close my eyes and see Bud, decked out in red suspenders and a freshly pressed white dress shirt, stomping his foot to get a player’s attention or stalking the area in front of his bench like a caged animal.
“Quit thinking about Suzy Cheerleader,” he would bellow, “and get in the game or you’re gonna be sitting next to me on the bench.”
There will never be another Bud Lathrop.
His love of his family, the game, his players, his school and his country made him larger than life. It was Bud’s world, and we all need to thank him for letting us live in it and enjoy it for a while.
Bill Althaus is a sports writer and columnist for The Examiner. Reach him at email@example.com or 816-350-6333. Follow him on Twitter: @AlthausEJC