By Gregg A. Sims
LOOGOOTEE — Lee Kavanaugh had chances to move up the coaching ladder at Loogootee.
The longtime seventh and eighth grade boys basketball coach could have become the freshman or varsity assistant at times in his 26-year coaching career at Loogootee.
But he enjoyed young people and the chance to teach game fundamentals along with some mental toughness that some in the community simply refer to as, “The Loogootee Attitude.”
Indiana’s winningest basketball coach, Jack Butcher, would have been happy to have Kavanaugh at the high school level. At the same time, he was also glad Kavanaugh said no.
Butcher knew the treasure he had at the seventh and eighth-grade level.
Kavanaugh was a jewel that high school coaches crave.
“At times, he had the opportunity to move up.” Butcher said. “We had jobs open, but he decided to stay in the grade schools. I talked to Lee once and told him we’d really prefer for him to stay in the grade program because of his ability to relate to young people. He was a high-caliber person, and we never had to worry about the young people in our program.
“Obviously, it’s a known fact, at least in our immediate area, Lee was part of the Loogootee program for many years,” Butcher said. “He was an important part of our success. He did an outstanding job. He was very dedicated, very precise in the development of fundamentals, which is what you need at that level - what we needed to have taught at that level. He was a unique individual whose loyalty to the program was never questionable. It wasn’t just a job to him, it was the love of the basketball program and working with young people. He was always a stabilizing force in our program with the young people. He was a professional.” One of those young people was present boys varsity coach Mike Wagoner.
“When I played in junior high, Lee coached both teams (both seventh and eighth grade),” Wagoner said. “You can imagine what it would be like with 25 or 30 guys in a gym at the same time. You’d think it would be chaos, but it wasn’t. He was organized and knew what he was doing.” Now as a coach, Wagoner likes to think of the lessons he learned from Kavanaugh when it came to the little things of the sport.
“He always cared about details,” Wagoner said. “How to dribble the ball, how to make layins - or what he called crip shots. He had back-to-back undefeated teams. He had some good players, but that’s how good he was. We played Bedford one year in a tournament, and he went to scout Bedford before we played them. That’s how intense he was.” While noting intensity, Wagoner said he was also the kind of person, that never knew a stranger.
“We respected him, and we went out and played for him,” Wagoner said. “At the same time, he was the kind of guy who would smile, shake your hand and try to get to know you. I don’t think he ever met a stranger.” Lee’s family is basically from the rival Barr-Reeve area. Brothers Charles Albert and Louis are known as supporters and fans of the Vikings. The three brothers have played important roles in both programs, and communities.
Kavanaugh passed last week. Lines for the viewing often reached two hours.
He was a man respected not only for his dedication to basketball, but also to the Loogootee and Barr-Reeve communities.
“He was always involved with helping people. He was a special individual,” Butcher said. “He worked at his church and was always looking to help anyone he could. The entire community of Loogootee, and Barr-Reeve will miss him.
“We have all lost a good man, a good buddy.”