Column: It’s time for STHS to take a T.O., and get rid of ‘Old Blue’ |

Column: It’s time for STHS to take a T.O., and get rid of ‘Old Blue’

The pugnacious way Orlich left the South Tahoe High boys basketball program last summer has obviously given administrators little compassion to do anything for the man.

Say what you will about the situation, but the way Orlich left the program is the way he battled on the court for a quarter of the century, giving it everything he had.

Certainly, the administration can look past the hard feelings and do something more than give him a Tom Orlich night and the game ball to commemorate the 500th victory he achieved last season.

After all, he took a downtrodden, isolated program in the Sierra in the mid-70s and turned it into a Nevada and regional powerhouse and ultimately, into his legacy. Orlich leaves behind a 521-177 record, .746 winning percentage, nine zone championships, two state titles and a No. 19 national ranking in 1991-92.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t know why the school’s main gym carries the name Blue. Was Old Blue named after a horse or dog? That’s Orlich’s gym. He’s earned it.

That gym has been as much of a home to him as his wife and four children are now.

If you talk basketball with him long enough, he’ll tell you that he lived in that gym when he took over the Viking basketball program in 1974. He’ll also tell you that he sacrificed precious family moments – like decorating the Christmas tree – to fulfill his commitment as a coach and continue giving the community its single-most source of sports pride.

“We’re not planning on a Tom Orlich thing,” said STHS Athletic Director Don Borges. “I think how he was honored for the 500 games is going to be it unless Tom is looking for something else. I’m not too sure he’s the happiest person in the world, but he’s teaching here and going on with his life.”

You haven’t seen him at any Viking basketball games this season because the memories make it too painful for him to return. He misses basketball and the community role he has served over the past 25 years.

Orlich, 49, feels he’s said enough following the summer-long battle to get his job back following his resignation last May. The longest-standing coach in STHS history has started the fence-mending process, but the school seems reluctant to do its part.

Former players are disappointed in the way the school has treated Orlich in what should have been a time of appreciation. University of Kansas assistant coach Jerod Haase has said that he’d lead any movement to name the school’s gym after Orlich.

But that movement may have to wait until the wounds heal and perhaps until one of his former players becomes principal or athletic director at the school.

Borges asserts that the school hasn’t named one of its facilities after an individual in the past and is reluctant to do so in the future.

“To name something after Tom Orlich, then I would need a Joe Winters field and a Tim Jaureguito court and football stadium,” Borges said.

The first-year AD also wonders if anyone in the community will remember Orlich years from now. How many people in South Lake Tahoe remember Fred Rightmier, whose name is attached to the Little League Fields, or even Todd Fields, a STHS baseball player who died of ALS and where local Babe Ruth baseball players hold their games?

“Put a name on a field and people forget. I’m not saying we’re trying to forget Tom Orlich, but after five years who knows,” Borges said.

Really, who is going to forget Orlich? So many young men have been touched by him – good and bad experiences – that his aura and persona will be passed on from generation to generation. He’ll always be the coach every future basketball coach will be compared to at South Tahoe High.

Borges contends that Orlich will be remembered for all of the banners on the gym walls. No one ever heard of STHS before Orlich arrived, and the school owes it to him for making student athletes work to be the best they can be.

“You don’t see Tom Orlich’s name on the championship banners, but you see a lot of banners,” Borges said.

I can’t even imagine Reno and Carson City folks forgetting him, either. After all, he set the precedent for how all programs – not just basketball – can be successful in Northern Nevada: year-round training. He also gave the school and community a sense of pride that, yes, you don’t have to use the school’s size and isolation as an excuse if you work hard enough.

Former Wooster coach Joe Sellers started coaching football for the Colts (1976) after Orlich began at STHS. Yet, Wooster didn’t need anyone to tell it that Sellers was special and deserved a legacy once his coaching days ceased. Sellers, who directed the Colts to seven state titles, no longer coaches the Colts, but every player who dons the Wooster uniform in the future will play their home games on Joe Mac Sellers Field.

It’s time for STHS to give Orlich his due. That’s Tom Orlich’s gym, whether the school cares to admit it or not.

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