STHS takes a "TO" to honor Orlich
South Tahoe High School has made sure head coach Tom Orlich isn’t going to get away without addressing this situation.
Orlich, whose businesslike manor has allowed him to brush aside his 500th boys basketball win as the school’s head coach, won’t get out of South Tahoe’s gymnasium Friday without some recognition. That’s because Friday is Tom Orlich night, when the school will take time out after its Northern Nevada 4A boys basketball game against Douglas to honor the coach for his longevity and success at the school.
“I really don’t know anything about what’s going on,” said Orlich, who has been busy preparing his team for the battle with Douglas for the division lead.
South Tahoe’s early season schedule and holiday break conspired to delay the official recognition for the milestone win. Orlich won his 500th on Dec. 11, defeating Merrill West, of Tracy, Calif., in the consolation championship of the Gridley, Calif. Invitational basketball tournament. South Tahoe had no home dates since then, so South Tahoe athletics director Frank Kovac scheduled the celebration for Friday, after the 7 p.m. game against division rival Douglas.
“I think the most important thing people need to know is it’s happening in the gym, right after the game,” Kovac said. “It’s going to be a short ceremony to commemorate Tom’s 500th win. There will be a couple of short presentations by a couple of coaches, and that’s about it.”
After Orlich won his 500th game in Gridley, Kovac sent the call out to South Tahoe hoops alumni who were a part of any of the 500 wins. Kovac doesn’t know who or how many alumni will show up but invited the former players to sign in a book in the entrance.
“The most important thing is to honor Tom’s wishes and keep it simple and short,” Kovac said. “He’s never been about personal accomplishments. He’s more about team accomplishments. I think that’s in keeping with his philosophy and his approach to athletics in general.”
While the season schedule hasn’t afforded Orlich much of a chance to reflect on his career, it’s not hard to find people who can offer perspective on his career.
“It was quite a run,” said former South Tahoe assistant coach and current Whittell High athletics director Larry Reilly, who still maintains strong ties with South Tahoe – Reilly’s daughter Alyssa is a freshman at South Tahoe who played on the junior varsity soccer team this year.
“There’s a side of Tom that a lot of people don’t know,” he said.
Reilly offers a unique perspective on Orlich’s 500 wins: Three of Orlich’s 500 wins came against Reilly’s Whittell teams. But that fusion created a good system for Orlich, Reilly and Mike Greenfield on the same sideline.
“You take all that experience and put it into one program, and we had a lot of fun,” Reilly said.
“I think it’s an important statement that he has coached at the same school for 25 years,” Reilly said of Orlich. “He’s touched the lives of a lot of kids, I think, in a very positive way.”
That’s not lost on Orlich’s wife, Kelly.
“I know those two mean a lot to Tom because they’re such a big part of the program, even though they’re not involved physically now,” she said.
Is that a break in character for the coach who seems so relentlessly businesslike? Not necessarily, according to his wife.
“Tom’s a funny person, because in his season, he’s so focused he doesn’t really know what’s going on around him,” Kelly said.
“I don’t think he’s really given himself a chance to appreciate it yet. You wouldn’t think, with him, that it wasn’t just another game; it wasn’t that big of a deal. (His) focus is more on the Douglas game and the Galena game Saturday, and the next week.”
That’s the way it’s been in practice. According to South Tahoe senior forward Tim Sprinkles, a preponderance of the talk in practice has been about Douglas. If the coach and players are downplaying Tom Orlich night, being part of the 500th win – and part of the South Tahoe program – definitely means something to the players.
“We’re a part of history at South Tahoe, and it’s going to live on for quite some time,” Sprinkles said. “A coach reaching 500 victories is amazing – and doing it at one school.”
South Tahoe did save the game ball from the Gridley tournament, where Orlich recorded his 500th win. Orlich returned home before the next day’s awards ceremony, but South Tahoe senior guard John Giannoni III picked up the ball after his recognition for the all-tournament team. Still, Orlich was happy with the recognition he received in Gridley.
“It was nice at Gridley,” Orlich said. “It would’ve been nice if it were at home. It’s a reflection of what the players have accomplished over the past 25 years. I guess I’m enjoying that more than anything, the kids I’m working with right now.”
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