A Coach of Influence

Jason Ferguson

A coach of influence.
That’s what Larry Luitjens was.
Perhaps it’s fitting then that a book recently penned about Luitjens carries the name “Larry Luitjens - A Coach of Influence, Legendary Coach from South Dakota.”
The name Larry Luitjens is well-known in South Dakota, particularly in Custer, where the legendary coach racked up most of his 748 wins during a coaching career that spanned from 1967-2014. In that time Luitjens played in 13 state championship games and won seven titles. The floor in the Armory now bares his name.
The book was authored by Custer’s Bob Parsons, a longtime friend who refers to Luitjens as a father-figure, and Lance Luitjens, Larry’s son, and himself a Custer legend for his exploits on the basketball court.
The 257-page paperback book, which sells for $15, chronicles Luitjens’ 47 years of coaching and, in turn, 47 years of influence, where 47 elements (character traits) are used as a basis for a “team talk” that incorporate scriptures with the physical, mental, social and spiritual challenges of sports and life.
“Coach Luitjens was a man of influence,” the book’s jacket reads. “This positive winning attitude was contagious, and by the time you finish reading, you are certain to be infected as well. The hope is that you will understand no matter what you do for an occupation, you too can be a coach of influence.”
Parsons said the idea to write the book began a couple of years ago when he was eating lunch with Luitjens, who now lives in Sioux Falls. He had gone through old yearbooks and was showing Luitjens old photos, and when they got to the 1973 team, Luitjens began to rattle off his thoughts about each player.
The lightbulb went off for Parsons, and he began to put together the rough draft of the book.
Once a rough draft was complete, Parsons enlisted Lance to read it over, and Parsons also had Custer’s Dorothea Edgington, a former English teacher, read it over as well. Lance said he felt the book should be focused on helping coaches, and thus, the book became something of a “self-help” book for those in the coaching profession, although anybody who knows Larry Luitjens would undoubtedly enjoy the book.
For each year of Luitjens’ coaching career there are pictures and a discussion about that year’s team, along with a “team talk,” something Luitjens would emphasize with that team. Each lesson also includes a scripture, as Luitjens is a born-again Christian. There is a part of the book that talks about that part of his life as well, as he became born-again at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes event in Colorado.
“Some of my stories didn’t make it in there, but I get off in the weeds sometime,” Parsons said with a laugh. “Lance kept it in our lane.”
Parsons, who wrote the forward for the book, said he first heard of Larry Luitjens when he was a student at Dakota Wesleyan University in the late 1970s.  As a part of the school’s football team he got to know four guys who grew up in Custer—Kurt Venekamp, Phil Bahnson, Tom Hendrickson and Dave Nicolas. Parsons was impressed with the respect and admiration the men had for Luitjens when they talked about him.
“I never heard them say one bad word about him,” Parsons said.
Pastor Chuck Hazlett  of Custer Lutheran Fellowship came to DWU one year to recruit students for a summer job in Custer, and Parsons ended up taking the job and was actually “adopted” by Larry and Cherry Luitjens for the summer, as they gave him a place to stay while he worked in Custer.
Over the next two summers Parsons spent a lot of time with Luitjens, playing open gym basketball with them between work at campfire ministries, and getting haircuts from Cherry Luijtens. Lance, 2 years old at the time, was his hiking buddy.
Parsons was teaching and coaching in Kimball when he noticed there was an opening for the head boys basketball coach in Hill City. He let Luitjens know his plans, and before long Luitjens was offering him a job as the fifth and sixth grade basketball coach in his program.
Parsons chose to coach under Luitjens, and that  started 25 years of coaching together.
Among Parsons’ favorite parts of the book is when Luitjens talks about scouting for future games. As it turns out, when he scouted an opponent he really didn’t care what they were running on offense or defense.
“‘My scouting reports had little to do with team concepts, offense, defense or plays,’” Parsons recalled Luitjens saying. “‘I carefully examined each player until I knew how he was being used: his tendencies, his strengths and what weaknesses I could expose.’”
Parsons said he isn’t sure whether Luitjens has yet read the finished product, but during an interview for a podcast a couple of years ago he made sure to bring it up to the interviewer.
“I think he was kind of excited to see the book,” Parsons said.
Clark Printing of Rapid City published the book, with 2,000 copies printed initially. Parsons raised $3,500 through Coaches of Influence (COIN), and books are being given away to as many coaches as possible. However, there are envelopes in the book for those who want to give money to pay it forward.
Book stores in towns around the state, particularly in towns Luitjens once lived in, will also carry it. Copies can also be obtained by contacting Parsons at Bob@coin
coach.org. An autographed book from Luitjens himself can be obtained by emailing coachluitjens@gmail.com.

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