Custer has lost a local legend

It was with great sadness we learned that former Custer High School basketball coach and principal Larry Luitjens had passed away at the age of 81. We learned of the news via a morning text message from a former Custer educator who is friends with both Coach Luitjens and his son, Lance Luitjens.
It didn’t take long for the news to spread through Custer, nor did it take long for the tributes to “Larry Legend” to begin pouring in. When you are a coach and educator for 45 years, you touch a lot of lives. Such was the case with Larry Luitjens, a name that is known and respected throughout the state of South Dakota. Luitjens’ influence reached even further in the basketball circles.
By now you know the accolades. In 45 full seasons as a basketball coach (40 if which were spent in Custer), Luitjens won 767 games wins, had a 70 percent winning percentage, won state titles, over 30 district titles and numerous regional titles.
Luitjens is the winningest boys basketball coach in the history of the State of South Dakota. He coached one unbeaten team (Custer, 25-0, 1990) and five others that had only one loss. Seventeen times he guided his team to the state tournament. Thirteen of those times his teams  reached the finals. Seven times his teams won state titles.
In a 16-year stretch from 1988-2003, Luitjens’ Wildcats reached the state Class A tourney 10 times, winning the championship five times (1990, ’92, ’93, ’98 and ’02) and finishing second three times (’89, ’91 and ’03). He was a finalist for national coach of the year in 1998. He was a nominee for the national award in 1982, ’89 and ’90.
Luitjens was inducted into the South Dakota High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1988. He received Northern State’s first Jim Kretchman Award for excellence in athletics in 2002.
Larry Luitjens the person was just as great as the basketball coach. For all of those 39 years he coached in Custer, he had a relationship with our newspaper, and he couldn’t have been more kind or cordial in the hundreds and hundreds of interviews we conducted with him over the years. Those of us who worked with him a long time just started calling him “Coach,” and developed friendships with him that transcended asking him about a recent basketball game.
At the Monday Rotary Club meeting, more than half of those who spoke during the early part of the meeting mentioned Luitjens, his affect on their life and what he meant to basketball and Custer in general. One made it a point to point out that Luitjens was much more than his basketball records and banners—he was a great man that would have been revered had it not been for his generational coaching prowess.
Rest in peace, Coach. We will greatly miss you.

User login