Former Lady Bucs coach says it's time to look in other directions
It's 2:15 p.m. at the Hermon Hutchens Elementary School gym. Gilson Middle School students have been using it for PE classes during the construction of the new school. The cavernous gym is quiet and teacher Barb Lyons is taking a breather during a planning period. She pulls out her smartphone to watch the time tick away. In the afternoon, most are waiting for school to get out. For today, the clock is winding down on a storied career as a teacher and coach.
February 21, Lyons notified the Valdez City School District that after 31 years on the job she is retiring. The move comes just a little over a year after she abruptly ended a decorated career as coach of the Valdez High School girls' basketball team.
"Thirty-one years is a longtime. I've seen a lot of things happen throughout the school system," Lyons said. "It's time to do some other things."
Lyons is well known for her time in Valdez. But her story began in Southeast Alaska. Raised in Petersburg, Lyons embarked on a playing career for the University of Alaska-Fairbanks' women's basketball team. After graduating, she returned to Petersburg and worked in her alma mater's counseling office and a as substitute teacher.
After a year in her hometown, she decided she needed to get serious about a career in education. She got a PE and health teacher position at Valdez High School. Lyons' expertise is the hard-court, but the pool is where she first got her start, coaching swimming and diving and later, volleyball.
She coached the junior varsity girls' basketball team until longtime varsity coach Dick Burle retired and handed her the reins.
"It kind of makes the days and the winters go quickly when you're coaching," Lyons said. "And the more you're involved, it kind of makes the school year go fast and get more out of it."
With Lyons at the helm, the Lady Bucs were a powerhouse on the court in the 1990s and 2000s. Her teams won three state titles and were runners-up on three times. They also took home several district and conference titles along the way.
Lyons admits her most talented teams were not always best.
"Some of my most successful teams have not been necessarily some with my most fondest memories," Lyons said. "Sometimes it's the teams that are not that good but works so much harder to achieve so much more they are more capable of that really standout in your mind. I've just had the pleasure of dealing with some many great kids. And now, they are adults and now I have so many of their kids in my classroom as the next generation comes through. It's been a lot of fun. It's been a blast."
An example of one her most talented teams coming up short happened during the 2011-2012 season. The Lady Bucs loaded with All-Staters Caitlyn Auble and Alex Derifield and a rising post player in then-freshman Marian Wamsley had the number one seed going into the Aurora Conference Tournament. That team was upset by Monroe Catholic in the first round and knocked out completely by eventual 3A State Champion Galena.
It would be Lyons' last season as head coach of the Lady Bucs basketball team. A few weeks before players were to report for practice, Lyons abruptly resigned in protest after several student-athletes were caught using alcohol and drugs off-campus but allowed to continue participating in activities.
At the time, she felt the school district's drug and alcohol policy and the Alaska School Activities Association's Tobacco, Alcohol, and Drug Policy were too lax. Lyons hoped her resignation brought awareness to the issue.
"I think the community and city needs to decide what's acceptable for our youth and what's the standards are we as a community want to hold youth to," Lyons said "I think that need to be ironed out because most schools do have a policy as to what acceptable for us and we're kind of like at the minimum. Because, I think our kids are our precious resource and we need to take care of them."
"She was a great lady. She did a lot for these girls," current coach Doug Fleming said. "She was always there. I can just hope to have the success she had."
As the Lady Bucs move on, Lyons is moving on as well. Instead of preparing activities for the next PE class or the strategy for the next game, she will be making plans to travel. Instead of spending time in the gym, she's looking forward to spending time on her boat in Prince William Sound.
Lyons doesn't hide the fact she will miss coaching.
"I know the greatest thing I'm going to miss with retirement is the contact with the kids," Lyons said. "You just miss being with kids and it kind of keeps you young."
Lyons and her husband Bob Pecca plan to stay in Valdez once she retires. She hopes to stay involve with the schools in another capacity.