By TOMMY REZAC
St. Joseph Post
It was made official at a board meeting this week that Benton head boys' basketball and girls' golf coach Gary Belcher has been hired to lead Lawson in a similar fashion this upcoming school year.
Belcher was named the head boys' basketball coach, girls' and boys' golf coach and Math Instructor at Lawson High School.
A St. Joseph native and 1982 Central alum, Belcher has been a boys' basketball coach in northwest Missouri for 22 years and has guided Lathrop (1998-2001), Warrensburg (2001-2004), Kearney (2005-2014) and Benton all to winning records.
Belcher finished his tenure at Benton with a 101-80 record. He first informed his players and the administration of his decision last Thursday.
Belcher mentioned that the uncertainty surrounding the upcoming $107 million bond issue on the April 6 ballot was part of the reason why he applied to Lawson.
The proposed bond, if passed, would convert both Benton and Lafayette into middle schools and bring the addition of a new high school at the American Family Insurance regional headquarters building. That new high school would operate alongside St. Joseph Central.
"I grew up in St. Joe and I love St. Joe," Belcher said. "My parents still live there. But, kind of the uncertainty of what lies ahead makes you pause and think for a little bit. When these two opportunities are kind of out there, this one (at Lawson) kind of matches the one I have at Benton.
"All the talk is that within 1-2 years, regardless of whether the bond issue passes or not, they're looking to repurpose Benton into a middle school. You have to stop and think, 'You know, what does that mean for me, you know?'"
Belcher will take over for Brad Smith, who's retiring as the Lawson boys' basketball and boys' and girls' golf coach after 30 years.
Once Smith officially decided to step away this past November, he gave Belcher, an old coaching buddy, a call.
Belcher and Smith used to coach against each other during Belcher's days at Lathrop in the late 90s and early 2000s. Through offseason tournaments and the like, the two have kept in touch ever since.
"I wished him well," Belcher said of Smith's retirement. "I didn't really give it a whole lot of thought at first, but then I got to thinking, 'Well, you know what? He's a math teacher. He's a boys' basketball and coaches golf, too.' I know he's had a great program and a great run. Obviously, I have some big shoes to fill."
Belcher has compiled an overall coaching record of 353-237, including a Class 4 State Championship with Kearney in 2010, seven district Championships and a pair of conference titles.
This past year, Belcher guided his girls' golf team to their first Conference Championship in school history and sent two golfers to the Class 2 State Tournament.
Belcher also serves as the Vice President of the Missouri Basketball Coaches Association and is a Past President of the Greater Kansas City Basketball Coaches Association.
Belcher's wife, Debbie, is a Special Education teacher at South Valley Middle School in Liberty and also a real estate agent for Reece Nichols Real Estate in Kansas City.
For Belcher, whose family has lived in the north Kansas City area the last 15 years, the daily commute does become significantly shorter.
"I still live in the Kansas City area, so the drive is 25 minutes shorter for basically the same financial package," Belcher pointed out. "It was just too hard of a thing to pass up."
The decision to leave a job in his hometown was a difficult one, and Belcher isn't the only one who has uncertain feelings about the current bond issue.
But all of that aside, Belcher remains grateful for the time he had in the South Side, and looks forward to what lies ahead.
"All things considered, I feel very blessed and fortunate to get this opportunity," he said. "It was just too hard to say no to. I look back at the relationships I've built with the players and the parents and the community and the staff members, I'll take those with me the rest of the way. Those types of things, in my opinion, are more important than wins and losses, because those span a lifetime...St. Joe will always have a special place in my heart."
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