Mark Lovelady and Life Christian Academy. Life Christian and Mark Lovelady. They’ve been essentially interchangeable for 25 years.
Then came Lovelady’s conversation on Sunday with players and parents of his basketball programs. After 25 years he is leaving Tacoma to become the high school principal at Gilbert Christian Schools in Arizona.
“It was hard,” Lovelady said. “It’s hard when you’ve had such great connections with so many alumni and these amazing families, some of them having played for me and now their kids are playing for me. This wasn’t easy. That part is definitely going to be missed.”
He will remain at Life Christian through the end of the 2017-18 school year.
Lovelady has been the boys basketball coach there for 25 years, and this past year, he was one of two coaches in the state coaching both the boys and girls programs at their school. And he was the only coach in the state to have both programs playing in the state tournament.
He’s also been Life Christian’s middle school principal since 2003, and he’s been their director of advancement.
Lovelady was one of four active coaches in the South Sound with at least 400 career coaching victories, although that included the 17 wins he had this season with the girls basketball team, which won its first state tournament game in school history.
He won 384 games in 21 seasons as the Eagles’ boys varsity basketball coach.
But no more coaching basketball, he says.
Besides, for all of Lovelady’s wins at Life Christian, Gilbert Christian’s coach, Kurt Keener, has won more than 700 games in 40 years of coaching basketball. One of his former players is Mitch Lightfoot, who is now playing at top-seeded University of Kansas.
“So I’m not catching him anytime soon,” Lovelady said.
“But it’s been 25 years and I’ve never had a Christmas break with Christmas basketball tournaments and practices and games going on. So being able to spend some time with my family and only having a five-hour drive to watch my son play (Luke Lovelady at Point Loma Nazarene in San Diego) was a deciding factor.”
Lovelady also coached the Tacoma Tide, a local semi-pro team, in 2009 and 2010 and had two players go to the NBA Developmental League. He had also played semi-pro basketball with the Tacoma Jazz – when he was 40 years old (the oldest player in the league by eight years).
He attended Steilacoom High School before graduating from Washington State University in 1991. He began teaching and coaching at Life Christian in 1994.
He moved to Tacoma from San Jose, California, when he was 6 – so the 253 is about all he’s ever known.
And now he said it’s almost like he’s changing his identity.
“But it’s a step of faith,” Lovelady said. “I don’t like change. I don’t like being uncomfortable. Same job for 25 years, same house for 20, same wife for 23. But to step out in faith and be uncomfortable is where I’m going to grow in faith and spirituality. It’s a new adventure for the Lovelady family.
“We’re really looking forward to something different. Not across town or at another school because if I’m going to be in Tacoma, there is no other place I’d rather be than Life Christian. But God has really put in our hearts a new Lovelady adventure and a new community to impact.”
For someone who has the energy of someone 30 years younger and talks like he’s had about five Red Bulls, he was rendered a bit speechless when asked what has driven him to be such a fixture at Life Christian and Tacoma for more than two decades.
“The core values of our school were my own core values – love kids, love values, speak life and pray powerful prayers,” Lovelady said. “I am who I am because I’ve been surrounded by great people including leaders above me and the teachers I work with and I just love kids. I want them to grow up and become great men and women of God. That’s what drives me and fuels me.
“I see so many alumni come back over the years and say thanks for being a nice guy and not treating me like a jerk and when you discipline it’s in a loving way. That’s what gets me is the relationships with the kids … ”
He paused a few seconds to hold back tears.
“It’s a lot,” he chuckled. “What a blessing to me to have alumni reach out and current kids and parents. It’s been really hard, obviously, because I’m an emotional guy. But it’s a blessing to know the countless hours and energy you put into kids, they really value and appreciate that.”
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677