ALBRIGHT: Patriots’ Mike Fallon more than a coach

Mike Fallon dealt with an array of topics as the head coach of the Parkersburg South boys’ basketball program this past season.

He struggled with the loss of his brother James and friend Keith Barker, battled with his team to a state-tournament first round exit, and dealt with changes in his life drawing him to a hard conclusion Monday evening.

After 148 victories (second most at the school) and seven straight trips to the state tournament (including a loss in the 2013 state championship game), the right time had come to step down as the Patriots’ leader on the hardwood.

“It has been an amazing nine years as the basketball coach at South. I have poured my heart and soul into our program along with our community and have loved every minute of it,” said Fallon in a message posted to social media. “This decision has not been easy but in my heart I feel it was the right thing to do.”

The Lewis County native’s heart beat for much more than just Xs and Os during his nine years at the school. His job was never just a basketball gig but a full-time people gig. One reason it seemed cruel he endured the suffering he went through in a very recent short time.

Where he first began coaching out of a desire to impact youth the way his coaches affected him, his chosen profession as a teacher expanded his influence outside the cage.

“Mike embraced a family atmosphere in the program, having his own children and those of his assistant coaches as regulars in the South gym. After graduating, his players returned frequently and found an embrace waiting for them. He shared the role of coach and father-figure not only within his own family, but with every player who came through the locker-room door,” said South statistician Bill Camp. “Whether it was the raw emotions of competition, the sorrow of losing a loved one, or the courage needed to say a final good-bye to his team, Mike Fallon was true to himself and everyone that he interacted with.”

Wins came secondary as the growth of his players and their continued success in life mattered more than the Ws. Victories still counted but he enjoyed watching his team grow more. Interviews during the post-game of each state tournament loss brought on more emotion each year. Saying goodbye to seniors never gets easier.

This may be because along the way, his responsibilities as a head coach, teacher and father meshed into a humanitarian.

There lived in him a knack for drawing people to his side. Outpouring of support on Twitter as his announcement went live reached into the hundreds and grew with each retweet.

Anna Gordon and Hailley Parsons existed among his supporters, even if not among the retweets. While some may put his basketball deeds above everything, his compassion for these two young ladies and their battles is his real legacy.

Fallon helped educate an entire state as his commitment to Gordon’s Freidrich’s Ataxia, a rare neuromuscular disease affecting less than 5,000 people, brought more attention to the illness. Simple purple shirts, her favorite color, reading Anna’s Army formed an actual army.

One of his favorite evenings of the year occurred against Wheeling Park as the ROAC filled to bursting in support of the cause. The smile on his face and the tears in his eyes as he choked up talking about Gordon’s battle and joining her in it were real and flowed freely. Outside fans would have thought purple replaced blue and white with a touch of red as the new school color.

Ms. Parsons also never fought alone as she battled her cancer into remission a second time. Followers of the #hailleystrong movement experienced her strength then joined her fight.

Though it may sound cliche, his actions really did speak louder than words. This past basketball season South alumni on the Ohio Valley University men’s basketball team coordinated the Fighting Scots’ first Anna’s Army night. By all accounts, it was a success.

“Coach Mike Fallon is not just a coach, but a great leader. He inspired and empowered his players, on the basketball court and in daily living. Using his platform to spread a message of compassion and hope, the purple Anna’s Army and gold #HailleyStrong symbols are known throughout the state, awareness for the chronic diseases they represent has increased ten-fold,” added Camp.

In my opinion, these are two non-negotiable events for the new head coach. The man who led his only two teams to 11 regional finals between South and Wirt County agrees. “We need to keep fighting for a cure as I will do the rest of my life,” added Fallon in his message.

Guys like Fallon simply don’t grow on trees. South Athletic Director Roger Thompson knows this fact.

“Parkersburg South would like to thank coach Fallon for his commitment to South and the basketball program over the past nine years. He was a coach who helped shape young men through athletics and community service,” said Thompson. “We wish him success and happiness moving forward.”

Now, Thompson faces the tall task of bringing in a coach who fits with the standout program.

Hopefully, he is up to the task.

Contact Joe Albright at jalbright@newsandsentinel.com.