Lacassine's Michalko one game from end of 33-year career

By By Warren Arceneaux / American Press

One game left.

After 33 years and more than 900 wins, Lacassine girls head basketball coach Eddie Michalko will retire after Wednesday’s

Class B state championship game, when his Cardinals will take on six-time defending champion Fairview.

Michalko’s career, which includes four state championships at Hackberry and four championship game appearances at Lacassine,

started when he decided to follow his heart.

“In college I started in business and really hated it,” he said.

“I looked at what I wanted to do and always enjoyed sports and basketball in particular. My first job at Fenton, I could have

been assistant boys or head girls coach. At the time, head girls paid $1,000 more.”

Michalko chose the extra cash and took over a program that had produced only a single win the previous season.

“My first practice I had eight girls,”

Michalko said. “There were some girls in the school that were unsure

about playing

with a new coach. I told them that I would treat them like

basketball players, that I did not care if they were black or white,

I didn’t care who their parents were. If I thought they should be

out there, I put them out there. We made the playoffs that

first year.”

So began a career that has produced lots of wins and consumed thousands of hours.

“I was young, I could put in 18-19 hour days,” Michalko said of his early days.

“One summer I taught driver’s ed from 8 a.m.-4 p.m., worked a basketball camp from 5-9 p.m., then worked out at Putt-Putt

from midnight-8 a.m.”

Michalko spent four years at Fenton before moving on to Hackberry. The Mustangs were winless the season before he arrived.

He left with four state championships, all won between 2000-04.

That stint also changed the way Michalko approached coaching.

“In my younger days, it would eat at me if we lost a game,” he said.

“(In 1988) at Hackberry we had a

player, Theresa Simon, collapse at home during Easter holiday. She died

the next week. She

was a great kid. That is when I started looking at it as just a

game. The last thing I tell my teams in the huddle is ‘have

fun.’ It is a game. When it is over, no one lives or dies because

of the game. Play for the enjoyment of it.”

Michalko said he has had plenty to enjoy this season as the Cardinals have won 39 of 40 games.

“This group is fun,” he said.

“They put the team first, ahead of

individual goals. Whoever comes in will be successful next year, they

will have a good

group. All 15 of them have gotten better. I have told them more

than once that they are a good group to go out with. I don’t

want this being my last game taking away from what they have done.

I’m as proud of them as any group I’ve ever had. It would

have been easy to be satisfied with last year, but they wanted to

be better and have worked for it.”

Michalko announced his retirement before the season.

“I did not want to leave the girls in limbo about whether or not I was going to come back or not,” he said.

“I have no complaints. After 33 years, it is time. If I could just coach, I would not retire. But having to coach and teach,

I just don’t have the time to do both well.”

Michalko said the year has not been any different until the playoffs arrived.

“Since the playoffs started, it has been in the back of my mind that this could be the last game I coach,” he said.

“For a while anyway. It could be that I miss it.”

The one thing that Michalko will miss is the time spent with players.

“Next to my family, they are the people I am closest to. They are the people I spend the most time with, maybe even more than

I do with my wife Penny,” he said.

“I try to make it fun for them, and they make it fun and challenging for me. When you see somebody work so hard to get better,

to do what it takes in the classroom, that is what I’ll miss the most. One of the things I am most proud of is the success

of the players I have had. They are business owners, they have good careers. Last year 12 of my 16 girls had a 4.0 GPA.”

Earlier this year, Michalko picked up win No. 900.

“I have never been one for numbers

until my last year, then I starting looking at it,” he said. “908-327,

just the sheer number

of games struck me. Then you add in 400 or 500 junior high games,

the summer league games, team camp games. It is a testament

to the players I have had.”

Michalko said he does not want to be remembered by the championship banners.

“The one thing I hope people take from what my teams have accomplished is that I worked as hard as I could, I did the best

I could,” he said.

“People ask me my most important

accomplishments. I won four state titles at Hackberry, I won the 1977

World Putting Championship,

this will be my fourth time in the finals in seven years at

Lacassine, but my biggest accomplishments are my two daughters,

Mandy and Marcie. Mandy graduated in engineering from McNeese and

Marcie is going there now. God has blessed me with a good

family, great families, athletes that are able to put little

things aside and realize the team comes first.”

Michalko said family produced his first set of role models.

“I was born in Minnesota and my father died when I was five,” he said.

“My mother was from Lake Charles and

moved us down here. She had five brothers and they were always there for

me growing up.

In coaching, I grew up around Richard McNabb at Fenton and was

around Byron Gibbs at Hackberry. McNabb was passionate about

the game. From Gibbs I got the fundamentals. Hopefully, I am like a

mixture of them.”

Michalko does not expect to spend much more time in gyms after Wednesday.

“I will make this statement and may have to retract it, but through the rest of 2013 I don’t think I will see another basketball

game,” he said.

“I have never taken a break in 33 years. I really want to see if I am going to miss it, if it will call back to me to come

watch.”