By Mike DeFabo
Times West Virginian
Before she became West Virginia University’s most-decorated female athlete, before she was a three-sport All-American, and before she won two high school state championships, Keri Bland had a goal.
“Her dad always used to tell me, ‘She wants to be Larry Mason,’" said Mason, who was a math teacher and longtime girls’ cross country coach at North Marion.
Bland accomplished that goal this season when she was named the girls’ cross country coach. But the truth is, being Larry Mason is about a lot more than the title “coach.”
Over a storied 31-year career, he won four AAA girls’ cross country state championships, earned second place three more times and produced 13 All-State runners, including Aaron Toothman and Bland.
Saturday, Mason was honored for his numerous achievements when he was named Coach of the Year by the National Federation High School Coaches Association at the cross country state meet at Cabell Midland.
“Each year coaches are honored for their outstanding commitment to the athletes of West Virginia. Coach Mason has demonstrated excellence and leadership in the coaching profession,” The West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission said in a press release. “We appreciate your dedication to the sport of girls’ cross country and your committent to the development of young people throughout the state of West Virginia.”
Bland said that Mason was a tough coach, who knew how to get his athletes to reach their full potential.
“He was a pretty strict coach, but strict in a good way,” she said. “He encouraged you and always pushed you to do your best.”
Mason still cherishes the memories he made over his career. He remembers coaching his children and building a program that was ranked in the top 20 nationally by USA Today.
But more than anything, he loved the competition.
“The greatest thrill in athletics is the ability to compete,” Mason said. “One of the things I tried to emphasize with the kids was that at the end of the season, whether we won or lost, it was going to be a sad moment because the competition was over.”
The races are now over for Mason. He retired last year. But the competitive nature remains. He still golfs regularly with a close group of friends.
“I had a great career,” he said. “You kind of know when it’s time to step down, and the time had come. I miss the big meets, but I’m enjoying retirement immensely.”
Bland said she hopes to carry on the tradition that Mason started at North Marion and is thankful for the opportunities he created.
“I’m proud of him and I thank him for everything he’s done in my life and for inspiring me to become what I've become now,” Bland said.
Email Mike DeFabo at email@example.com or follow on Twitter @MikeDeFaboTWV.