Memories of Mitch Lalonde
by Randy Pascal
As so many in the area are now aware, the Sudbury basketball community suffered a great loss, recently, with the sudden passing of long-time local coach
Through his work and passion for the sport that he loved, as well as his career as a life-long educator, Lalonde literally would touch the lives of
hundreds, if not thousands, of local youngsters.
While countless folks would cross paths with the man, garnering a brief snapshot into the character of the well-respected hardcout mentor, none would
enjoy the up close and personal knowledge of Lalonde in quite the same way as his children, Andrew and Kristine.
"It was a really good environment, growing up," said Andrew, now 28 years old, working in Montreal following the end of his post-secondary studies and
varsity basketball career at Laurentian University, and a working stint out west. "Every time we would go somewhere in the city, you would run into someone that mom (Mary
Collinson) and dad knew."
"They preached and practiced good family values, a work ethic and all of that. It was awesome, being involved at an early age in sports. And it was neat
having the senior players who played for my dad, the junior players who played for my dad, look out for you as well."
Born in Timmins in 1952, Lalonde, along with Collinson, made their first real impression on the Sudbury basketball scene in the late seventies and early
propelling girls' teams at Sudbury Secondary to heights seldom before seen, in this particular domain, at the home of the North Stars.
It was a drastically different era in coaching to the one that Lalonde would experience in recent years, guiding the Lasalle Lancers girls teams
on the court. "He was a no-nonsense guy, an old school kind of guy, really, really tough on his players, because he wanted them to succeed, and not just
succeed in basketball, but even moreso in life," noted his son.
"He always wanted to help kids, not just on the court, but off the court as well, help them to become successful people. A lot of the lessons we learned
may have taken a little time to figure out, but they always came around, full circle."
It was this interesting dichotomy in the man, the coach, the caring adult that so touched his children, certainly as they matured into adulthood, but
even moreso as they listened and shared stories from hundreds of well-wishers over the course of the past week or so.
"My dad yelled a lot, he was really tough on his players, but I think his balance was the fact that you knew he was authentic, that what he was saying
was for your benefit," said Andrew. "When he had one of those stretches, he would also code them, after practice, with the lighter conversations, the
subtle jokes, the genuine interest in each individual."
"You knew where he was coming from, that he wasn't just yelling for the sake of yelling." Of course, as a typical teenager, that insight was not always
front of mind right in the heat of the moment, especially when the purveyor of said message was both coach and father.
"We didn't always see eye to eye, we would butt heads a little bit," noted Andrew with a smile. "Don't get me wrong, I got kicked out of a few practices,
here and there. I would get in trouble and Al Asunmaa, our assistant coach, would have to come and talk to me."
"It took a little while for me to adapt to playing for him. I played senior in grade 10, and that was tough. I was still young and maturing. There were
a lot of lessons learned in that year. It was tough, but it eventually all worked out."
In fact, as is so often the case, the enlightenment of our children comes with time. And with the passing years grows an ever increasing appreciation.
"I love the fact that he was so passionate about helping young people succeed," said Andrew. "It wasn't even just about his players."
"There were so many students he helped, kids that he didn't necessarily even teach but that went to school at Lasalle. It's something that, over 40
years, is tough to match. That's a long time to be invested in helping that many kids be successful."
For Andrew, Kristine and Mary, the respect for the man hits close to home. As difficult as the past few days have been, the scope of the respect for
Mitch Lalonde, just how far his actions have spread, has become glaringly obvious with every passing conversation.
"I knew that there would be a lot of people at the visitation," Andrew condeded. "I didn't think there would be THAT many people. The amount of people
who came from out of town really surprised me. Seeing the bulk and wide range of people was really neat. The lineup seemed like it would never end."
"And then we received letters or messages that were just so heartfelt. It just made us so proud of who our father was, and helped make this time a
little easier." Much like the very emotional but softer landing that follows the immediate heartbreak of the passing of a man such as Mitch Lalonde, his
very being contained a similar contrast.
"He had a really caring soft side that people might not see that often, especially if you didn't know his really well," said Andrew. "He loved telling
stories. Some of the girls he coached recently were telling us that dad would talk about us (he and Kristine) all of the time, that they felt that they
knew us, because he spoke about us so much."
"What they didn't know was that he would talk about them, to us, maybe not quite as much, but a lot. I'm not sure they realized just how proud and fond
he was of those kids." Words that come full circle, indeed.
As much as the sharing of the stories filled Andrew (and the family) with pride, there is simply no denying the unbelievably impressive coaching resume
that Lalonde accumulated over the course of his tenure, starting at Sudbury Secondary, with a brief stop at Lo-Ellen, but the bulk of which came at the
home of the Lancers.
In the past four decades plus, high-school teams coached by Lalonde amassed no less than 24 city championship banners, 15 NOSSA titles, four OFSAA
medals (three of which were gold, courtesy of the Sudbury Secondary School North Stars (1980, 1981, 1983). And you can throw in one Eastern Canadian crown
as well, just for good measure.