Toughness a key trait of Ironton basketball

January 8, 2019

IRONTON — Ironton High School’s boys basketball team doesn’t win every game it plays, but it’s not from a lack of effort.

The Fighting Tigers’ 7-3 start includes an impressive 59-57 victory over Gallia Academy, one of southeastern Ohio’s better teams, and Saturday’s 63-53 victory at Huntington High. Each of those games was marked by typical Ironton traits - physical and mental toughness, hard play and a relentless spirit.

“Ironton has always played like that,” said senior guard Charlie Large, who scored 36 points and grabbed 14 rebounds against Huntington High. “It’s just the way we are. Pure effort. We have talent, but the way we play is what makes us better.”

Ironton plays like its name sounds. The town’s long history in the iron industry made for tough, hard-working people. That translated to the athletic program. Well known for its powerful football teams the last half-century, Ironton basketball displays those same rugged features.

The Fighting Tigers are a bodies-on-the floor, hand-in-the face ball club that might be outscored, but won’t be outworked. Ironton is known for getting back on defense, battling for every rebound and making opponents earn each point.

Ironton is a reflection of its head coach, Mark Lafon, who won his 300th game this season and is a 26-year veteran. Of the first 300 games he coached, Lafon won 195 at Ironton, 53 at South Point and 52 with the Chesapeake girls. A former standout player at Chesapeake under Hall of Fame coach Norm Persin, who now leads Oak Hill, Lafon reminds people of the intense, sometimes fiery, coaching legend.

Lafon leaves no doubt what he expects, nor does he leave to chance that a player across the court won’t hear his instructions. That style might not go over well in some communities, but at Ironton it’s tradition. It’s also effective.

“I’ve had players who allowed me to coach them hard,” Lafon said. “That’s one thing about Ironton, they respond to you coaching them hard. They allow me to coach that way and that says a lot about their character.”

Large moved to Ironton from Coal Grove and wasn’t accustomed to Lafon’s methods, but quickly adapted. Now, he said he loves Lafon’s style.

“We play so hard because coach Lafon brings that out in us,” Large said. “We know he is trying to get his point across and we’ve gotten used to it.”

Lafon coaches against his Chesapeake alma mater at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Ironton’s Conley Center. The Fighting Tigers and Panthers are 2-1 in a tightly contest Ohio Valley Conference race that has both teams tied with Coal Grove, Fairland and Gallia Academy for first place. Chesapeake enters 7-2 overall.

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