Mark Scanlon’s favorite book as a kid was about the Green Bay Packers’ 1967 championship season. The 320-page account (titled “Instant Replay”) offered insight into the coaching mind of the legendary Vince Lombardi.
After reading the book in the seventh grade, Scanlon determined he wanted to be a coach, too. And it didn’t take him long to secure his first gig. Fresh out of college, he landed a job in Bunceton, Mo., a town of 352 people about 15 miles south of Boonville.
He coached six teams in his first year — boys and girls basketball, boys and girls softball and boys and girls track.
“I loved it all,” he said. “But the one that I really liked was basketball. I couldn’t wait to get to practice every day.”
Some 36 years later, as the path of his career has brought him to O’Hara High School, every word of that sentiment remains true, Scanlon said.
Of course, winning always makes things a bit more enjoyable. And there has been plenty of that over the 36 seasons, the majority of which he spent at Raytown High School.
Scanlon, 59, won his 600th game last Friday, a 55-45 O’Hara victory against visiting Nevada.
“My first thought was to think back about all the good players I’ve had,” Scanlon said. “I’ve had some great players and some great assistant coaches, too. I’ve always surrounded myself with great people. That’s really what makes great teams.”
None, of course, were better than the 1994-95 and 2007-08 teams at Raytown High School. Both teams were unbeaten in the regular season before losing in the Missouri state quarterfinals.
The 1994-95 team was led by future NBA guard Tyronn Lue. The Bluejays started five guards and had only one player taller than 6 feet on their roster. That season came to a dramatic end in a loss to Central and Derek Hood in a jam-packed Municipal Auditorium
“Fun, fun team,” Scanlon said. “We played a style nobody else in the state played. We were unique. Those kids were unbelievably tough. I think if we had gotten to Columbia (for the Final Four), we would’ve won it.”
After 600 victories, it’s the pair of quarterfinal losses at Raytown that Scanlon still thinks about most often, he said.
But there have been a lot of games from which to choose. After one year at Bunceton, Scanlon spent three years at Bucklin, four at Mexico, 22 seasons at Raytown and one at Northeast High School. He’s in his fifth season with O’Hara. He has no plans to retire anytime soon, which means that win figure will continue to grow.
But after nearly four decades coaching high school basketball, the statistic Scanlon cites most often isn’t his victory total. Instead, he’s quick to remind people that 35 former players have earned college scholarships to play basketball — 18 at the Division I level.
“See what I mean? Great teams are built from great players,” Scanlon said. “And there have been a lot of them. I’ve been fortunate enough to have built some great relationships with them that still stand today.”