Norwood touted for heights, old and new

In its January issue, Ingram’s Magazine listed Coach Lafayette Norwood among 50 Kansans you should know.

Lafayette Norwood has mentored many outstanding teams and individual athletes since joining the coaching profession in 1957 when he took over the Wichita Biddy Basketball team. He joined the staff at JCCC in 1982, spending nine years as head basketball coach and 19 as golf coach. He has guided some of the best teams and top athletes in both programs’ history. And now Norwood’s coaching legend comes to light in a book, Acrophobia 1977, written by Mark Nale.

In 1969, Norwood took over the boy’s basketball program at Wichita Heights High School and quickly established himself as one of the top prep coaches in Kansas. He guided Heights to a 109-56 record in his eight years, winning three city titles. His 1975-76 squad finished runner-up in the state tournament, but his 1976-77 team is still revered as the greatest high school boys team in Kansas history.

Norwood guided a star-laden team that featured five future NCAA Division I athletes and three future professionals to a 23-0 mark, capped by an amazing 40-point win in the state championship game. That title enabled Norwood to share with coaching legend Ralph Miller the distinction of being the only two people in Kansas history to have played on and coached a boy’s state championship team.

The title of Nale’s book refers to a banner that once was attached to a wall in Heights’ gymnasium, “CITY LEAGUE SCHOOLS HAVE ACROPHOBIA,” which means fear of heights. His idea for writing the book began in the spring of 2007, shortly after the 1976-77 team had its 30-year reunion.

The book provides shared memories from the players and people associated with that team. It also is a tribute to the man who guided this group through that magical season – Lafayette Norwood.

“I have a passion to coach youngsters, and this book really brought out what it means to me to influence others in a positive way,” Norwood said. “Someone had to work with me early in my life, and I found it was easier to be myself than to try to copy someone else.”

One of the key players from the team was Darnell Valentine, who was an All-American, two-time Academic All-American and the first four-time All-Big Eight pick at the University of Kansas. Valentine remains close with Norwood today, and expressed his respect and admiration for Norwood in Nale’s book: “Coach Norwood set examples in life that any man would be able to follow. He’s a man that whatever possible traits that you can acquire from him, they will push you to the uttermost of your capabilities in life. He practices what he preaches, so that every man can face the reality of life. And yet, this man is modest, sharing the good that life can bring, and fighting defeat by himself, never looking for an excuse or accusing anyone of fault. This is a man I want to be, and this is the man that I shall become.”