Veteran coach’s players vow to honor her legacy
AREA TEAMS INCLUDED: Sam Houston.
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Milyse Lamkin traveled far and wide, but her heart never left San Antonio’s east side.
The Sam Houston girls basketball coach died from cancer last Thursday at age 52. Although Lamkin was nearly four years into her battle with the disease and taking a medical leave of absence, she wasn’t ready to give up the job she loved. It was understood that Lamkin planned to coach the Hurricanes for her 10th season this winter.
“We lost a champion,” Sam Houston football coach and athletic coordinator Gary Green said. “She fought very, very hard – as she always has.”
After Lamkin battled her illness so bravely and so long, those around her were shocked by how suddenly cancer claimed her.
“The last time I talked to her (Aug. 18),” Hurricanes volleyball coach and girls athletic coordinator Courtney Davis said, “she was trying to get her body stronger so she could move forward a little more. To find it was coming to an end was truly a surprise to all of us.”
Green knew Lamkin from the time when he was a substitute teacher at Sam Houston and Lamkin was a student. Years later, when both were pursuing other careers, he and the 1982 graduate talked about returning to the school to teach and coach.
“She was like my little sister,” Green said. “We used to talk about, maybe, going back to Sam and getting everything back on track one day. And it ended up that we both applied there.
“Her biggest motivation was doing for the east side. She was very proud of being a Sam Houston Cherokee. You didn’t call her a Hurricane. She took a lot of pride in the east side. She never moved away.”
Although she was devoted to developing the young athletes she coached into responsible citizens, Lamkin’s commitment to her community didn’t end at the school’s doors. Like her mother, Mildred Lamkin, Lamkin believed in doing her part to make San Antonio’s east side a better place to live.
“After basketball practice, she would go right to church,” said Sam Houston senior Dajah Thomas, who played three years on Lamkin’s basketball team. “She was the choir director at her church. She just helped a lot of people. Most coaches don’t do as much as she did.
“At school, she would help people who didn’t even play sports. Her appearance and her presence were so strong, you couldn’t miss her walking down the halls or down the street.”
Davis was Lamkin’s assistant and succeeded her in the coordinator position. She knew Lamkin for her last 14 years and admired her devotion to improving the area.
“She was very well-known. There was nowhere you could go where people didn’t know Milyse, and she helped everyone,” Davis said. “I guess it was just her upbringing. She was not just there behind the scenes. She would go out and be supportive. She followed in her mother’s footsteps. She had a big-time commitment to the community.
“She spoke out and spoke up for the kids.”
In nine years as Sam Houston’s coach, Lamkin guided the team to a 172-118 record and six district titles. Last year, the Hurricanes qualified for the Class 3A playoffs and finished second in District 28-3A despite starting the season with a 2-15 record.
Lamkin had missed more than a month of the season, due to an unanticipated hip surgery. Her team’s turnaround coincided with her return to the bench.
“It was hard for me, because I wasn’t able to be there for the girls,” Lamkin said last February, “but I left it in the Lord’s hands.”
Before taking the coaching reins at her alma mater, Lamkin was one of Sam Houston’s greatest female athletes. She went on to play both basketball and softball at St. Mary’s University, helping the Rattlers win the
1986 NAIA softball national championship.
She was inducted into the St. Mary’s athletic hall of fame in 1999.
Green said Lamkin was so talented that his brother christened her “the female Dr. J,” a reference to high-flying NBA hall of famer Julius Erving. SAISD assistant athletic director Brian Clancy witnessed her abilities in pickup basketball games at King Middle School in the early 1990s.
“Milyse was a tremendous ballplayer,” Clancy said. “We played Saturdays and Sundays in the gym at King. She would play with the men of the east side, and she could hang with them. She could really play ball.”
Lamkin found her way back to Sam Houston as a special education teacher and coach after sampling other occupations. She sold ads for a radio station, worked as a flight attendant and managed a local department store before embarking on a 23-year SAISD career.
“I guess it was just wanting to experience everything,” Davis said. “She was a very well-rounded person. Everything she went through helped her become who she was.
“She made each one of us stronger.”
Lamkin helped shape Thomas from a strong-willed young teenager into the Hurricanes’ leader.
“Dajah was one of Coach Lamkin’s projects,” Davis said. “Lamkin worked with her until she became better and better and better. This year, she’ll be our leader. The other girls look up to her.”
When Thomas spoke to her coach on the first day of school, Lamkin expressed her intent to return and coach her basketball team this year.
The senior said she came to see Lamkin’s beliefs reflected in herself as their relationship became stronger.
Thomas spoke to her Sam Houston’s teammates last Thursday after they learned of Lamkin’s death. The senior passed along a message of hope and determination.
“What I basically (told the team) was that Coach Lamkin would not want you to cry,” Thomas said. “Stand up and be strong. Live for her. Don’t get down.
“We’re going to play our basketball games in her name. We’re going to state in her name. We’re going to do what it would take to make Coach Lamkin happy. We’re not going to give up.”
Memorial services for Lamkin will take place 11 a.m. Saturday at St. Paul Methodist Church, 500 N. Center St.