Larry Deffenbaugh ’71 wouldn’t try to choose one standout athlete from among thousands he has coached over the last 41 years. That’s because, for the 1971 Colorado Academy graduate, coaching was never about one individual.
“I always focused on the team, team , team,” says Deffenbaugh, a Colorado High School Coaches Association 2019 Hall of Fame Inductee. It’s an important distinction, says Deffenbaugh, that coaches Frank Messenger and Bob Simms taught him back when he played CA baseball, basketball, and for the tight-knit, 16-man football team.
“Man, they worked us hard,” declares Deffenbaugh.
“The coaches taught me life lessons about responsibility and teamwork,” explains Deffenbaugh, who emulated those and others, including a few stern lectures from the “tough as nails” Assistant Headmaster Thomas Lee, throughout his career as an educator and coach.
“They were the epitome of professionalism,” says Deffenbaugh, who came to CA for his Sophomore, Junior, and Senior years. It was a bit of a shock coming from a large Oklahoma City high school with 4,000 kids to CA’s last all-male class of under 50 students. During that era, boys were expected wear a coat and tie “everywhere,” says Deffenbaugh. “To breakfast, lunch, classes, and of course, to and from games.”
“But don’t think we didn’t get rowdy every now and then,” admits Deffenbaugh.
‘I knew nothing about the sport’
After graduating from what was then called Western State University, where he met his wife Mary, Deffenbaugh launched a prolific teaching and coaching career. One of the first orders of business was buying a book, which to this day rests on Coach Deffenbaugh’s shelf, on how to coach volleyball.
“I knew nothing about the sport, but that first team I coached won a lot of games,” says Deffenbaugh. Teaching and coaching took Larry and his wife, a kindergarten teacher, and their two daughters and son to eight schools in Kansas and Colorado, where taking over struggling volleyball programs became his forte.
“It’s a challenge, but I really enjoyed watching the athletes work hard and develop values,” declares Deffenbaugh. “Every kid is not going to play at the Varsity level, but they will become better people.”
Deffenbaugh also took on administrative roles as Strasburg High School’s Dean and Assistant Principal, Hemphill Middle School’s Principal, and as the Bennett School District Athletic Director. Notably, after retiring from Strasburg, “Deffenbaugh Gym” was named in his honor. And when he worked at Deer Trail, he coached a game against his wife (then the coach at Strasburg) and later against his daughter, Marissa, while she was coaching at Bennett.
“I beat them both,” boasts Deffenbaugh, laughing.
All in the family
Obviously athletics and education are in the family genes. His daughter, Marissa, is a teacher overseas, and his daughter, Erin, started every volleyball game all four years at the University of Northern Colorado. She was also named the 2002 NCAA Division II Player of the Year and was a unanimous vote to the Hall of Fame. Both daughters as well as Deffenbaugh’s son, Lincoln, were all state players in high school.
Today, Deffenbaugh, a grandfather of four and an avid reader of leadership books, coaches a 12-year-old club team, which he calls “a hoot,” and coaches volleyball at Bennett High School, where he’s been since 2013. As for the Hall of Fame award, Deffenbaugh says that there are countless kids who have benefited from hundreds of other coaches who have given “their heart and soul to kids.”
“Where else can you learn about working with people than in a heated game where there are lots of emotions?” says Deffenbaugh. “When we stay calm as leaders and stay level headed, we teach kids a valuable lesson about handling adverse situations.”