This featured on then-Flagstaff High School cross-country coach Sharon Falor, who witnessed the collegiate success of Magic Johnson, Greg Kelser and Kirk Gibson while working at Michigan State, appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun on Jan. 23, 2002.
By Ed Odeven
Sharon Falor has been involved with athletics for her entire life. Still, the satisfaction she’s received in the past two autumns guiding the Flagstaff High girls cross country team to back-to-back Class 4A state championships is far and away No. 1 on her list of sporting memories.
“In my senior year in high school, I scored 52 points in a (basketball) game and it didn’t come close to the feeling of winning a team state championship,” Falor said. “It didn’t even come close. It’s not even comparable.”
Experiencing those thrills of victory held an even greater sentiment for Falor while seeing her daughter Annie, an FHS sophomore, continue to shine as one of the state’s finest runners.
“From the tears of disappointment to the tears of exhilaration, it’s been the most enjoyable moments that I’ve ever experienced,” said Falor, 46, describing her role as mother/coach as “a very trying endeavor.”
The Lady Eagles’ accomplishments have not gone unnoticed.
“The community is very excited about it,” Flagstaff athletic director Tony Cullen said.
In addition, Falor has earned a reputation as a meticulous, organized leader.
“You look at her background and the level of coaching that she brings, she’s going to get a lot out of those kids,” Cullen said.
“…There are always a few parents at the beginning of the year that are a little shocked how much she demands out of (the kids), but when it comes to the end of the season they understand why and thank her for it.”
And what is Falor’s reward? Along with experiencing the ups and downs of high school athletics through her athletes, she has gained recognition from her peers as well. Falor has been named Grand Canyon Region coach of the year the last two years, and she was the Class 4A coach of the year in 2001.
A FATHER’S INFLUENCE
Falor was raised in Harbor Springs, Mich. Growing up, she had five brothers and a sister. Her father James loved baseball and football, but none of her male siblings shared their father’s passion.
Falor, however, was always fond of athletics.
“Unfortunately, there were five boys in my family and none of them like sports,” she recalled, “and then along came me who loved everything about it. So my dad devoted a lot of time trying to develop that athletic ability.
“That was what made me motivated, inspired me. I just loved every thing about it.”
In high school, she participated on the softball, basketball, skiing and track and field teams. After graduation in 1974, Falor attended Alma College, a four-year private school near Lansing, Mich. on an athletic scholarship — becoming the first person in her family to ever go to college. While there, she was on the field hockey, basketball, track and field teams and was later the first woman inducted into the college’s Sports Hall of Fame.
LEARNING TO LEAD
Falor graduated from college in 1978 and took her first coaching job at Michigan State. Dr. Nell Jackson hired her to serve as an assistant coach in the women’s athletic department, primarily with the field hockey team.
Greg Kelser and a fellow named Magic Johnson, who led MSU to the 1979 NCAA men’s basketball championship, made a lasting impression on Falor.
“I can remember going to the field house and there were so many people there just watching practice,” Falor recalled. “You would think there was a game going on. They were friendly. They were real down to earth. They enjoyed the interaction with their peers, students, little kids who came … It was just a learning experience. I would go and just sit in the field house and watch how (coach Jud) Heathcote ran his practices, how Johnson and Kelser handled their roles. They were legends already. It was terrific to be a part of it
Another legend-to-be, Kirk Gibson, was honing his skills on the baseball diamond at that time in Lansing. He was another athlete Falor admired.
“I’d go to baseball practice, and it wasn’t that I was so caught up in athletics,” she said. “I was more caught up in what made someone successful. I wanted to know what their work ethic was like. Did it just happen magically?
“The one thing I gained from all those experiences was these people worked hard,” she added. “All these players worked hard…It wasn’t something that accidentally just fell that way…”
Falor has utilized that knowledge and applied it to her coaching career. She spent 1 1/2 years at MSU and then moved on to Lansing Community College for a head coaching post with the women’s hoops team. She then coached at New Mexico Junior College and Adrian College. In 1990, she accepted a job as an assistant coach for the NAU women’s basketball team and held that post until she took a softball and basketball coaching job at Winslow High School in 1994. She’s coached at FHS for two years.
When the Flag High girls finished first in last year’s Peaks Invitational at Buffalo Park, it marked the first time the school had ever won the event. After the meet, Falor chatted with her team and praised them for their collective efforts.
She repeated the gist of that conversation Wednesday:
“Sharing responsibility, sharing a commitment, sharing a goal really develops athletes.”
FHS’ runners eagerness to improve and dedication to excellence is what motivates Falor to keep coaching.
“If they say ‘I’m going to run in the summer’, they run. They say, ‘Coach, I’m going to see you at 5:30 in the morning,’ and they are there at 5:30 in the morning.
“They reward you for the time that they give. They really respect what you give. It’s a strong group of people working for a single goal. It’s wonderful.”
There’s more to come…
“I look at the next two years in my high school as an exciting time in my life,” she said with a smile.