In all her years as Lee’s Summit North’s girls basketball coach, Tricia Lillygren could count on seeing her father sitting right behind her in the stands, home or away.
Which made losing him to cancer last year all the more difficult.
“I battled with that all year, all season,” Lillygren said. “Our program was a great family through all that.”
That family has made sure Warren Lillygren’s memory won’t be forgotten and that his daughter will still see a friendly face behind the bench. On Monday, Lee’s Summit North unveiled the Warren Lillygren Legacy Seat, which will honor someone in the community for supporting the program, education and youth sports as much as he did.
“He was here with us when we started, when the whole building opened too,” said Lillygren, who is starting her 24th season as the Broncos’ head coach. “And he rarely missed a game home or away. Huge fan for our program. So it was a tremendous honor that the kids and coaches gave last year to recognize him in a small way.”
North’s players and coaches were looking for a way to memorialize Warren Lillygren, who was 75 when he died last December. At the team’s season-ending banquet last spring, they presented the idea of honoring someone in his memory with a special seat placed behind the Broncos’ bench, much like the Kansas City Royals do with the Buck O’Neil Legacy Seat.
Inscribed on the red chair-back seat are the words, “Legacy. It’s not leaving something for people, it’s leaving something in people.”
“He was just a longtime fan,” Lillygren said. “He would often talk with the kids, and just his presence and his support of our program over the years is what that’s all about. I want to recognize those folks who have done the same thing.”
Lillygren wanted Darwin Rold to be in the seat for Monday’s season opener against Truman. Rold, who served nearly three decades as Lee’s Summit School District’s athletic director before retiring in 2014, hired Lillygren when Lee’s Summit North opened in 1995.
“To have Darwin be the first one is very appropriate,” Lee’s Summit North athletic director Mike McGurk said. “He’s done so much for the district and athletics and hired Trish here at North. It was pretty special.”
McGurk said he hopes to fill that seat for every girls home game. Lillygren and her staff, he said, will pick the honorees.
That way, she will still have a friendly face and vocal supporter right behind her.
“She’s looking for folks who kind of fulfill his legacy and what he’s about,” McGurk said. “You’re not going to get somebody sitting in the legacy seat whose yelling at the officials, but you will get somebody who’s super-positive and made some contributions throughout the community.”