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Kentucky by Heart: Coach Don Lane’s story is breath of fresh air, a positive take on competitive sports

By Steve Flairty
NKyTribune columnist

Over three decades ago, I came to pick up my middle school stepdaughter after she participated in activities at a summer basketball camp at Transylvania University in Lexington. Arriving early, I sat in the stands within earshot of the camp director, Don Lane, as he talked to the campers before sending them home.

Something Don shared that day with those young people sticks very clearly with me today. He said something very close to this: “When you go home today, do something nice for someone else… and don’t tell anyone about it.”

Don Lane signing books at Keeneland (Photo courtesy of Brian Lane)

Being a basketball fan all my life, I was aware of Don and his notable hoops success at Transylvania, and the press had always portrayed him as a “good guy.” On that day at his camp, I could see evidence for why he had gained that reputation. In those moments, he imparted a life lesson far greater in scope than teaching sports skills, and I have a feeling that a sizeable number of the kids were strongly influenced, either on that day or at some other time he was in their company.

Recently, I learned much more about Don and the difference he has made for others when I picked up his autobiography, The Lane Way: Family, Faith, and Fifty Years in Basketball (Butler Books, 2023). The book, written along with the helpful craftiness of Sarah Jane Herbener, is packed with 513 pages of his life experiences before, during, and after his long run at Transy where, besides sports, he also served as a respected member of the faculty.

Throughout, Don places heavy emphasis on the element of gratitude for the fruitful relationships he’s developed, benefiting others as well as himself. Readers learn of Don being raised in a close-knit family that valued such gratitude and imparted it to others.

The Lane family at Woodford County Public Schools Hall of Fame induction in 2012 (Photo courtesy Don Lane)

They are informed about his own basketball career, where though his small size was an obstacle, he was good enough to play college basketball after a stellar high school career. Then, of course, he spends much time walking us through his climb through the coaching ranks to the Transylvania position as coach, athletic director, and serving as a faculty member.

The book is replete with doting anecdotes about the Lane family, Don’s deep religious faith, detailed seasonal game accounts, player profiles, and his profound love of the school where he found his home — and a beloved following.

We find that he was born in Versailles, the third of seven children and raised on a tobacco farm. Hard work was expected. Young Don got the message and that ethic stayed with him—obviously a great contributing factor for his career success. The family was involved at the Versailles Baptist Church, where, he noted, “my parents gave us the joyful and lifelong gift of faith in Jesus Christ.”

Displaying a remarkable memory for describing games he coached at Transylvania, he takes us courtside and into the locker room at halftime. He talks about big wins, tough losses, and the importance of long-time assistant coach Ron Whitson to the winning foundation established there.

Don Lane with Coach John Calipari (Photo courtesy Don Lane)

And, oh, the stories of individual players he coached. Young people making life transitions, overcoming injuries, gaining confidence in their abilities, and developing character with their coach’s help, are all highlighted. One might begin to think his players were his own children, and in a way, they were.

Not to be forgotten, Lane heaps plenty of praise on his wife of 57 years, Monna, devoting an entire chapter to her, giving due credit for his career success and happy family life.

“I’m so glad every day that, back at Union College in 1964, I met that pretty, bright-eyed girl with the beautiful smile,” he writes. “She’s made my life wonderful in so many ways.”

Lane also waxes eloquently on the pride he feels with his two adult children, daughter Joy, an elementary teacher, and son Brian, who became his coaching successor at Transylvania.

The Lane Way is a breath of fresh air for those looking for a positive take on competitive sports and the discipline of maintaining strong, lasting values. Kentucky basketball coach, John Calipari, expressed the same when he wrote about the book: “I especially liked the chapters where he steps out of his chronological account to go into detail about someone who inspired him, or about his beloved family, or about his strong Christian faith. This creates a book that anyone—not just basketball fans or Transy alums—can enjoy and benefit from.”

Yep, that’s The Lane Way.

Steve Flairty is a teacher, public speaker and an author of seven books: a biography of Kentucky Afield host Tim Farmer and six in the Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes series, including a kids’ version. Steve’s “Kentucky’s Everyday Heroes #5,” was released in 2019. Steve is a senior correspondent for Kentucky Monthly, a weekly NKyTribune columnist and a former member of the Kentucky Humanities Council Speakers Bureau. Contact him at sflairty2001@yahoo.com or visit his Facebook page, “Kentucky in Common: Word Sketches in Tribute.” (Steve’s photo by Connie McDonald)

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  1. Don Lane says:

    Thank you Steve for your very gracious words and review of “The Lane Way”. I am humbled by your words and your endorsement of the book. Don Lane Coachlane.net

  2. Steve Flairty says:

    Happy to share with others, Don. Keep up the good work!

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