Numbers are important in sports.
In baseball, players are judged based on batting average, home runs and runs batted in. In football, yards and touchdowns are major factors. In basketball, it's about points and rebounds.
In January, Tarleton head basketball coach Lonn Reisman reached an iconic number of wins - 500 - with a 78-53 win over Texas A&M-Commerce in front of 2,514 fans at Wisdom Gym.
If you ask Reisman, however, the number of wins over his 24 years at Tarleton is not nearly important as the number of lives he's been able to change.
"I have won all of the games I could ever need to win," said Reisman. "If I never win another game for the rest of my life, the most important thing to me is being able to be a mentor and a role model to young men who are just looking for someone to believe in them again."
The legendary Texan coach has mentored over 300 student-athletes since arriving in Stephenville in 1988.
Of those athletes, the reasons for becoming a Texan are numerous - playing time, a great university, the Stephenville community.
Other situations have also occurred, however, over the past 24 years such as family issues, criminal records, prior mistakes and, in the words of Reisman, "blips on the radar."
"When we recruit players, sometimes there are, what we call, blips on the radar," said Reisman. "I certainly would never bring in a player with a mile-long rap sheet, but some of these kids come from very tough backgrounds and are oftentimes caught up in their environment. If a young man makes a mistake as a kid, it shouldn't condemn him for the rest of his life.
"As long as they show they're willing to work hard and take their education seriously, we will give them another opportunity to redeem themselves," he added. "In my 25 years of coaching not every player has bought into our philosophy, but I'm going to try as hard as I can to make a difference."
But one thing has been certain, the Texan coach has never been afraid to give a young man a second chance to better himself, his family and earn an education.
"He brings kids in here and gives them a chance to be something else," said Texas Club board member and 2003 Tarleton Hall of Fame inductee Perry Elliott. "He doesn't just want them to score points or get rebounds, he wants them to graduate and get a degree. He loves those kids, and notice how many kids come back because they love him, too."
"Coach Reisman has earned my respect in many ways, but most importantly was his motto 'team, family, believe'," said former player Jeurel Sims, who is a 13-year veteran of Harris County Sheriff's Office in Houston. "I had never been with a team or organization that lived by a motto. I wasn't used to hard work before becoming a Texan. I wasn't used to getting pushed at home or with other teams. He instilled integrity and leadership in me."
Reisman's ability to implement structure and discipline into his program help him earn respect from his players, but it's desire to see his players become successful off the court that keeps that respect even after their graduation.
"Coach would never tell us to do something he doesn't do himself," said Sims. "He leads by example and practices what he preaches. Even after graduation, I have followed in his footsteps and learned to be a leader myself. All I have learned at Tarleton helps me in my everyday battles as a police officer."
Another quality Reisman has used in developing young men has been his faith in God, which he never fails to express regardless the situation.
"My faith is what I have to rely on to help shape the live's of these young men," said Reisman. "I have no doubt that I have been called to be a coach, not to win games, but to help lead young men in the right direction when they face adversity.
"When they are on the brink of giving up, I try to motivate and inspire them to go out and become someone special," he continued. "That is why God put me on this Earth, to help kids. I have failed at times, and I will probably fail again, but I still hope and pray that these young men will one day find their way. I work so hard to teach these kids that when something negative happens, it hurts me way more than losing basketball games ever has."
Finally, a trait Reisman has shown over the course of 24 years has been his inability to trade his quality of players for a "win at all cost mentality."
In 2004, he proved as much, and did it quite publicly.
With Tarleton ranked No. 2 in the nation and hosting the Lone Star Conference Championship, Reisman made a decision that still echoes in the halls of Wisdom Gym.
Trailing 49-19 at halftime of an LSC semifinal game against Texas A&M-Kingsville, the coach dismissed a starter who was averaging 12.3 points and 6.3 rebounds per game.
"In 2004 I had to make the decision to dismiss a player in the middle of a playoff game," said Reisman. "He was one of our top scorers and top rebounders. He was a tremendous player, but he made a critical error in judgement."
The Texans went on to pull off an unbelievable comeback to defeat the Javelinas 89-85 and advance to the LSC Championship game against Northeastern State, which they also won to secure an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament.
The national championship remained out of reach, however, but that does not deter Reisman from sacrificing the values of the Texan basketball program.
"That decision probably cost us a national championship," admitted the coach. "However, there is a code of conduct that we're going to live by and when a player crosses that line nothing will keep him on the team. No amount of winning is going to change how we act on this team.
"I hope people understand that I want to win and win the right way," he added. "I've been here for 25 years and we've been successful because we're doing things right."
"Coach Reisman brings kids in here from all over the country and helps to make good people out of them and that is something to be commended," said Elliott. "Every once in a while he gets a negative blip on the radar, but he's the first to run them off. He's a disciplinarian and we need more of them.
"Our community loves this program and it shows by the wall of banners in Wisdom Gym," he continued. "Lonn works so hard to build relationships in our community and there is not another school in our conference with the kind of community relationship and support as we have at Tarleton."
When Reisman was honored in June for his 500th victory milestone, several former players - who have gone on to become police officers, attorneys, teachers and coaches - stood behind their coach as a trophy.
"Seeing these young men walk across the stage at graduation…" said Reisman. "Those are my national championships.
"I have had players play for me over the years that have had everyone else in their lives give up on them or consider them a lost cause," he continued. "But I have also seen those same kids walk across the stage after earning a degree. That's what drives me to continue coaching. It motivates me to never give up on a young man, who shows the desire to better himself, even after the rest of the world has.
"I'll most likely have players in the future who will completely disregard the values we try to instill at Tarleton," he added. "But that doesn't mean I'm going to stop trying. I want to help kids achieve their dreams and goals, but I will not sacrifice the principles of our program."
Numbers are important in sports.
But in the case of Lonn Reisman, they are not the most important.
The most important aspect of the coaching profession is giving young people a second chance to make something of themselves - which is what Reisman has been doing in Stephenville for a number of years.
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