Spain Park’s holiday tourney run includes father-son matchup

Published 4:42 pm Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor

PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. – Walking toward mid court to greet the opposing head coach, it was anything but a normal day for Spain Park head coach Chris Laatsch on Wednesday, Dec. 29.

Standing on the other end of a pre-game handshake was not only the Arnold High School (Florida) head coach, but Laatsch’s son Josh Laatsch.

“I’m not sure it every felt normal for me. It may have more for him than me,” the Spain Park head coach said. “Standing over there talking with guys like (Oak Mountain head coach) Chris Love is just normal. But in this situation, I’m sitting there thinking ‘I’ve got to beat my son.’

It was part of the Marlin Classic, which is hosted by Josh’s school each year at Arnold High School in Panama City Beach. And while each team had its own agenda in the tournament, the two also knew getting the opportunity to play against one another was special.

“Getting past that initial part of it, I had to take a step back and recognize that not a lot of people get to coach against their son,” Chris Laatsch said. “We’re both blessed to be varsity coaches at different schools. When you step back and realize how unique that moment was, it brings a whole different perspective to it.”

That didn’t make it easy for him as a father, however, as he knew he was going on the floor to try and beat his soon—something that was difficult to do.

“I think he was really excited about it,” Chris said. “He had a chance to beat dad. I wasn’t as much as him. For me, being a parent, I never want my kid to lose. You want them to be successful. You don’t want them to hurt. You think about the fact that you’re the one hurting them, which I don’t like.”

It was a weird moment for the Jags’ fourth-year head coach from that standpoint, but once the players took the floor, he tried to shift his focus to them.

Once it tips, you focus on your guys,” he said. “We’re both competitive, and I hate losing a lot too.”

When it came to the game, Spain Park continued a remarkable season following last year’s trip to the Final Four with a 71-39 win highlighted by 17 points from Zach Gray and 11 from Chase James.

Happy with the win, and to have the game out of the way, the Spain Park head coach had a chance to reflect on the moment more in depth after it had ended, which is when he realized how special it was to be able to look down and see his son.

“It was a proud moment for his mom and I,” he said. “Just a chance to see the level of respect he has down there. It was really overwhelming to get to experience that.”

He was also in awe of his son putting on a tournament featuring 32 total teams, 16 in two different boys brackets and 16 in two different girls brackets.

That meant running three gyms, finding a way for each team to practice and going out of his way to provide live streaming for each game.

“I would have walked away in awe no matter what tournament that was, even if it wasn’t my son,” Chris said. “Just seeing that hard work pay off, and getting to see him on the sidelines and in his environment was special.”

As for the tournament as a whole, the Jaguars beat Chipley (Florida) a day before the Arnold game by a final score of 71-30 thanks to Gray posting 14 points and Colin Turner adding 12.

Then, following the Arnold game, Spain Park competed against Cookeville (Tennessee) in the championship game later that night, ultimately falling 65-56.

In that loss, Turner led the way with 26 points, while the Jags had at least four players finish with eight or more for the third game in a row.

Despite the loss in the title game, the Jags’ head coach is excited about what lies ahead during an important next month of the season after a 15-4 start with several new faces.

“I’m excited. I’m so proud of them and how far they’ve come,” he said. “We have probably gotten to where we are a lot quicker than I thought we would. It’s all been preparation for this area run coming up and the area tournament, so I’m not sure we’ve really done anything. Now, it’s go time. I like our team, and I like their belief in each other.”