Mark Lackey may own the distinction of being the only coach in Lincoln County history to have been associated with West Lincoln, Lincolnton, East Lincoln and North Lincoln at some point during his playing, teaching or coaching career.
But at the end of the 2020 school year, the teacher and coach will end his days with Lincoln County Schools and enter the world of retirement.
After graduating from West Lincoln High School in 1982, Lackey attended Appalachian State University, and later received his teaching certificate from Lenoir-Rhyne. He did his student-teaching at Lincolnton High, and took his first job at LHS teaching business and physical education. While there, he also made his first plunge into the coaching ranks by assisting on varsity football, and taking the head coaching position for both JV basketball and baseball.
After the position at Lincolnton was phased out, Lackey went to work at East Lincoln High under then principal Steve Cherry. He would spend 12 years at East, leading the JV boys basketball program and assisting with varsity football and varsity girls basketball.
Lackey would also serve as the head golf coach for the Mustangs, and by year two, he was named the varsity girls head basketball coach, a position he kept for five years before marrying his wife Heather Huitt.
In 2003, North Lincoln High opened the doors of a brand new school, and Lackey decided to make the transition to the new campus. The coach started the Lady Knights basketball program, and has been at the school ever since.
In the fall of 2004, Lackey became the school’s athletic director, and later would become North Lincoln’s head golf coach. The golf team exploded under Lackey, winning 10 conference championships over the next twelve seasons, and capturing 2A state titles in 2009 and 2010.
“We had a long string of good golfers (come through),” said Lackey. “I didn’t realize how good those teams were.”
Lackey mentioned some of the golfers that made North Lincoln’s program one of the tops in the state, like Miller Capps who went on to play at Clemson. He talked about Zach Lawing, Grey and Hanes Brotherton, Russ Piercy, Sam Goodnight and Jacob Clark, who now works as an engineer for Ping, just to name a few.
“So many teams win state championships, and all of a sudden your team wins one,” said Lackey. “It’s so surreal, what the kids have done and accomplished. I looked at a map of North Carolina and said, we are the best 2A team in that state.”
Lackey talked of being eight shots back of Salisbury in the 2010 State Championship match, and mounting a comeback on day two of the tournament to claim the title. The following three seasons, North Lincoln would finish as state runner-up to Salisbury twice and Newton-Conover once. “Salisbury was a super team,” Lackey said. “They finished 4 under par in 2012 as a team. They were phenomenal.”
In addition to the high school team, Lackey also led the North Carolina team to a pair of Tarheel Cup State All-Star Golf titles. In 2016 and 2018, with longtime friend and colleague Scott Cloninger by his side, he guided the N.C. team to victory.
All-in-all, the coach is very proud of the golf program that he built at North Lincoln, which never finished with a losing record. He’s also proud of his time with LCS.
“Lincoln County Schools has been good to me,” said Lackey. “It’s afforded us to do a whole lot of things. I’ve made a ton of friends. I can’t thank Lincoln County Schools enough.”
Lackey still plans to stay active, especially in the golfing world. He has helped with the NCHSAA state championships the last several years, and plans to continue to do so.
The coach and teacher in Lackey is going to miss the daily interaction with the students and fellow teachers and coaches. He’s also very thankful to many who helped him along the way, like former Lincolnton coaches Von Ray Harris, Richard Smith and Scott Cloninger.
Lackey had many more to thank at East Lincoln, like Mike Harrill, Bruce Bolick, Wes Beam and Henry Barkley for working with him, and for his relationship with head football coach Nick Bazzle at North Lincoln.
“I would have never been an athletic director if I wasn’t around those guys,” Lackey said. “I’ll never be able to repay them for the friendship, guidance and comradery.”
Lackey also wanted to send out a special thanks to Billy Powell and Verdict Ridge Country Club for letting his teams participate there. “Verdict Ridge has been very good to North Lincoln,” Lackey said. “And Billy Powell helped our kids get better.”
His final thank you, and most important was to his family. “I’d like to thank my wife Heather and my family for supporting me throughout the years,” said Lackey. “Thay have sacrificed a lot so that I could be at practice and games.” Lackey’s son Chase plans to attend East Carolina in the fall.
When he finally steps away in the upcoming weeks, there are plenty of things that the teacher, the coach and the person will miss, but maybe none quite as much as the big games. “I’ll miss game days,” Lackey said, “and the thrill of competing night in and night out against rival teams.”