Mark Lehman retiring after coaching Cajon basketball to local, state, and national recognition

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Photo/Harvey Cohen Cajon High School will lose its girls basketball coach and football game announcer. Mark Lehman pictured, is retiring after performing both duties for 34 years.
Photo/Atlanta Dream
Mark Lehman coached current WNBA Atlanta Dream player Layshia Clarendon.

Mark Lehman is retiring after 34 years of coaching basketball at San Bernardino Cajon High School. His decision was emphatic and goes into effect after the 2016-17 season. Lehman has coached the Cajon girls to a 418-54 record and the boys to 313-92. Among those are some of the biggest victories in San Bernardino County history. “I’m 62 and starting to feel it,” said Lehman. “My wife and I bought a condo in Carlsbad and I want to spend more time with my grand kids. At some point you have to move on.”

Lehman reached the pinnacle of prep basketball by leading Cajon to the 2016 state girls championship and earned state coach of the year honors. He’s won two CIF girls titles and a total of 18 league championships, including 61 tournament championships and has made the playoffs every year.

Lehman coached two-time, CIF state player of the year Layshia Clarendon who now plays for the WNBA Atlanta Dream. Lehman coached former Pittsburgh Steelier’s receiver Charles Johnson when he played basketball three years at Cajon. National journals have rated Cajon girl’s as one of the Top-10 program’s in the country. According to available records posted by CalHiSports.com, Lehman has more boys and girls wins combined than any coach in state history.

This season’s Cajon team appreciates that their coach came back for them when it could have been much easier for Lehman to have stepped down while on top. “We keep that in mind that our coach is retiring,” said Cajon’s current point guard, junior Caitlyn Sauceda. “We see that he is preparing the team for next year but we want him to go out a success this year.” Sauceda was a member of last season’s championship team that graduated all five starters, including four now playing at the university level.

Sauceda commented about Lehman’s coaching that includes being very vocal and animated. “His yelling doesn’t bother me. I just focus on what he tells us because he knows what it takes to win. We will miss him. It will be different. I’ll miss him taking us to McDonald’s.” Sauceda will be joined next year as a starter with other state champs Haylee Saurette and Janya Smith. “They will be good next year for who ever coaches them,” added Lehman. Cajon is 16-4 so far this season.

Lehman claims people make coaching basketball harder than it should be. He says his vocal style is used to motivate. “You can’t just sit there and expect to win. At some point you have to stand up and coach. I won’t accept it if someone is doing something wrong. I will tell them about it.” He said its was actually the girls themselves who helped him make the transition from being a boys coach. “They told me right away they did not want to be treated any different than the boys. So, that’s what I have done.” He did say most girls can’t make a complete stop and pull up to make a jump shot (like Clarendon). What has he learned from his student athletes: “To be patient.”

He started his coaching career while attending San Jose State, when he was hired as an assistant boys coach at Gunderson High in San Jose. As a player in 1973, he was the leading scorer at Granada HS in Livermore, where he was also an all-league shortstop/pitcher who continued to play at the semi-professional level. His playing days ended due to a knee injury, which he says with today’s medicine could have been corrected.

Lehman came to San Bernardino in 1983 after the San Jose Unified School conducted a mass layoff due to bankruptcy. After a few interviews elsewhere, former Cajon Athletic Director Jack Wilkins hired him as his boys basketball coach. Lehman switched to coaching girls at Cajon when his daughter, Heather began playing basketball. Heather Lehman became one his players who earned recognition from the Ken Hubbs Foundation as the 2000 Girl Player of the Year.

Clarendon earned the same honor in 2009 before girls officially became Ken Hubbs Award winners in 2012. Charles Johnson was Lehman’s first Hubbs winner in 1990. Shaun Battle came next in 1992. His 2016 Hubbs Award winner Kayla Washington now plays at Washington State after being named prep all-state three years and an unprecedented 4-time Citrus Belt League MVP winner. Lehman said he wouldn’t be surprised if his former University of Arkansas recruit Darshae Burnside and prep All-American Sophie Bhasin become WNBA players, too.

Before a recent game at Yucaipa, Lehman said he could not have handled the immense responsibility of coaching without his wife’s help and advice. Brenda Lehman is one of a few who can single-handedly log every statistical play of a game. Brenda Lehman is the former Brenda Hopson, a 1975 San Gorgonio HS graduate. Her behind the scene duties include everything from being the main player/parent contact to washing uniforms. If someone needs a ride, Brenda is there. “Mark has missed a few games, but I have not missed one game,” said Brenda Lehman. “I am going to miss this very much.”

Besides spending time with grandchildren, Brenda Lehman says her and Mark will travel to see former players in action. Along with going north to see Washington play, they’ll stop at Long Beach State to see Tyla Turner on the way to see Tyra Turner play at Humboldt State. They’ll continue to follow Taylor Goldsberry at Cal State San Bernardino and Clarendon in Atlanta.

Lehman told of many changes since he started coaching: The drastic increase in number of high schools; growth of travel ball; better officiating; leagues to teach officials; less affluent areas getting more youth leagues; more visual media; having to be more of a psychologist; and year-round fundraising. He said the advent of Maxpreps stat clearinghouse has provided added player notoriety. “It’s important to post stats and call them in after games. It shows the players you care. I’ve had interested college coaches call because of Maxpreps.”

He advises parents to not “bad mouth coaches” but instead call them aside and talk to them. “My practices are open and I will talk to any parent.” He said also that he’s always willing to cooperate with the media. In the 1980’s, he negotiated a TV contract whereby all Cajon home games were broadcast ed on public access. Speaking of broadcasting, Cajon will also be losing Lehman as its football public address announcer, a position he has also held for 34 years.

He thinks most kids want to stay in their own neighborhood to play sports in high school and tries to create an atmosphere that keeps them local. “Kids that play for me get to play in big tournaments and get to visit faraway places. We play an annual practice game at Staples Center before the Los Angeles Sparks game. We also provide the team plenty of food,” said Lehman. “He makes us feel so welcome as players and is such a generous person,” added Caitlyn Sauceda.

What does Lehman recommend to young coaches: Learn about mental toughness; study about working with teens; and go to clinics and camps. “Your goal as a coach should be to develop your players and yourself to the next level by learning from others and surrounding them with quality people. I’ve always admired the coaches who stay at one school even if they don’t win. I’ve stayed so long at Cajon cause I fell in love with our students, staff, and community.”

What will he miss: “Players coming into my office and saying, ‘Hi coach. How ya doing.”

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