When Belleville Township split into two schools in 1966, it was up to Lloyd Elmore to build an athletic program at the new East campus.
In short order, he hired a coaching staff, picked navy and Columbia blue as team colors, and worked with students on the now-familiar nickname.
Elmore, the original Belleville East Lancer, died Wednesday at Sycamore Village Assisted Living Center in Swansea. He was 84.
According to his son, Phil Elmore, the longtime educator had struggled “tremendously” with Alzheimer’s disease in recent years. Even throughout his decline, however, Elmore’s mind was never too far from the Lancers.
He was last on the East football field in the fall of 2017 to support his grandson, Stephen Elmore, on Senior Night. His second-to-last visit was in October 2016, when he served as honorary team captain for the Lancers’ 50th anniversary game against East St. Louis.
“The decline had started but when he stepped on that campus at East, he knew where he was and that it was Belleville East football,” Phil Elmore said. “Every encounter he had with an athlete meant something to him, whether it was a current player or a past player or even a player going back to his days at Township.
“It’s so automatic to go back to those days in his mind.”
Elmore was equally enthusiastic about his days at the University of Missouri, which he attended on a basketball scholarship and from where he earned his master’s degree in education.
He was a catcher for the Tigers’ 1954 baseball team, the only Mizzou squad to win a national championship. Norm Stewart, the longtime Missouri basketball coach and NCAA Hall of Famer, was a pitcher and first baseman on that team.
“If there was a basketball player in the metro-east who needed to hear about Mizzou, Norm and my dad would make a visit,” Phil Elmore said. “They continued to talk through the years.”
Jerry Turner, the last basketball coach to take Belleville Township to the state tournament and longtime West principal, also became acquainted with Elmore as a student at Mizzou. It was Turner who recruited Elmore away from Fredericktown, Mo. to be an assistant in Belleville.
Turner said Elmore patterned his style after legendary Oklahoma State coach Henry Iba, who emphasized defense in leading the Cowboys to a pair of NCAA Championships.
“He knew how to run an offense, too, but Lloyd was what we called an ‘Iba disciple’ because he stressed defense greatly,” Turner said. “Lloyd was a professional in every way and was absolutely the right guy to start the athletic program at East. Throughout his career, when East needed somebody to do a job and didn’t have the faculty on staff, Lloyd would step up and do it. He coached the sophomore (basketball) team at East all those years he also worked as the athletic director.
“This is a great loss to Belleville East and to the community.”
Even after resigning as athletic director, Elmore continued coaching as an assistant under Don Otness. It was Elmore who had hired Otness as the Lancers’ first basketball coach.
“He was in control of that athletic department and ran a fairly tight ship,” Otness said. “He worked well with the coaches, kept everybody on the same page and was very congenial as a person. Everybody seemed to get along with him. Then he coached the freshman team for me for many years.
This is a great loss to Belleville East and to the community.
“Lloyd had a great basketball mind and was a good fit for the program because he and I generally had the same philosophies.”
East basketball had a winning record by its second season and won 23 games with regional championships by years three and four. Under head coach Dean Renn, the football Lancers were winners from the start, averaging more than seven wins per season during its first 16 years.
“When he started the athletic program at East he was really in uncharted waters. We hadn’t ever had a school split in our area, so he was a pioneer,” Otness said. “But the success East experienced early on in all sports is truly a testament to Lloyd’s leadership. He did just a fantastic job.”
Phil Elmore said his dad’s greatest legacy will be the influence he had on countless student-athletes, including former East baseball coach Dennis Schutzenhoefer, who still works as a batting practice coach for the St. Louis Cardinals.
“I owe coach Elmore everything,” Schutzenhoefer had. “Back when we still all one school we had a 150 guys come out for baseball. I was just this little (kid) from a little Catholic school and got lost in the numbers. I was small and a painfully shy kid, and I always say that Coach saw something in me I didn’t know I had. By my sophomore year I had grown a little bit and was the starting shortstop.
“He gave me a lot of confidence and is one of those two or three people whose influence I couldn’t have made it without.”
Elmore served as president of the Illinois High School Athletic Directors Association and was inducted to its hall of fame. He also taught Drivers Education for 38 years.
According to his obituary, Elmore was born in Bushy Creek, Mo. as the youngest of six children. He was drawn to athletics at an early age but, even after breaking an arm in a high school football, was not excused from his chores around the farm.
He married the former Mary Englehart, a nursing student and drum major at Mizzou, in 1957. She survives him, as do the couple’s three children and six grandchildren.