Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Lamar Lussi, the Director of Encouragement at Providence Christian Academy, talks about the future athletic complext that was recently named in his honor. The 11-acre sports facility, funded through a $4.5 million capital campaign, will be named the Lamar Lussi Athletic Complex.
LILBURN -- Lamar Lussi used to keep an old swivel chair in a back corner of the gymnasium at Providence Christian Academy.
From the lofty perch, Lussi's voice boomed out, cheering on young athletes as they sprinted back and forth, his presence a mainstay of the gym as sure as staccato thuds of the basketball.
The school recently honored Lussi -- one of the school's most beloved longtime faculty members -- by naming a planned 11-acre sports facility in his honor.
Funded through the school's $4.5 million capital campaign, the announcement introducing the Lamar Lussi Athletic Complex came on the same night as his induction into the athletic department's Hall of Stars -- one of only nine people in the school's 21-year history to make the cut.
Officials at Providence said they wanted to show the 80-year-old "Director of Encouragement" some appreciation for all those years he's spent in their corner, both figuratively and cheering in the gymnasium, perched on the edge of his swivel chair.
Lussi refers to the apparatus as a "bank or cashier's type chair," upon which he spent two decades worth of fall and winter afternoons rooting for the boys' and girls' basketball teams.
Sporting plaid pants and a Dr. Seuss-style red- and white-striped hat, Lussi is hard to miss whether it's in the gym or walking the halls, hugging, shaking hands and handing out inspirational slips of paper that encourage young people to "have an awesome day and know that someone who thinks you're great has thought about you today."
It's such kindnesses that brought Lussi's name to the forefront as faculty and staff sought a namesake for the planned athletic complex.
"In addition to serving the student body, he has been the most regular supporter of our athletics," said Headmaster Jim Vaught. "He's been such a strong supporter, praying with the kids before the games, being kind of like a chaplain to them and encouraging them even to the point that some of our competition in the region has asked him to come and encourage them and speak and pray with their teams."
Lussi said he prays for athletes both on and off the field "just about every day, and I tell them that I will not pray for them to win -- and they understand that -- but I'll pray that they do their very best and be boys and girls of character and integrity."
The words are a theme in the all-caps notes he tapes to lockers around the school, and students said his words of encouragement are always appreciated.
Katie Scott, for instance, said he's been a welcome presence in her life since she was in kindergarten. Now an 18-year-old senior and varsity basketball player, Scott said she's grown accustomed to his smiles and "the life that he brings to this school."
During a reception honoring Lussi Nov. 30, other students as well as faculty and staff said that the enthusiasm he brings to Providence made their decision to dedicate the future athletic complex to him an easy one.
As director of encouragement -- a professional title created specifically for Lussi -- the man said he's the luckiest guy in the world.
"Can you imagine, at 80 years old, that I can wear these silly, stupid hats and wave and smile and be myself with all these people, and they keep me around for that?" he said with a laugh. "I'm going to keep doing this for a while. I figure I'm going to live to be 160, because I feel half dead now."
Like the jokes, the hats go hand in hand with the colorful character that is Lussi.
He boasts more than 240 lids, which line all four corners of his office in the high school building. They run the gamut, from fish to hamburgers to pink, polka-dotted squid hats. The striped "Cat in the Hat" clothing accessory was the one that started it all.
"One time, many years ago a girl gave me this Dr. Seuss hat," Lussi said. "I started wearing it around the school, then all of a sudden people starting bringing more and more of them to me."
Lussi said he hopes to wear each and every one of them at events in the athletics complex. While a groundbreaking date for the complex has not yet been set, the school plans construction of a multipurpose athletic field, running track and practice field.
Details of the complex were discussed Nov. 30 during Lussi's reception.
"In the past the board never named any building or complex after anyone," Lussi said. "Then, last Friday they honored me by choosing for me to be in the Hall of Fame. My wife said, 'Why are you in the hall of fame?' You don't play anything.'"
High School Principal Sean Chapman is glad to explain that the school's director of encouragement "more than anybody else in the history of the school" is worthy to be honored. "He makes you laugh, and you get a kick out of his sense of humor, but you find yourself wanting to emulate how he lives ... the joy he is able to give each and every student and the enthusiasm he brings," Chapman said.
Not one to break with tradition, the 80-year-old plans to attend an upcoming basketball tournament fundraiser Dec. 14 at the school. Lussi may even dust off his old swivel chair, he said.
"I was in that corner 18 or 19 years for every single game," he said. "But that's what I do. I'm there to support them, and not just physically, but to get in the dugout or out on the sidelines and give them devotionals and talk to them ... encourage them."
Added Lussi: "I'm blessed."