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After 13 seasons, 266 wins and a lifetime of memories, April Arvan is finally getting around to the career she went to college for in the first place.
Arvan announced March 5th she is leaving her post as Lakeland College's head women's basketball coach to become a full-time faculty member and a leader in Lakeland's new fitness and sports studies major.
"I knew there would be an end to the coaching aspect, I just did not anticipate it would be this soon," said Arvan, 39, a 1993 Lakeland graduate. "I'm going into something I fully love, and I'm excited for the challenge. But there are still basketballs bouncing through my veins, and when I left coaching I thought they would just be floating around. Right now they're still bouncing.
"I'm at peace with what we've accomplished, but the coach in me still wants to slap the floor and improve on last season."
Known for her endless enthusiasm, strong character and infectious passion, Arvan steps aside with a resume that will stand among the most impressive in Lakeland athletic history:
• Five trips to the NCAA Division III tournament, the first NCAA Tournament win in Lakeland history (2002) and the first at-large NCAA Tournament berth in Lakeland and Lake Michigan Conference history (1999).
• A career winning percentage of .760 overall and .823 in conference play. She entered this season 14th in the nation in winning percentage among active NCAA Division III coaches.
• Lakeland's all-time wins leader in women's basketball with an overall record of 266-84, an average of 20.5 wins per season, and seven 20-win seasons in her 13 years.
• A total of eight regular season conference titles and a 144-31 record in league play, along with six conference tournament titles.
• Six Conference Coach of the Year awards from her peers.
Arvan's announcement comes just a few weeks after Lakeland's faculty formally approved a new fitness and sports studies major, which allows students to select either a fitness or sports emphasis track. Arvan will champion the sports emphasis portion of the program, teach four classes a semester and serve as academic adviser for students in the program.
"Teaching is the highlight of my day," said Arvan, who has taught math courses at Lakeland throughout her tenure as basketball coach. "I love being in the classroom. I love the interaction with the students, and I love the learning process.
"Then at the end of the day, I love being on the basketball court. I love my players, I love our alumni and I love the staff. I love the competition. If I had 48 hours in one day, and if my body permitted, I would serve in both roles."
Her announcement comes after her most trying year of dealing with Multiple Sclerosis, a neurological disease that affects the central nervous system that she was diagnosed with in 1999.
"I don't want to be a victim of MS, but there are a lot of things I can't control," Arvan said. "When it hits, it hits, and sometimes it hits pretty hard. This season it hit pretty hard. I know now I need to start respecting what my body has been telling me over the past few years. And my body gave me a big shout out for quite a few weeks this season to take a step aside.
"I'm a firm believer in God's path. Everything all came together with the added challenges of my health, to this curriculum being developed and approved, to the college needing someone to champion this major."
By the beginning of this summer, Arvan will be a quarter of the way through a doctorate in education with a sports leadership emphasis through Northcentral University in Prescott, Ariz. She will continue in her roles as an assistant athletic director and senior women's administrator at Lakeland.
A native of Hartland, Wis., Arvan earned All-State recognition while playing two seasons at UW-Waukesha before transferring to Lakeland, where she played from 1989-91. She was honorable mention All-Lake Michigan Conference her senior season. She served as an assistant at Lakeland for three years under current assistant coach and Athletic Director Jane Bouche, before being named head coach for the 1994-95 season.
Lakeland President Stephen Gould said Arvan has carved her own special niche at Lakeland both on and off the court.
"Very few people in the history of Lakeland College athletics have done more to preserve and perpetuate the Lakeland traditions of excellence and pride than April Arvan," Gould said. "I'm very pleased that although her head coaching career is ending, her career as a teacher, mentor and role model at Lakeland is not."
Bouche, who was Arvan's head coach when she was a player for the Muskies, recalls talking with Arvan about serving as head coach and finding her initially reluctant.
"She's accomplished so much in such a short period of time," Bouche said. "The wins and the NCAA appearances are part of it, but April is an important part of this campus, a leader and a role model that doesn't stop with her players.
"A lot of people have seen what April can do on the basketball court, but I know what she can do in the classroom. That same demeanor that made her a successful coach helps her create an environment in the classroom that gets students excited about learning. The loss for our basketball players and our program is that much of a gain for our students and our academic program."
Arvan graduated with a bachelor's degree in secondary education, then earned her Master of Education from Lakeland in 1995. But when she took the reins of the women's basketball program in 1994, she admits she had a lot to learn.
"I was trained to be a teacher in college, and that's what I anticipated I would be doing," Arvan said. "The basketball court turned into a classroom for me, and I had to learn how to coach. I stole a lot of stuff. I watched other people do what they were doing. I was in every gym I could be in watching games, attended every clinic I could learning whatever I could and watching every film I could watch."
A search for Lakeland's new head women's basketball coach will begin immediately. Arvan will continue to lead the program until a new head coach is named, including leading the team on a Spring Break trip to London, England, which begins this week.
"A lot of times, when there is a change in the head coach, the search process leaves the program drifting for several weeks or even months," Arvan said. "That's not happening here. I'm still going to be here, and our staff is still here. We return the nucleus of our players for next season, and they're all excited to get right back at it.
"The various off-season activities we have planned are all still happening. Just because I have stepped aside, that doesn't mean things will suffer. I hope people will understand the best days of this program are ahead."
Arvan knows some will look at Lakeland's 15-11 finish this past season (12-7 in the Northern Athletics Conference), which included the most losses overall and in conference in her 13 years, and assume it played a role in her decision. Not only did it not play a role, she said, but it serves as a prime motivator to return.
"Every deep-rooted coach knows this is the year you want to come back and get after it and get back to No. 1," Arvan said. "I look at the number of returnees we had and the large number of freshmen and the very tough conference schedule, and it may have been one of our best years. Our team could have easily finished under .500. I'm as proud of this team as I am any other team."
As for the future and basketball, Arvan isn't closing any doors. She's ready to be an assistant coach for the Muskies, an off-court consultant, an overqualified manager or the biggest Super Fan a team could ever hope to have. She's hoping to play a role in the search for her successor in a way that's "non-threatening and welcoming."
"The person coming into this position will have the best job in America," Arvan said. "It's not about who fills April Arvan's shoes. It's a job with the best alumni, the best returning players and the best staff.
"The best interest of the Lakeland's women's basketball program is extremely important to me. But I'm not going anywhere - I'm still going to be here. If I can contribute in any capacity I will gladly do it."