By Kyle Daubs

Lacey Fuller hated 6 a.m. practices. 

It was way too early in the morning. Like most students her age, Fuller wasn’t ready to start her day yet. However, she knew she would have fun when varsity dance coach Mary Buchar made a grand entrance, yelling: “Hello, beautiful women!” 

“Every 6 a.m. practice during the summer, she would walk in, and you knew she was there because she was going to yell that right across the gym,” said Fuller, part of a third-place state team in 2011. “Who else is that happy at 6 a.m.?”

Fuller laughs about it today.

The longtime coach has always been excited to start her morning off with dance practice.

After 35 years a teacher and a coach, Buchar is retiring. 

“It’s just time,” said Buchar. “Time for me to move on and do something else. I’m 65 and I want to enjoy other things out there. I love what I do, but five years ago it was recommended that once I have 35 years, that is when it is time to retire.”

Despite loving what she does, Buchar laughed at the notion of teaching after her 35 years. She said that there are some teachers out there who never quit, like her late dear friend Nell Wiseman, but “that was just not going to be me.”

Buchar started teaching full-time in the district in 1990. Before that, she had subbed in 1985 and coached elsewhere. Before joining the Charleston district, she had danced in high school and coached middle school dance in Danville while in college. She missed coaching dance once she came down to Coles County so she told CHS principal Dean Tucker that she’d interested, if the position became available.

One day, Tucker took her up on that offer. Buchar began coaching the dance team in the fall of 1988. The team became recognized by the IHSA in 1990. Since then, Buchar has guided a dance team to the state competition in every season except one. 

“That one season we didn’t make it was heartbreaking,” said Buchar. “Now, I am just thrilled that we get to go compete. The competition is incredibly tough and there are phenomenal teams all over the state.”

Buchar owns many top-3 finishes over the years, but the best finish was in 1998 when the varsity team captured the state championship. 

“It’s hard to explain the feeling,” said Buchar. “All the hard work came together for that year, I guess. There are other years that I think we should have won, but we didn’t. We have had so many teams with great kids over the years. I have been blessed with a group of kids and parents that have been very supportive. We have always been hard-working kids.”

Fuller, now an assistant coach, credits Buchar for her ability to get the best out of students.

“She genuinely cares about each team and the kids who are on it,” said Fuller. “Each team has different kids, but she will treat each girl or boy as her own child. She wants to get to know you on a personal, academic and athletic level. She has this way to be your coach, but also be that person that you can talk to if something is going on at home. She’s everything to these kids. To me, it’s like she is a second mom.”

Fuller said that those on the outside underestimate how much time Buchar puts into the sport –from scheduling, parent communication, parades, fundraising and “keeping everything on track.”

“I think seeing her on the coach’s side has made me appreciate her even more because of how much she puts into this,” said Fuller. “I don’t think people realize how much time she puts into it. Basketball games, performances, football season. She has everything down to the exact detail, and it’s amazing.”

On top of that, Buchar has taken seven teams to the national championships. Over time, Buchar said that dance has changed a great deal.

“The technique and style have changed over the years, and I just love everything about it,” said Buchar. “Dance is a wonderful avenue for boys and girls to express themselves. There are so many benefits for kids to be a part of a school activity no matter what it is. Colleges are offering dance scholarships. It’s just a great way for people to be involved in something really good all the way around.”

Buchar also coached track for 12 years. She estimates that she has coached more than 1,000 students. This last group of kids recently qualified for the state tournament and will compete next weekend. 

“This was a nice team to go out with,” said Buchar. “COVID made it a rough year for athletes in the state, but these kids hung with the program. Hung with me. I’m glad we made it. That weekend was just a great weekend for Charleston.”

Buchar said she plans to volunteer although she hasn’t decided where. She might even sub for classes. But she wants to keep things wide open for now. After all, she hasn’t had this much time on her hands before. 

Buchar said that she said the emotions probably won’t hit until the banquet at the end of the season, but she admits she has gotten a little teary-eyed during parts of the season. 

“I’ll look at them and feel the tears in my eyes and I just have to say go away because we’re still in season,” said Buchar. “I’m not done yet, but I know the tears will come.”

Buchar said she hasn’t dwelled on who will take over, but she wishes the best for whomever replaces her. 

Fuller said that seven coaches could potentially take her spot altogether.  But, she noted, there’s only one Mary Buchar. 

“In my opinion, I don’t think anyone can fill her shoes,” said Fuller. “I have faith that whoever takes over will have a smooth transition. The program she has built will, hopefully, be taken to the next level, but you can’t replace her. She is absolutely one of a kind. She will be very missed.”

The dance season will officially end Thursday Feb. 17 when Charleston plays host to Mattoon on Senior Night. After that, it will be the end of a long legacy. 

That night, instead of a hello, it will be goodbye to beautiful ladies. 

“I have told the girls,” Fuller said, “‘You laugh now, but one day, you are going to really appreciate it one day.’”