Update: This story has been updated from its original version.
As Western's athletic director, Josh Larsh worked to develop a family mindset across the Panthers' 20 high school sports programs.
That makes it all the tougher for Larsh to say goodbye.
The well-respected athletic director is leaving Western to become Avon's new AD. Avon's school board approved his hiring Monday night.
"I've been at Western for 15 years, seven years as a teacher and the last eight years as the athletic director. Western has been a great place to me and there will always be a part of me that belongs to Western," he said. "But the opportunity to move on to Avon, which is one of the premier high schools in the state of Indiana, it was just something both personally and professionally that I couldn't pass up."
Avon has an enrollment of 3,095, which makes it the 10th largest school in the state. The Orioles play in the Hoosier Crossroads Conference, which has heavyweights like Brownsburg, Fishers, Hamilton Southeastern, Westfield and Zionsville.
Larsh, 41, said a friend who works at Avon encouraged him to apply when the position became open.
"The excitement of something new [was enticing] — not to say I was bored at Western, but you do get a little bit of that excitement of a new challenge. I'm really looking forward to it," he said.
Larsh starts July 1 at Avon.
"Avon picked a winner," Western baseball coach Ryan Berryman said. "Our coaches, athletes and families will miss Josh’s impact at Western.”
At Western, Larsh teamed with athletic secretary Debbie Wilson to handle a large workload. In addition to high school sports, Larsh also oversaw middle school sports. He seemingly was a fixture at many events throughout the school year. Unlike many similarly sized schools, Western does not have an assistant AD.
At Avon, Larsh will have a full-time assistant AD and two secretaries. He'll also have multiple supervision stipends at his disposal. Also, each of Avon's two middle schools has its own AD.
“Josh brings a wide-range of experiences where he has sharpened his communication, leadership and organizational skills,” Avon principal Matt Shockley said in a press release. “References spoke highly of Josh’s character, work ethic and ability to build relationships with student-athletes, coaches and parents.
"Under Josh’s leadership, Western’s programs had notable athletic accomplishments. He believes strongly in the value of education-based athletics, and I look forward to Josh’s leadership for years to come.”
Larsh's time at Western included the school's move to the Hoosier Conference after the Mid-Indiana Conference fell apart and several facility upgrades. There also were many team and individual accomplishments highlighted by the girls basketball team's Class 3A state title in 2014 and Tyler Gilbert's state discus titles in 2017 and '18.
But most of all, Larsh will remember the relationships he developed with coworkers and students past and present.
"When I got the job at Western, I always said I wanted an athletic family and I think we accomplished that," he said. "Debbie in the office has been instrumental. She's poured her heart into Western. She's been with me for all eight years."
Larsh also noted the commitment to the school of many others including former athletic secretary and reliable helper Susie Wells, athletic trainer Morgan Polston and trusty athletic grounds guy Jeff Galvan. Larsh said "the hardest part" of his decision was breaking the news to the coaches, many of whom he recruited.
"I'm a big relationship person so it's tough to tell them I'm moving on," he said.
Boys basketball coach Mike Lewis said Larsh is the right kind of leader.
"Josh was committed to improving the culture every day," Lewis said. "He was invested in coaches' professional development and athletes' performance and experience, but more importantly he cared about all of us as people first. He truly was a value builder.
"I’m grateful for the opportunity to learn from him and I’m certain the Avon community will benefit from his leadership."
Berryman, who preceded Larsh as the Panthers' AD, pointed to Larsh's leadership as something that Western will not easily replace. As an example, Berryman explained how Western's boys coaches share a common vision and mindset.
"You can count on one hand the number of schools in Indiana where all of their male coaches willingly share athletes, ideas and one mission. Outside of our athletic department, it probably goes unnoticed. Inside, it’s a luxury," Berrryman said. "Several of us have coached in other schools and have seen what conflict between programs creates. Josh did a great job allowing us all to have a voice while guiding us collectively."
Larsh thanked retiring superintendent Randy McCracken and former high school principal Rick Davis for giving him a shot eight years ago.
"They believed in a kid who didn't have a lot of experience but had a lot of energy, I guess. They saw something in me. Western allowed me to grow and they were always there to help me along and it's something I won't forget," he said.