Sports first came into Richard Wildenhaus’ life in the form of a ball and bat.
Before he was the athletic director at Moffat County High School, the 31-year-old from Dayton, Ohio played baseball for Wilmington College in the 1990s.
After his freshman season, Wildenhaus was faced with a common yet difficult injury — he needed Tommy John surgery to replace a tendon in his elbow.
“I am a bad patient and I am way too active to be pinned down,” he said. “I was not willing to go through the rehab and I knew I wasn’t going to make the majors, so I decided not to have the surgery.
Because baseball was no longer a viable option, Wildenhaus said he decided to move to Hilton Head Island, S.C., in 1998.
The first major move of his life led him to something bigger than sports and beaches — his wife and a path to a career in athletic administration.
“I stayed in South Carolina for four years as a beach patrol supervisor,” Wildenhaus said. “That is where I met my wife (Colleen) and we got married there on Hilton Head Island.”
Family and career led the couple around the country and eventually to Craig, where they continue to raise their two children and weave into the small-town community.
The trip, however, had another important stop.
Colleen, 31, who is also from Ohio and currently a kindergarten teacher at Sandrock Elementary School, said the she didn’t meet Wildenhaus until they worked near each other in South Carolina.
“It is a small island and everyone knows a lot of people,” she said. “We dated for about two years and then got married, but we never met while in Ohio.”
Being marrying, Wildenhaus said he and his wife decided they wanted to buy a house and knew the housing market in the West was in good shape in 2003.
In addition, he said he was at a point where he wanted to finish his degree.
“My wife is a teacher and I wanted to finish my degree, so I started at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas,” Wildenhaus said. “I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in physical education and health.”
Wildenhaus said his first athletic director job was in Las Vegas as an assistant.
After earning his master’s degree in athletic administration, it was time for a head athletic director job, he said.
“My wife and I had friends and family in Colorado and we always wanted to move here,” he said. “We went to a job fair in Greeley in March (2009) and I met a representative from the Moffat County School District.
“It was more of a face-to-face, get to know you kind of interview.”
Wildenhaus said he and Colleen, who was looking for a kindergarten teaching job, returned in May for formal interviews.
The two took in the local environment and people while in Craig, and then headed back to their home in Las Vegas.
“We got a call and they offered me the job,” he said. “I didn’t take it right away because I wanted to see if it was a good fit for me and my family, but I thought we could be happy here.”
While South Carolina and Las Vegas were tourist areas and had numerous options for entertainment, Wildenhaus said the time came in both places to pack it up.
“On Hilton Head Island, I mostly surfed, worked and played beach volleyball,” he said. “That was great at the time, but there wasn’t much opportunity for education.
Las Vegas had a very fast-paced lifestyle and we were ready to be done with that.”
Colleen said moving to a small town has been a good transition.
“It is hard sometimes because you feel isolated and there is no Target,” she said. “But, we have gotten to know a lot of people and we enjoy the slow pace of life.”
‘Sense of community pride’
One of the biggest draws of his job at MCHS thus far has been the school pride, Wildenhaus said.
“Las Vegas was a transient community and school pride was hard to get,” he said. “Within 10 miles there were four different schools with 2,500 to 3,000 students in each and many kids went from school to school.
“In Craig, there is a sense of community pride.”
In his first year at MCHS, Wildenhaus taught three physical education classes. Now in his second year, the AD is also the dean of students.
“I work with the senior class a lot, but I also see students who get in trouble,” he said. “My goal is to take the kids who get in trouble and help them turn it into a positive learning experience. I want them to see the importance of their actions and move forward with positive decision making.”
Positivity, Wildenhaus said, is a big perk of the job.
“Things happen and there are issues, but for the most part I deal with positive interactions,” he said. “The kids enjoy what they do and the coaches enjoy what they do. The teachers support the athletes and help them get it done in the classroom as a student.”
Wildenhaus said success at MCHS is not measured by wins and losses, but by how student athletes come out of the program.
“We have great coaches who put their hearts and souls into their program,” he said. “We love success, but the success of the kids we take out of the program is what is most important.”
Wildenhaus said he views sporting events at the high school as entertainment for the community.
“People can come to a football game, pay $5, and enjoy two-and-a-half hours of good, competitive football,” he said. “Craig has a different feel, and I think sports, students and school and community pride are more important here.”
Because his job requires working with every sport, sometimes he doesn’t get to see his family that often, Wildenhaus said.
Sporting events at the school also help provide opportunities to spend time with his family.
“Sometimes the games are the little time I get to spend with my kids and I enjoy that,” he said. “I know my son would rather come watch a basketball game in the gym with me than be at the park.”
Matt Ray, MCHS girls varsity basketball coach, said he recognizes all the extra time Wildenhaus puts into his job that takes him away from his family.
Ray filled in as interim AD before Wildenhaus took over.
“Rich is a guy who wants to be here,” Ray said. “When I was athletic director, I was just filling a hole because they had no one, but you can tell this is the job that he wants to be doing.”
Wildenhaus is not afraid to stick up for the sports teams, Ray said, and always tries to do what’s in the best interest of the programs.
“At school board meetings, Rich will go to bat for us,” he said. “He understands there are budget cuts, but he fights for everything we have.
“He wants us as coaches to be the best and our teams to do the best.”
Ray said Wildenhaus has incorporated camps and clinics to help the teams and is supportive during the season.
“(Wildenhaus) has done a great job and has a passion for what he does,” he said. “I hope to see him stick around for awhile.”
Craig has been one of many stops in Wildenhaus’ life, but, after nearly two years of living in Colorado, he said he hopes his current home is his long-lasting one.
“My family has adapted well and we want to look into purchasing a house,” he said. “We want to set our roots down here.”
Fitting in hasn’t been a problem for the Wildenhaus family, including 5-year-old Julia and 3-year-old Ryan.
“(Julia) is in kindergarten and she enjoys her classes,” Wildenhaus said. “Ryan will start pre-school next year and that is exciting.”
While school is a big part of the family’s life, Wildenhaus said when summer rolls around, they pack up their camper and head out of town.
“Last summer we took a tour of Colorado,” he said. “We hike a lot and in the winter we sled. We are not much of skiers, but next winter we hope to try and get our kids on skis.”
Colleen said the house they live in now has a backyard, something their house in Las Vegas didn’t.
“I think our kids really enjoy playing in the backyard,” she said. “When we came here, they got to play in the snow for the first time.”
Diamond to pavement
While competitive baseball has taken a backseat, running has filled its place for Wildenhaus.
He said he is training for a half-marathon June 5 in Steamboat Springs and the Denver Marathon on Oct. 9.
“Basically, my training regiment consists of running five days a week and eating well,” he said. “I’m on a training schedule that keeps me focused.”
His competitive nature, especially with himself, is what got him training for the marathons, Wildenhaus said.
“Once I set my mind to something, I go for it 100 percent,” he said. “I am not competing against the other runners, I am competing against myself and the clock.
“I am not a world-class runner by any stretch, just a guy with a goal and a will to compete.”
Life outside of sporting events and games doesn’t come without its difficulties however, Wildenhaus concedes.
In the looming talks of budget cuts in the school district, teachers may be re-assigned or let go entirely.
“There have been some sleepless nights,” he said. “But, we are confident things will work out and we will continue to be here.”
Another dilemma Wildenhaus said his family faces is the housing market they once considered to be “booming.”
The family still owns the house they lived in while in Las Vegas, renting it out.
“Our equity is tied up (in Las Vegas) so it is difficult to make a purchase of a house here,” he said. “We have rented two different houses here and we cross our fingers that we can continue to live in the same house we are at now.
“We do want to own a house so we can make improvements like painting and landscape and just be able to make a house in Craig our own.”
Click here to have the print version of the Craig Daily Press delivered to your home.