Sept. 20 not only marked the end of the Moffat County High School boys varsity golf season, but it also signaled the end of a 31-year era.
As the MCHS golfers trotted off the Rifle Creek Golf Course after the 4A Western Regional tournament, they were headed off as the last group to play under head coach Ken Harjes.
After 31 years coaching, Harjes will not return to the team in 2012.
“I have coached for many years and I was getting tired of the travel,” Harjes said. “It had nothing to do with the kids or the parents. Because of them I wanted to keep doing it. I just decided it was time.”
Harjes said he started contemplating resigning at the end of the 2010 season.
After a year of going back and forth, he said now was the right time to move forward with the decision.
A change of plans
When Harjes began his first year as a math teacher at MCHS in 1980, he said he always planned on becoming a coach for the Bulldogs.
However, it wasn’t golf that caught his eye, but football.
Still, when Phil Angelo and Gary Griffin, among others, approached him about starting a golf program at MCHS in 1981, he stepped up.
“Kids that were interested came to me and said if they had a coach the principal would approve a golf team,” he said. “My real love was football and I wanted to coach that, but there were no openings at that time.
“I figured I would coach golf for a couple years and get back to football.”
Harjes had coaching experience, from football to wrestling to track, but was limited in golf after only playing a little in high school and in his free time.
Right out of the gate, the program encountered its’ first problem.
“Our first tournament was in Grand Junction and as we pulled in, the Grand Junction coach met me in the parking lot and asked me who I was and what I was doing there,” he said. “I found out no one informed them we were coming.
The Bulldogs were eventually able to play in the tournament, but Harjes said the Grand Junction coach was the first of many Western Slope coaches to help him in the early years.
From Durango to Delta, he said he received help and made friends with his fellow coaches.
“Our first year we did really well,” Harjes said. “Phil and Gary were talented and that is why they pushed to have the program so much.”
At the time, only 12 high school golf teams resided on the Western Slope.
There were no divisions and everyone competed against each other from all over the state.
Now, 31 years later, there are more than 20 teams on the Western Slope alone.
Harjes eventually received the call he was waiting for, but decided to stick with his new hobby instead.
“I was offered a football coaching position a little later and I turned it down,” he said. “I would not have changed anything and I have no regrets sticking with golf.”
The tradition continues
In the first few years of the MCHS golf program, the team was co-ed.
From 1984 to 1987, only two girls played on the team, including Ann Marie Roberts.
In 2004, Roberts returned to Moffat County and took over the MCHS girls varsity golf team.
Throughout the years, she said she has tried to incorporate ways Harjes coached her team.
“Back then we were a tighter group and we had so much fun,” Roberts said. “As a coach, I try to do the same thing with my girls. I want the coaches and the girls to be a tight unit.”
Roberts said very few people love and respect the game of golf like Harjes.
That lesson, Roberts said, she not only took to her team, but to her life in general.
“At practice, he taught us to respect the game because of the way he loved and respected the game,” she said. “We worked on our game, but it wasn’t something we didn’t look forward to. I tried to carry that with everything, like looking forward to going to work.”
Last season, Roberts welcomed a new freshman to her team — Caitlin Harjes.
Coaching Harjes’ daughter and the rest of the girls, Roberts said she has learned even more about what Harjes went through when she was a player.
“I respect him even more for what he went through as a coach,” she said. “As a kid, he was the coach and we had fun, but now I am a coach and I know how much work goes into it.”
As Harjes steps down, Roberts said his impact could be seen by the success in both the boys and girls teams.
“He started a program that is now worth something at the school,” she said. “He kept it going all these years and he is going to be missed.
“I thank him for his time and effort. He did something great for so many kids and affected a lot of lives.”
Ups and downs
Harjes said his greatest accomplishment as a coach came 15 years ago.
In 1996, his players won the regional golf tournament on their home course, Yampa Valley Golf Course.
It was the only year the Bulldogs have won a regional tournament as a team.
The tournament was close —the top four teams were only separated by three strokes — but the play of Nathan Winn pushed MCHS to the top.
Winn won the tournament with a 72.
“I’ve had many highlights from many different teams, but winning the regional tournament was big,” he said. “Some years you have a few good players and some years you don’t, but we had a really good team that year.”
The team also included Nick Bomba and Scott Kitchen, both who have racked up numerous awards in tournaments at Yampa Valley Golf Course.
Harjes’ final year may not have been as successful, but MCHS senior Colby Haddan said it was just as memorable.
“In his last year we had a good year, but I felt disappointed because we thought we would have played better than we did,” Haddan said. “It was a fun four years and I learned a lot from him about how to be a better golfer and a better person.
“I think the program is going to miss his old-school style of coaching because he is a veteran of coaching and everyone at all the tournaments knew how he was and how he was going to do things.”
Before the regional tournament began Sept. 20, all the Western Slope coaches and players gathered for dinner and awards.
Because of his contributions and success to Western Slope golf, Harjes was given the 4A Western Slope coach of the year award.
The Bulldogs sat in the back of the room, and as everyone rose to their feet for a standing ovation, Harjes said the time it took to walk from the back to the front to receive his award was used to compose himself.
“I think I have been fair to the kids I have coached,” he said. “I’m sure I have made mistakes here and there, but I always tried to be fair to them. I wanted to teach them to be good people and the game of golf helps.
“I hope I was not only able to teach them golf, but also give them a better perspective on life and help create better people.”
Harjes said he wouldn’t be completely done with the MCHS golf program, as he plans to follow his daughter as she enters her sophomore year.
As for the future of the boys team, Harjes said he would like to see his assistant of two years, Casey Kilpatrick, take over.
“When I was debating, I wanted to make sure the program didn’t go by the wayside,” he said. “I wanted to make sure people would step in and do a bang up job.”
Even after submitting his resignation letter about a month ago, MCHS Athletic Director Jeff Simon told Harjes he would put his letter in a drawer in case the long-time coach changed his mind.
However, when the emotions settled and the last Bulldogs’ golfer walked off the course Sept. 20, Harjes had made his decision.
Now, he’ll move onto another passion — fishing.
“I just bought a new boat last year and August and September are the best months to be out there fishing,” he said. “It’s going to be hard come next fall. I’m going to miss this. I’m really going to miss it.”
Joshua Gordon can be reached at 875-1795 or at email@example.com.
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