MCHS hoops coach announces retirement |

MCHS hoops coach announces retirement

MCHS coaching mainstay Craig Mortensen calls it a career

Ben Bulkeley

Coach Craig Mortensen announced his retirement Wednesday from the Moffat County High School girls varsity basketball team. Mortensen said there wasn't one overriding reason why he is retiring, other than it was "just time" after more than 30 years coaching both the boys and girls hoops teams.
Ben Bulkeley

Craig Mortensen's résumé at Moffat County High School spans almost four decades, two programs and more than 500 wins, a more than successful career by any barometer.

On Wednesday, the veteran basketball coach called it a career.

Mortensen, who has been a head MCHS basketball coach since 1976, announced that the 2009-10 season was his last. He is retiring.

Moffat County High School girls varsity basketball coach Craig Mortensen goes over the game plan during a timeout in the fourth quarter of the state playoff opener Feb. 23 against John F. Kennedy High School. Mortensen announced Wednesday that he will retire as MCHS girls varsity basketball coach after more than 15 years as head coach. Mortensen's MCHS career spanned more than 30 years and 500 wins.File photo

"It was just time," he said. "There are no negatives, nothing has changed in my health or with my family. Everything is the same; I just felt that it was time."

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Mortensen's accomplishments at MCHS include 514 wins, 17 league titles, three Sweet 16s, two Great Eights and one Final Four appearance.

He became the MCHS boys varsity basketball coach in 1976 after coaching McClave High School for two seasons.

At the reigns of the MCHS boys squad, Mortensen racked up 263 wins against 135 losses.

In 1995, Mortensen made the switch to the girls program, where he won games at a .711 clip in 15 years. With the girls varsity team, Mortensen went 251-102.

This past season, the girls varsity basketball team went 12-13 and was eliminated in the second round of the state tournament by Centaurus High School.

Moffat County High School athletic director Richard Wildenhaus said he learned about Mortensen's decision Wednesday morning.

"It took me a couple of hours to take it all in," Wildenhaus said. "But we'll move on and continue to develop the program where he left off.

"It feels a little weird. He'll still definitely be around, but not as head coach."

The process for finding a new coach will start immediately, Wildenhaus said.

Wildenhaus only worked alongside Mortensen this past season, but the experience was invaluable, he said.

"His wisdom is contagious," Wildenhaus said. "It trickles down through the program."

Wildenhaus said Mortensen may be retiring but that his accomplishments won't be forgotten.

"He's a legend, not just here in Moffat County, but in the entire state," he said.

"He's been recognized by the state for his 500 wins and inevitably, the hall of fame. I consider myself lucky to have been able to work with someone of his caliber."

This winter, Mortensen will find himself on the sidelines — as a fan — for the first time in a long time, he said.

"It's been a lifestyle," he said. "I started playing organized ball in middle school and haven't been away since.

"This will be the first winter I haven't coached or played in long time."

But whether he is coaching or in the stands, Mortensen said one thing won't change.

"I will continue to be their biggest fan," he said. "I will always be their loudest cheerleader. I'll never stop rooting for them."

Mortensen thanked players, assistant coaches, the school district, parents and critics, who "you could always learn from," during an interview Wednesday.

But one of the most important groups during his time with the program were the fans, Mortensen said.

"There has always been a lot of support from the community," he said. "This truly is a great, great place. I learned early on that this is a good place."

Mortensen said the Craig community separated itself from other schools the team visited.

"Sometimes, when we go to a city school, there would only be 20 or 30 people in the stands," he said. "That was because those places don't have a community, like we have here. Our community has always turned out to support our kids."

Leaving coaching was a tough decision, Mortensen said.

"I think there is some sadness," he said. "It was a difficult decision. I still love the game, and I still love the kids. It's not easy for me.

"But I don't think I have any regrets."

Whoever inherits the MCHS girls basketball team will coach not only a good basketball team, but a likable group, Mortensen said.

"This is a fun group to work with and be around," he said. "There are a lot of good girls in this group.

"It will be a change. But I know they will continue to find success."

If there is one thing Mort-

ensen hopes his players take away from their time with him, it's that a solid work ethic can carry a team.

"Anything worthwhile takes effort," he said. "You always have to be able to deal with the ups and downs.

"Sports, like anything else in life, has its positives and negatives. You just can't get too high or too low, but you can always keep working."

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