Coach who couldn't read working on second master's degree
Craig — As you walk down the hallways of Ridgeview Elementary School, children no taller than your waist hustle about, chatting with friends on the way to their next class.
Towering above them is physical education teacher Matt Ray.
Ray stands 6 feet 7 inches tall.
He isn’t required to dress the way of most other teachers because of what he teaches.
He wears windbreaker pants, sneakers and a T-shirt as his long strides take him down the hallways much faster than most, but he’s not in a hurry.
In fact, Ray is taking his time.
Time to be with his family.
Time to teach and coach.
Time to keep up his education.
Ray started slow in school. He only began to read in the sixth grade.
But now, the teacher, coach, husband and father of four is making up for lost time.
Ray is the man behind the scenes. He is the high school’s junior varsity basketball coach and freshman football coach.
He is the man behind the man at the varsity level of girl’s basketball, as the assistant to 30-year Bulldog girl’s basketball head coach Craig Mortensen, who gets all the credit and recognition from a team that has produced 102 victories the past five years. But what many don’t see is his dedicated assistant putting in the grunt work of a championship-caliber team.
Mortensen knows what Ray brings to the table daily. He should – he coached Ray for four years.
“Matt is a great coach,” Mortensen said. “He does anything I ask. He’s that off-the-seat-of-your-pants type guy. He’s willing to do whatever.”
He was willing to do whatever at a young age, too.
As a 12-year-old student, Ray couldn’t read.
He tried tutors, extra time after class and sought help from teachers.
“It wasn’t clicking for me until late in the sixth grade,” he said. “I eventually caught on and learned.”
In high school, Ray played, or attempted to play, basketball for Mortensen, then the boy’s head coach.
“I almost cut him his first year,” Mortensen said. “He ended up being our 12th man. By his junior year, he was starting on varsity. He worked hard to improve.”
Ray’s hard work wouldn’t go unnoticed by other coaches, namely those at the college level.
Ray got an invitation to attend Central Christian Junior College in Kansas.
A boy who couldn’t read five years before was a man going to college.
Being cut from the team wasn’t in his plans, but earning a spot on the baseball team wasn’t, either.
“The baseball coach saw me playing catch with a buddy of mine who was on the team,” he said with a laugh. “He said ‘Jeez, boy, you got to come out for the team,’ so I did.”
Ray’s fastball was clocked in the low 90’s, which catapulted him to the No. 2 spot in the pitching rotation.
Baseball was fun, but basketball was in his blood.
He transferred to Spring Arbor University in Michigan to play out the three years of basketball eligibility he had remaining.
He met his eventual wife and the mother of his four children, Michelle, in Michigan and the pair moved back to Craig, diploma in hand.
The boy who couldn’t read was now a man with a bachelor’s degree.
But, Ray was not done learning.
He took a coaching position in Hayden, where he said he learned the most about coaching.
“It was a big eye-opener for me,” he said. “I just assumed kids wanted to play. I found out reality was much different.”
Ray’s family moved to Craig when he was 2 years old, so he grew up here.
He wanted to be part of the school that was a big part of him. He wanted to give back to the school that gave him the opportunity to excel.
Ray joined the Moffat County High School coaching staff five years ago and he’s not looking back.
He’s still learning.
Ray earned his first master’s degree in technology a few years ago, and the 34-year-old is now working on his second master’s, this one in leadership.
He spends his days teaching children at Ridgeview, his evenings working on post moves and his nights in front of the computer, continuing his education.
“If you are looking for a true success story,” Mortensen said, “Matt is it. He’s really persevered over time. He’s a quality person who has really proved he can get it done.”
From a youth who couldn’t read and was almost cut from the basketball team to a man who went to college on a basketball scholarship and has earned a masters degree, Ray has accomplished what he calls “the dream.”
“If you really set your mind to it, you can accomplish anything,” he said. “It takes a lot of hard work to get where you want, but if you make the necessary sacrifices, it all pays off in the end.”
John Vandelinder can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 211, or firstname.lastname@example.org
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