By Dave Hanneman
The reign isn’t over. But the squires and knights will soon be lining up to see who will ascend the King’s throne.
Dick Kortokrax, the winningest coach in Ohio prep boys basketball history, submitted his resignation recently. The resignation was accepted by the Kalida Board of Education, but with a rare addendum. Kortokrax was granted a two-year supplemental contract, meaning he will remain as Kalida head coach through the 2008-09 school year.
Kortokrax has compiled as 745-304 career record at three Putnam County schools -- 26-18 in two years at Fort Jennings, 200-82 in 13 years at Ottoville and 519-204 in 31 years at Kalida.
Kortokrax guided Kalida to the Class A state championship in 1981. The Wildcats also went to state in 1980 and were Ohio’s Division IV runner-up in 1988.
Under Kortokrax, Kalida averaged almost 19 wins a season during the 1980s. That average dropped to 15 wins a season in the ‘90s. The program has really leveled off since the turn of the millennium. The Wildcats are under .500 (62-66) the last six years and last season’s 7-13 record was the school’s third losing record in four years.
Maybe it’s a sign of the times.
Kalida didn’t field a freshmen boys basketball team last season. You’d think a program with the history and tradition Kalida has would be turning kids away.
But three other non-football schools in the PCL, often mentioned a real basketball hotbed, couldn’t field a freshmen team either.
I’m sure we’ll hear the standard lines. Kids today feel that if they are not going to be one of the top six, seven or eight players on a team, why should they go through all the sweat and hard work to just sit the bench, especially when there’s a hundred other things they can be doing that they feel is more rewarding -- job, money, car, babes.
Some will claim Kortokrax was a relic (47 years as a coach) who could not adapt to today’s athletes.
I don’t know if I buy that. A good coach is a good coach whether it’s hoops or hockey and whether it’s 2050 or 1950.
Kortokrax has definitely been his own man, though. A staunch proponent of team play over individual recognition, he refused to give out stats for his players until after the season. He would share how many assists the team was averaging or how what the team’s free throw percentage was, but he would not divulge the scoring or rebounding averages of his top one or two players.
That was just his way.
I remember one year when Kalida was doing pretty well, but as soon as the tournament started Dick stopped talking to the media. If you wanted a comment after a game, you had to get it from someone else, usually assistant coach Bob Gerdeman. That move honked off a lot of media guys following the team. But I quickly learned that if you waited long enough and camped out in the right spot long enough and if you had a decent working relationship with Kortokrax, you could still pry a comment or two from the guy.
Some considered Kortokrax aloof, arrogant, distant.
Many, many years ago, I journeyed over to Kalida one morning to do a feature on Korto. He was Kalida’s principal at the time and after I arrived at the school I was ushered into his office. Things started well, but about 10 minutes into the interview Kortokrax fell silent, leaned back in his chair, and -- honest to God -- fell asleep. He was only out a minute or two, then he opened his eyes, snapped upright and we continued as if nothing at all had happened.
I was stunned. But I came to understand it a little better when, some time later, one of his sons explained how his dad often stayed up half the night breaking down film of his team and upcoming opponents.
Like any coach, Korotkrax’s career had its ups and downs. There was already a pretty good rivalry brewing before Kortokrax left Ottoville and began coaching Kalida in 1975. In the first few years after the move, that rivalry became INTENSE.
Despite his overall success at Kalida, there were efforts by some groups to oust him. Some parents didn’t like his style of coaching. Some didn’t think their kids were getting a fair shake.
But Kortokrax survived. He kept winning. And in the process he carved out a niche in Ohio prep basketball few can match.
For now, Kortokrax stands No.1 on the list for career wins. But the King may not get to hold that title much longer.
Long-time Kettering Alter Coach Joe Petrocelli has been gaining ground fast. Last year’s 21-3 season boosted his career record at the school to 740-255, and he enters the 2007-08 season just five wins shy of catching Kortokrax.
It should be one heckuva race.