Denver Christian coach Dick Katte wraps up his legendary career
Read more: Denver Christian coach Dick Katte wraps up his legendary career – The Denver Post http://www.denverpost.com/preps/ci_20096566#ixzz1ovUdtOzfIt was 1960 when Dick Katte and his college sweetheart, the woman who had become his wife after taking the initiative to ask him out on a date, decided to split the difference between their home states of Wisconsin and Washington and settle in Colorado. It seemed to be a logical place to begin their journey together after Katte got his master’s at Indiana University.
“It was right in the middle and we thought we’d start out there for five years,” said Katte, now 75. “It was a long five years.”
Katte was offered a teaching position at Denver Christian High School upon graduation from IU. Now, 52 years later, the Wisconsin native is putting the finishing touches on a legendary career.
He has made his presence felt well
beyond the corner of Evans Avenue and Pearl Street in south Denver. In announcing his retirement as Crusaders boys basketball coach to take effect after the season — Denver Christian will play in the Class 2A state quarterfinals Thursday — the icon is probably best known for his career marks of 48 years as head coach, seven state championships, an astronomical record of 873-233 and playing in a gymnasium already named after him. But Katte refuses to measure his success in a conventional manner.
“You see what happens; you never have a goal you want to reach, how long I wanted to teach, how long to coach, how many victories,” he said. “I just wanted to stay with my wife and kids as long as possible.”
His volume of awards is dwarfed by a seemingly immeasurable list of lives he has influenced.
Regis Jesuit boys basketball coach Ken Shaw, who is approaching four decades on the bench, was a standout senior at Merino in 1970. He was chosen for an all-star game. Guess who was his coach?
“I was aware of him and knew he was a very good basketball mind and a very strict disciplinarian,” Shaw said. “I have great respect for him and not just as a coach, but as a great man.”
Littleton coach Ray Van Heukelem played on Katte’s last junior varsity team and later served as a Crusaders assistant for nearly 30 years.
“Dick started out (his career) hardnosed; it was his way or you just left,” Van Heukelem said. “I have been amazed at how he adapted and changed without changing his basic beliefs. They’ve stayed the same. His approach has mellowed as his kids have needed it, and I think that’s what has led to his longevity.”
In addition to a basement full of awards — he said his favorite is The Denver Post’s Dave Sanders Colorado Coach Award, in honor of the Columbine teacher/coach who was murdered attempting to save others during the 1999 massacre — perhaps Katte’s most enduring legacy is the fondness his former
players have for him and what he meant to their careers.
Despite never coaching a Division I signee in 45 winning seasons, Katte oversaw a small-school dynasty that operates with efficiency and teamwork. He has coached dozens of sons of former players, as well as a few whose grandfathers played for him, including one of his own grandsons.
Greg LeFebre played for Katte on back-to-back title teams in 1982-83. His son, Austin, is a Crusaders senior this year.
“It will be something nice to share in the future, to look back on as we all share the memories,” Greg LeFebre said.
Jeff Mains, who holds the program’s single-game scoring record — 42 points in 1967 — has a grandson on the Crusaders C-level team. Katte, he said, “was like a father to me even though we’re only 12 years apart. He does it the right way, and I really feel he did it by getting a lot of guys going the right way in life.”
A lot of it almost never happened. Katte survived a brain aneurism in 1984 as well as a bout with intestinal cancer in 1993. The one significant worry he recalls is coming back from surgery after that aneurism. He remembers his wife, Lorraine, a nurse, telling him that of people in his condition, “a third die, a third have personality changes and a third are OK. I was very fortunate.”
Asked about changes he has seen in the game over the past 50 years, Katte said, “I say this humbly, but it is much more of a self-centered game rather than
He has not only endured, but thrived. He has been inducted into enough Halls of Fame to cover a mansion in Cherry Hills Village. He has served on local and national committees and boards, and worked to get Denver Christian and Metropolitan League members into the Colorado High School Activities Association. Until 1969, parochial schools weren’t welcome.
“I grew to know how important it was for a school to be affiliated with (the CHSAA),” Katte said. “We needed accreditation.”
Over the years, he was approached about multiple other coaching jobs. He refuses to name them as nothing was going to get him out of Denver Christian, now in its second year of 2A competition.
“And isn’t hindsight always 20-20?” he asked.
As for technical fouls, Katte estimates he has eight. He won’t acknowledge his most recent, about a decade ago, when he received one for having an incorrect roster in the official scorebook. Afterward, the referee said he “was almost too embarrassed to call it on him.”
Kent Denver coach Todd Schayes feels strong enough about Katte’s contributions to the sport to petition CHSAA to name the state Class 3A championship trophy after Katte. “He could have taken any team in any class and won with them,” Schayes said. “I get first dibs on asking him to be my assistant coach next year.”
Katte, who has taught mathematics for more than 50 years, said he has only one regret.
“I should have waited to say I was retiring until after the season,” he said. That, he said, would have deflected attention.
Katte has been asked to continue to help at school in all areas of mathematics next school year, according to principal Mark Swalley, and has enough interests, including golf, to keep him busy, as well as his family, which includes three daughters and a son.
His time to leave the sideline is coming, and he accepts it.
“I just keep saying to people that because I’ve recovered from two major surgeries, God has been faithful and I’ve been blessed. I really believe that,” he said.
“As long as I can help young people, that gives me fulfillment.”
Neil H. Devlin: 303-954-1714 or email@example.com
His approach has changed, but his success has not
Dick Katte’s year-by-year coaching record:
Denver Christian boys basketball coach Dick Katte has seven state championships and the Crusaders are playing for an eighth:
- 1970 — Class AA
- 1978 — Class AA
- 1980 — Class AA
- 1982 — Class AA
- 1983 — Class AA
- 2005 — Class 3A
- 2006 — Class 3A
Life and death
Dick Katte first walked in the doors of Denver Christian in 1960, a time of notable life and death:
- Jan. 4: Michael Stipe, lead singer, REM
- Feb. 19: Prince Andrew, Duke of York
- May 10: Bono, lead singer, U2
- May 14: Steve Williams, “Dr. Death,” pro wrestler
- June 28: John Elway, you know who he is
- June 22: Erin Brockovich, American activist
- Aug. 17: Sean Penn, American actor
- Aug. 24: Cal Ripken Jr., baseball hall-of-famer
- Nov. 11: Stanley Tucci, actor, film director
- Nov. 25: John F. Kennedy Jr., son of JFK
- Jan. 4: Albert Camus, French writer, Nobel Prize winner
- Jan. 25: Diana Barrymore, American state and film actress
- Feb. 29: Melvin Purvis, famed American lawman and Walter Yust, encyclopedia editor
- Apirl 24: Max von Laue, German physicist, Nobel Prixze laureate
- May 11: Frank Lloyd, film director
- Nov. 16: Clark Gable, American actor
Dick Katte timeline
1960: Dick Katte first walked through the doors of Denver Christian as a teacher and assistant coach. Also that year, Adolph Coors III, chairman of the board of the Coors Brewing Co., was kidnapped and later found murdered; Elvis Presley returned home from Germany, where he was on military duty for two years; John F. Kennedy was the president-elect; and the U.S. announced that 3,500 American soldiers would be sent to Vietnam, the beginning of the war.
1964: Katte took command of the Crusaders. Also that year, John Glenn, the first American to orbit Earth, resigned from the U.S. space program; the Beatles first appeared on the “Ed Sullivan Show;” the first Ford Mustang rolled off the assembly line; Merv Griffin’s game show — “Jeopardy!” — debuted on NBC with Art Fleming as its first host; the final Looney Tune cartoon was made; and the James Bond film “Goldfinger” began its run in U.S. theaters.
1970: Katte notched his 100th victory and led the Crusaders to their first state championship. Also that year, there was the My Lai massacre (the U.S. Army charged 14 officers with suppressing information related to the massacre); Diana Ross and the Supremes performed their farewell concert in Las Vegas; Black Sabbath’s debut album started heavy metal; four students at Kent State University in Ohio were killed and nine wounded by National Guardsmen during a protest against the incursion into Cambodia; and the Beatles released their 12th and final album, “Let It Be.”
1976: Katte notched his 200th victory. Also that year, the U.S. celebrated its bicentennial; Patty Hearst was found guilty of armed robbery; the first class of women arrived at the Naval Academy; IBM introduced the first laser printer; the Irish rock band U2 was formed; Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan and Pete Rose helped the Big Red Machine of Cincinnati sweep the New York Yankees in the World Series.
1978: Katte’s second state championship. Also that year, the Dallas Cowboys defeated the Broncos 27-10 in Super Bowl XII in New Orleans; Volkswagen became the second (after Rolls-Royce) non-American automobile manufacturer to open a plant in the U.S. and began production of the Rabbit; and serial killer David Berkowitz, “Son of Sam,” was sentenced to 365 years in prison.
1980: Katte’s third state championship and 300th victory. Also that year, the U.S. Olympic hockey team defeated the Soviet Union at Lake Placid en route to the gold medal; “Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back” was released; Pac-Man (the best-selling arcade game ever) was released; the Cable News Network (CNN) was launched; and former Beatle John Lennon, a peace activist, was murdered in New York.
1982: Katte’s fourth state championship. Also that year, Johnny Carson hosted the 54th Academy Awards (“Chariots of Fire” was selected best picture); the California football team pulled off “The Play” to beat John Elway and archrival Stanford, a zany 57-yard kickoff return that included several laterals as well as a scoring run through the Stanford band, which prematurely had come onto the field; Michael Jackson released “Thriller,” the No. 1 selling album of all time; and the “Blizzard of ’82” pounded Denver.
1983: Katte’s fifth state championship. Also that year, President Ronald Reagan proposed technology to intercept enemy missiles, dubbed by the media as “Star Wars;” McDonald’s introduced the McNugget; the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program was launched; and Chrysler started production on the first minivans, the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager.
1992: Katte notched his 500th victory. Also that year, President Geoge H.W. Bush was caught on television very ill and vomiting into the lap of Japanese Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa; Russia announced it would stop targeting U.S. cities with nuclear weapons; race riots occurred in Los Angeles after police officers were acquitted of beating Rodney King; Ruby Ridge standoff and killings; and Sinead O’Connor ripped up a picture of Pope John Paul II after performing on “Saturday Night Live.”
1998: Katte notched his 600th victory. Also that year, suspected “Unabomber” Theodore Kaczynski agreed to a guilty plea and accepted a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole; Google Inc., was founded in Menlo Park, Calif.; the Broncos, led by Elway and Terrell Davis, won the Super Bowl for the first time, a 31-24 victory over Green Bay in San Diego; notable deaths included tennis great Helen Wills Moody, baseball broadcaster Harry Caray, actor Jack Lord (Steve McGarrett on “Hawaii 5-0”) and ol’ Blue Eyes, Frank Sinatra.
2003: Katte notched his 700th victory, the state’s first coach to do so. Also that year, the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated during re-entry and killed all seven astronauts onboard; the Iraq War began; Dewey, the first deer cloned by scientists at Texas A&M, was born; and Saddam Hussein, former president of Iraq, was captured in Tikrit by the U.S. military.
2005: Katte’s first state championship in Class 3A. Also that year, the Provisional IRA issued a statement formally ordering an end to the armed campaign it pursued since 1969; Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, caused severe damage and killed at least 1,836 people; elsewhere, high-profile deaths included Navy SEAL Danny Dietz (formerly of Heritage High School), Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson and TV newsman Peter Jennings.
2006: Katte’s second repeat as state champions. Also that year, the 250th anniversary of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s birth; a 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck central Java in Indonesia; the SS Nomadic, the last floating link to Titanic, returned home to Belfast; and the world noted the passing of Coretta Scott King, American civil rights activist and wife of Martin Luther King Jr.
2008: Katte notched his 800th victory. Also that year, the price of petroleum hit $100 a barrel for the first time; Fidel Castro resigned as president of Cuba; swimmer Michael Phelps surpassed Mark Spitz in gold medals won at a single Olympics, winning eight at the Beijing Games; Barack Obama became the first African-American president-elect; noteworthy deaths included pinup girl Bettie Page, Jimi Hendrix drummer Mitch Mitchell, Bo Diddley and actor Paul Newman.
“I coached against him in the 1980 (Class) AA semifinals. We were up by three (points) with about a minute to go and they made a comeback. They nipped us by one. It’s one of those games that kind of haunts me to this day. But I’m glad to see he’s in good health and going out on top. To do what he has done for so long is unbelievable.” — Ken Shaw, Regis Jesuit coach, recalling when his Yuma team faced Katte’s Crusaders
“I think he’s just a young guy. He’s a special guy, he really is. And if more coaches would conduct themselves like he has, we’d be a lot better off.” — Bob Ottewill, former Colorado High School Activities Association commissioner
“You started to wonder if the guy would go on forever and too bad he can’t. I mean, if you know the guy, he’s got to be a saint. Think of the work he has done. He’s a great man and I really admire him.” — Guy Gibbs, former multisport prep coach and fellow college official
“He has set the standard for high school basketball in the state of Colorado.” — Rudy Carey, East coach
“I think the principles and things like that that he teachers are the same, the core values, what he teaches to the kids and what kids take away off the court. On the court, the game has changed since I played, it’s a little faster. Back when I played, if we gave up a baseline we were coming out of the game, you were going to hit the bench. Now, they force people to the baseline. But the basics of how he coaches and teaches are the same.” — Greg LeFebre, who was on Katte’s 1982-83 state championship teams
“We were spoiled. I laughed when we got to state and people were so excited. I said, ‘That’s what you’re supposed to do.’ With Katte, you just made it all the time. I said, ‘It’s pretty normal where I come from.’ ” — Brad Jansen, who has coached out of state and assists at Arapahoe, and played for Katte in the early 2000s
“He taught me life lessons, how to play basketball and many moments stand out … number one, in particular, in my sophomore year, we made the district final against Holy Family. It was a tough game, (the Tigers) beat us. And a couple of us stormed off the court before we were able to congratulate them. (Katte) lit into us, the few of us who took off before properly congratulating them. That was something I always had a part of me, win or lose, you always congratulate your opponent on what they’ve accomplished. He picked his moments, he knew how to let you know he was disappointed or didn’t like the choices you made.” — Mike Hartman, who played for Katte from 1996-98
“This says a lot about Dick and his staying power and teachability and the success he has had. He was such a good teacher.” — Steve Vriesman, a member of Katte’s 1976 title team
“It’s interesting. We’ve kind of wanted not to think about it. It’s not all about him, he wants it to be about us. He’s been making sure he keeps telling us that. That’s just who he is. He’s that kind of person. He wants it for the team.” — Austin LeFebre, Greg’s son and senior center on the Crusaders, on if they have talked about sending Katte out as a winner with his eighth state title
Compiled by Neil H. Devlin