Aspen’s ‘Coach K’ steps away from bench |

Aspen’s ‘Coach K’ steps away from bench

Dale Strode
The Aspen Times
Former Aspen High School boys basketball coach Steve Ketchum will return to the sidelines next season as the head coach at Ponderosa High School in Parker, a Class 4A school in the elite Class 5A/4A Continental League.
Leah Moriarty / Special to The Aspen Times |

The sidelines in high school gyms across Colorado — from Aspen to Craig, to Brush and beyond — will not be the same.

Aspen High School head coach Steve Ketchum, the longest-serving boys basketball coach in the region, is stepping away from the bench.

Oh, he’s not stepping away from basketball. Or Aspen.

He’s instead turning his full attention to his family team — the Ketchums.

“I spent 31 years of my life pouring myself into other people’s kids, particularly at the high school level,” Ketchum said Friday as he announced his resignation after 16 years as the Aspen boys head coach. “This has been a passion of mine. I’ve been able to help them realize their goals and dreams.”

Now, he said, it’s time to shift gears and focus on his growing family.

“My own children need me more right now,” said Ketchum. “I can tell. They need me. This is now my most important team.”

Ketchum, 55, and his wife Mardi have five adopted sons, from eighth grade to third grade.

CJ is an eighth-grader; King and Cory are in seventh grade; Rocky is a fourth-grader; and Dre is a third-grader.

“My wife has had to do it all,” Ketchum said of his wife Mardi. They two also have two grown children from Mardi’s previous marriage.

He said that during basketball season, including long trips all across Colorado, his wife has had to manage the five sons at home — and all of their activities.

“I can help by being there with them,” Ketchum said. “After careful consideration, it’s a perfect time for me to move on to focus on my family.”

He said he’s enjoyed his 16 years coaching in Aspen.

“I am extremely grateful for the last 16 wonderful years. We’ve had tremendous success,” he said. “I’ve loved coaching here through the years.”

Mardi Ketchum, too, shared in the Aspen High School basketball experience with her husband.

“I am just so proud of Steve and all the he has accomplished while coaching in Aspen,” Mardi Ketchum said.

The two met during his first year coaching here.

“ I had two sons that played for him, and we started dating two years later,” Mardi said. “We got married 11 years ago and started adopting kids.“

She said the Ketchums and their own “Fab Five” are looking forward to more basketball in the family future — including the international basketball adventures the Ketchums offer through the Aspen Basketball Camps and the Aspen Basketball Academy.

Steve Ketchum, who will continue to teach at Aspen High School, will continue the Aspen Basketball Camp adventures.

“Most people don’t understand that for Steve it is so much more than just basketball on the court. It is about the connections he makes and what he can give back,” Mardi Ketchum said.

“The stuff people do not know is all the time he spent mentoring and helping so many … over the last 30-plus years,” Mardi said of Steve Ketchum, who coached high school basketball in Missouri (and won a state title) before coaching in Germany and eventually Aspen.

“Many people don’t know the thousands of hours he has spent on the phone or in person advising players, parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents. You name it, they have called,” Mardi said. “People have come to him for advice not only about basketball, but help with college, parents have asked for his help getting their sons back on track with school … we have had calls at all hours of the day and night from parents and players — he has always been available. “

Ketchum — known as Aspen’s “Coach K,” said he enjoyed watching the progression of his young players in Aspen — a litany of Skiers who generated staggering numbers for their beloved head coach.

Ketchum’s Aspen High School boys teams won nearly 300 games during his 16-year run. He was 282-108 at AHS.

Ketchum is 172-40 in Western Slope League games over those same 16 seasons.

His Aspen teams are 41-4 in the conference over the last three years, including this year’s team that went 19-5 and reached the regional finals — the 16th consecutive year the Skiers advanced to the regional playoffs. The Skiers beat Florence in the regional semifinals and lost — at Brush — in the regional title game this year.

Twelve times, the Skiers reached the regional championship game, including the last seven years in a row.

Five times, Ketchum coached the Skiers into the elite eight of Class 3A basketball.

Twice they reached the final four.

During Ketchum’s time in Aspen, 15 players from the program went on to play college basketball.

Three played at the NCAA Division I level — Andrew Papenfus, Cory Parker, and Robert Tomascek.

Tomascek went on to play for coach Bob Knight at Texas Tech.

Parker played at Drake University.

And Papenfus is playing with the Santa Clara Broncos.

Ketchum’s Aspen teams also produced three NCAA Division II players and two NAIA players.

Seven Skiers from Ketchum’s teams went on to Division III basketball, including NCAA D-III All-American Nick Farrell, who played at Colby College.

Three other former Skiers went on to play professional basketball abroad.

Ketchum, in an interview with The Aspen Times, said the program’s success during his tenure is a direct reflection on his staff of assistant coaches.

“I have to thank my assistant coaches. These are my trusted friends,” Ketchum said.

He singled out Greg Gerbaz for his unyielding dedication to the program.

“He has been the right-hand man to me. He’s a huge reason for our success,” Ketchum said. “Greg was a great football and basketball player in high school.”

The former college football player took to basketball coaching when he first joined Ketchum’s staff as a freshman coach.

He’s worked his way up to become the top varsity assistant coach — and a tireless assistant who would drive all over Colorado to get game tapes or scout opponents, according to Ketchum.

“I can’t thank him enough,” Ketchum said, adding that Gerbaz and Tim Terral have been with his staff for more than 10 years.

“They are invaluable,” Ketchum said.

He also credited assistant coach Troy Forbes, a longtime college assistant coach who has worked with the AHS program.

“He’s been a wealth of knowledge for me,” Ketchum said.

Ketchum, the dean of coaches in the Western Slope League, said volunteer assistants Jim Korpela, Randy Crawford and Gary Lichtenwalter provided incredible support for the Aspen program.

They helped with early morning gym sessions before school, among other valuable things, Ketchum said.

“I really can’t thank them enough,” Ketchum said. “And the administration has given tremendous support.”

He also appreciates the parental support his program has enjoyed for the last 16 years.

“The parents here through the years have been wonderful,” he said.

“I poured my heart and soul into this,” Ketchum said. “But now I want to focus my energies on my family and being the best teacher I can.”

And, he said, he’ll consider high school coaching again in the future.

“I want to leave the door open (to return to coaching),” Ketchum said. “Who knows? A few years down the road, I might be ready to get back into high school coaching.”

In the meantime, Aspen’s “Coach K” will concentrate on the newest “Fab Five.”

“I’m very at peace with my decision,” Ketchum said.


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