It’s crunch time for Aspen boys |

It’s crunch time for Aspen boys

Jon MaletzThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN The Garfield School District board’s decision Tuesday to uphold its firing of Coal Ridge basketball coach Mike Cox struck a chord with Steve Ketchum.The Skiers head coach described Cox as an affable colleague and friend of the Aspen program, and said Tuesday he sympathizes with the coach’s plight.District officials fired Cox earlier this month after a Jan. 30 incident in which he threw a basketball at a player after an altercation, hitting him in the lower back. One witness saw the player, coincidentally the son of the school’s athletic director, push Cox in the chest and yell something prior to the incident, according to the Glenwood Springs Post Independent.”He’s done a great job, and this is a big loss for Coal Ridge,” Ketchum said. “I’ve been through some of the things he’s going through.”Aspen High School officials put Ketchum on administrative leave in January 2006 after the coach allegedly shoved then-guard Luke Gosda during an argument at practice. The district later reinstated Ketchum.Cox, meanwhile, immediately reported the incident to the school’s principal. Soon after, officials asked him to resign or risk losing both his coaching position and his full-time maintenance job with the district. When, according to his written statement, Cox said he wouldn’t quit on his team, he was promptly fired from both posts, according to the Post Independent. The player received a one-game suspension.Ketchum said he is grateful Aspen school officials opted for a more positive resolution in his case.”… Our administration handled it much better,” he said. “They helped me become a better coach, where [Coal Ridge] decided to cut ties and not deal with the issue. That’s not what education is all about.”The Skiers host Coal Ridge and interim coach Brian Blair, a Titans assistant, Friday night.While Coal Ridge faces uncertainty in light of the recent fallout, The Skiers (14-2 overall, 11-0 3A Western Slope) have a league title in their sight. They’ve won 12 straight, including lopsided victories at Olathe and Gunnison this past weekend. Friday, the Pirates utilized a box-and-1 in an attempt to slow down Skiers’ senior standout Cory Parker, who scored 31 points in little more than a half against the Pirates a week earlier. Parker, who finished with five points, was more than happy to defer to his teammates.Mike Taylor and Brian Westerlind each scored 14 for the Skiers, who led by 16 at the half and by as many as 30 in the fourth quarter. Westerlind scored 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting in the first quarter.Parker reverted to offensive form Saturday, scoring 26 points in a comfortable 66-50 win over Gunnison. Aspen led by as many as 30, but the Cowboys reeled off 14 consecutive points against the Skiers reserves in the final quarter to trim the deficit.”I’m a little surprised we played that well on the road,” Ketchum said. “What can I say, I really don’t have a lot to complain about.”The pressure and competition figure to increase in the next week. First comes Coal Ridge at 7 p.m. Friday, but looming large is a much-anticipated rematch – and de facto league championship – against Roaring Fork at 7 p.m. Tuesday. Aspen won Round 1 on Jan. 12 in a 61-57 thriller – its first win over the Rams since 2003. “Roaring Fork could’ve easily won that game,” Ketchum said. “It wasn’t decided until the last minute, and I didn’t know which way the pendulum was going to swing. … The first game with them, was about getting the monkey off our back, and, to me, this game will be about whether we can knock off the king of the hill or not. “We haven’t proved a lot against them, but we did prove we can play with them.”If the Skiers win Friday and Tuesday, they’ll clinch the league title. If Roaring Fork wins, the two will have identical league records, and overall records will serve as the tiebreaker – Aspen will have lost three games to the Rams’ two.Everything, from a state ranking to tournament seeding to a coveted top seed for the district tournament, is on the line this week, Ketchum said.”If we slip at all, everything falls apart,” he added. “We slipped early in the season. We can’t afford to slip late, and they know it. We talk about it every day.”Ketchum said his team won’t look past Coal Ridge. He and his players know the Titans, winners of two straight, will rally around their former coach’s ousting and play with a renewed sense of purpose. “It’s a tough situation for a team in turmoil,” Ketchum said. “They’re fighting hard for him, even though he’s done.”

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