Is this it for the state’s winningest boys basketball coach – ever? Could be


Kalida Wildcats Basketball

The story of Richard “Dick” Kortokrax may cause movie director Ron Howard to come calling. The long time Kalida general, at age 75, has once again guided his Wildcats to the Ohio boys basketball state tournament. Kortokrax has a state record 784 career wins. He also doesn’t have a contract for next season.

The story of Richard “Dick” Kortokrax may cause movie director Ron Howard to come calling. The long time Kalida general, at age 75, has once again guided his Wildcats to the Ohio boy’s state tournament. 

Kortokrax has a state record 784 career wins.

However, this time it has been under some unusual circumstances. According to son Randy, a 10-year head boy’s basketball coach at Columbus Bishop Hartley, he couldn’t be happier with everything his father has gone through over the last couple years.

“I’m so proud of him and couldn’t be happier for such a great man,” stated the younger Kortokrax. “For him, it’s always about the players and he and his players have really embraced and rallied around the pressure.”

What is this pressure? How about basically being forced into signing a two-year deal on June 13, 2007 to agree to part ways at the end of this season after giving now 34 years of your life to one school. In this day and age, that is almost unbelievable. All told, the legendary Kortokrax has been a head coach for 49 years with stints at Fort Jennings and Ottoville including three trips to the state tournament with one championship (1981) and one runner-up (1988). 

However, to a select few Kortokrax’s coaching skills were no longer up to par.

“He has taken a lot of heat over the last few years from a few people with a hidden agenda ,” the Hartley boss explained. “It’s hard because in Putnam County you have to see people at church, in the supermarket, and everywhere else. There is a big emphasis put on high school sports where as in Columbus there are a lot of other things going on.”

According to the younger Kortokrax, his coaching skills are sharp as they have ever been.

“I watched both of his regional games and his X’s and O’s are as good as I’ve seen them,” Randy Kortokrax relayed. “I would be the first to say if I thought he was slipping, but he is still on top of his game. I watched him making some incredible halftime adjustments in both the Plymouth and Toledo Christian games. The numbers don’t always tell the story. Dad’s main goal is to always get teams to overachieve and I believe he has once again done that this year.”

However, the argument always seems to be his age, but his son isn’t buying it.

“I guess when you are 75 that is what you are supposed to do – retire,” Randy Kortokrax said. “Joe Paterno goes through the same thing every year at Penn State. As a coach, I would rather go against a young coach with less experience than someone with all that knowledge. He wants to keep coaching, but if they don’t want him back then he would like to go somewhere else. He really believes he has a lot left and I have to agree after this season.”

In this day and age, it’s really amazing that a guy could survive 49 years as a head coach and 34 years at one school. Kortokrax’s career record of 784-314 is good enough for a winning percentage of .714. This kind of longevity will likely not be seen again.

“I don’t think anyone will have the opportunity to do this in the coming years with outside influences making it very hard to enjoy that longevity,” Randy Kortokrax lamented. “The minority is always louder than the majority. Your enemy club as coach, as the years build up, grows louder and louder.”

Legendary Kettering Alter head coach Joe Petrocelli and a long-time friend of the elder Kortokrax is suffering through some of the same things. Currnetly No. 2 on the all-time wins list and the only other coach in state history with over 700 wins, Petrocelli won a state championship as recent as 2001 and nearly knocked off Lebron James’ Akron SVSM outfit in the 2003 finals. Two of the last three years the Knights have been in the regional final.

“Joe is facing some tough times as well, and almost all of my dad’s friends are either out of the coaching ranks or have been forced out,” Randy Kortokrax said. “When you are younger the thought is for people to retire, but when you get older you want more time.”

Though, the younger Kortokrax knew his father’s team was going to be very competitive he had no idea they were going to make it to the big show.

“We scrimmage them every year, and our scrimmage was pretty even this year,” Randy Kortokrax said. “I knew we were going to have a good season, so for them to play us the way they did, things looked good for dad.  They have some talent and combine that with his coaching skills and that is a pretty good combination.

“I’m just so proud of him. This has been a storybook run especially with all the pressure that was on his kids to perform. The run has just been amazing and I think without a doubt his team has exceeded expectations to win six-straight. It couldn’t have happened at a better time, and it’s just unbelievable that it happened when it did.”

The (22-4) Wildcats have beaten No. 14 ranked Delphos St. John’s (which was the first tournament victory over the Blue Jays in 35 years), top-seeded and No. 12 Pandora-Gilboa, No. 7 Plymouth and Toledo Christian (regional final) en route to the state’s capital.

The toughest test still awaits.

Kalida meets No. 3 Cleveland Lutheran East (23-2) on Thursday in the state tournament opener at 10:45 a.m.

The game won’t compare to the trials and tribulations of the last handful of years. Dick Kortokrax has watched as his son Rob die of leukemia, and then shortly after he himself was diagnosed with cancer. His wife is suffering from Alzheimer’s.

“The loss of Rob was really hard on dad,” Randy Kortokrax extended. “It’s never easy losing anyone especially your son. When dad found out he had cancer, it just freaked him out after watching what Rob went through. He takes care of mom as well and will not put her in a nursing home. We have a large family, so we all help out with mom when he is at basketball. For him, basketball is his way to get away from everything for a little while. Time heals things, and we are all coming around.”

The elder Kortokrax is now cancer free.

On the basketball front, the Wildcats will have an acid test in Lutheran East, which is led by 6-6 senior and St. Francis (PA) recruit William Felder.

“They will certainly have to play well to win,” Randy Kortokrax explained. “East is a great team with a very good big man that can play inside and out. Though, I know dad will have them ready to play, and he is probably sitting at home right now breaking down tape and working on a game plan.”

The elder Kortokrax will have his other son Rick on the bench with him as chief assistant. Randy has won 130 games of his own at Hartley over a 10-year period.

“I always tell dad he better watch out because I’m closing in on his win total,” Randy Kortokrax joked.

Dick Kortokrax’s bunch is led by 6-3 junior Jordan Basinger (13 points), Scott Schnipke, Justin Kahle, Matt Warnecke and Urbana soccer commit Ryan Kleman.

So…what is the next chapter in this remarkable story?

“He would still love to coach and he has expressed that to the board, but if they don’t want him he will move on,” Randy Kortokrax said. “He has done all he could do. He would like to get a three-year deal, so he wouldn’t have to go through this every year. They have a very talented freshman class, and I know he hoped to coach them but we will wait and see.”

Regardless of the critics, one thing is certain – there will be a throng of fans rooting for this legend in Columbus.

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