SHS basketball to face new "Rath’
Taking over an ailing high school basketball program? Mike Rathgeber’s been there. Dealing with the disadvantages of coaching in a resort community? Rathgeber’s done that.
Summit High School’s new boys basketball coach has not only done these things, he’s also overcome them … with sterling results … twice. He’ll go for the reclamation hat trick with the Tigers, who experienced steady decline under Jud Joyce the past three seasons.
“Mike has made a career for himself as a coach that rebuilds programs,” said SHS athletic director Gretchen Nies. “He has very high expectations, and he’s very much a disciplinarian, and those are things we wanted to bring into the (boys) program.”
Rathgeber, a former teacher, assistant principal and current Keystone business owner, led two major turnarounds during his high school coaching career. In Wolfeboro, N.H., Rathgeber took over a perennial doormat and, in two years, had it atop its division and in the state’s final four. He stayed at the school for seven years.
His next project was turning tiny Provincetown (Mass.) High School from a lackadaisical, resort-town featherweight into a state quarterfinalist, going 18-3 in his best season. He calls his six-year run there “miraculous.”
Rathgeber holds Coach of the Year awards from two states as a result of these two turnarounds. But he never intended to be a reclamation artist, it’s just the lot he was given. And he’s been given it again at SHS.
“It’s not what I set out to do,” said Rathgeber, who assisted Joyce last season and coached the JV team. “But the two programs I stayed at happened to be dilapidated, and it just happened to work out that we were able to turn them around.
“I’ll take part of the credit, but it takes a lot of people. I had a tremendous amount of support from the schools, coaches and parents, and we flew with it.”
Since he’s seen it work twice, Rathgeber believes in his system, which is based on unwavering commitment, dedication and the right support.
“The first thing you do is clean out the people who don’t want to commit,” he explained. “You have to set a tone of commitment and seriousness. Then you have to get lucky and get a little bit of talent.”
Rathgeber is willing to wait for the right group to come along. He moved to the county last year to stay, buying a house and starting a business.
“You’re going to go through a period of getting your butt kicked,” he said. “But when you have a history of success, you sit back and say, “this works, and I’ll ride it out as long as I have to.’
“It takes patience and diligence and confidence in what you’re doing.”
Rathgeber’s record speaks for itself. But he’s not sure what type of dedication he will get from the current group of Summit players, who have never consistently won.
“Summit is presenting quite a challenge,” Rathgeber said. “I don’t know the level of commitment yet.”
He will find a lot out during summer camps planned for June and July at SHS and at Mesa State College. He’ll be working with five returning varsity players and a group of kids he coached as JVs last year. And they’d better be ready for a new era.
“There was definitely a severe, chronic lack of commitment, and much lower work ethic than I’m used to,” Rathgeber observed of last year’s team. “There wasn’t that real passion about working hard and getting the job done. It was the typical atmosphere of a program that hasn’t experienced success. I won’t put up with it.”
He never has.
Jason Starr can be reached at (970) 668-3998 Ext. 231 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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