KALIDA — The legend departed with a question. Two of them, actually.
Kalida’s Dick Kortokrax — the winningest coach in Ohio boys basketball history with 890 victories over 56 seasons — thought back to all the wins over all those years and asked those two questions during a press conference to discuss his decision to retire on Friday.
Kortokrax, 82, has been a head coach for 56 years, the last 41 of those at Kalida. His teams had an overall record of 890-371 at Kalida, Ottoville and Fort Jennings. His Kalida teams were 665-271.
His 1981 team won a state championship. Kalida was state runner-up for him in 2009 and 1988 and was a state semifinalist in 1980.
The Wildcats won or shared 21 Putnam County League titles, including the last two seasons, with Kortokrax as coach.
His decision to step away was not entirely his. It was made with the knowledge that a majority of the Kalida Board of Education appeared implacably opposed to renewing his coaching contract for the 2016-2017 school year.
Rather than have his tenure end with a vote by the board, Kortokrax chose to retire and not argue the point to a bitter end.
“I just decided it was time to go. Time to go,” he said. “I’m not going to be bitter at anyone.”
Early in his press conference/farewell address, Kortokrax asked, “Do you know anyone who has coached 40 years at the same place?”
As it wound down, he looked at Kalida superintendent Karl Lammers, smiled and asked, “Do you think anyone will ever beat 890?”
The answer to the first question is probably, “Not many, if any.” The answer to the second is almost certainly, “Never.”
Kortokrax, a 1951 Ottoville High School graduate, began his teaching and coaching career at Fort Jennings in the late 1950s for $2,750 for teaching, driving a bus and coaching freshman basketball.
After two years as Fort Jennings’ head coach, he became Ottoville’s head coach for the 1961-62 season and was there for 13 seasons. Despite his Big Green teams averaging 15 wins a season, his coaching contract was not renewed after the 1973-1974 season, which led him to Kalida.
“Ottoville did me a favor. I didn’t know it at the time, though,” Kortokrax said. “When I came to Kalida unbelievable things happened in my life.”
He was Kalida’s high school principal from 1974 to 1994 before retiring from that position and concentrating on his coaching duties.
The coach with the record that might never be broken didn’t think he wanted to coach when he graduated from Anderson College in 1955 with a degree in business.
After a few years, though, Kortokrax decided he wanted to go into education and took classes at Ohio Northern University to get his teacher certification.
One of the attractions of teaching was the ability to have time in the summer to take his late wife Donna, also a teacher, and their children to visit her family in Kansas, he said.
“The years just flew by at Kalida because of the success I was enjoying, the people I met, both educationally and athletically,” Kortokrax said. “So, I have nothing but thanks, thanks, thanks to Kalida.
“The end came by surprise. I’m not saying the board doesn’t have a right to do what they’re doing. But I didn’t think it was going to happen. I told myself I wanted to go one more year,” he said.
Kortokrax said his future plans are “to be involved with my family as much as I can.”
“I have grandchildren and I have children. But in relationship to anything else that might be earth-shattering, or whatever, I don’t have anything on my plate. I’m content with where I am in life. I don’t have any more mountains to climb.
“I tried to do the best with what I had. I will never forget Fort Jennings, Ottoville and especially Kalida. It’s been unbelievable what we’ve accomplished. I would do it all again.”
Lammers said the job opening will be posted immediately internally and also will be advertised outside the school system.
Reach Jim Naveau at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.