Statehood Coaching Champ

Longtime Douglas resident inducted into Alaska High School Hall of Fame for 26 years of coaching, winning Alaska's first high school basketball championship

Posted: Sunday, July 05, 2009

A 70-year Douglas resident was recently inducted into the Alaska High School Hall of Fame for his more-than 50 years of playing and coaching basketball in Alaska as well as winning the first high school basketball state championships in 1959.

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Courtesy Of Richard Mccormick
Courtesy Of Richard Mccormick

In April, 80-year-old Richard McCormick and 10 other outstanding Alaskans were inducted to the Alaska School Activities Association's Alaska High School Hall of Fame Class of 2009. McCormick also was highlighted as the first ever to earn a Lifetime Achievement Award with his induction.

McCormick's son, Mike Strasser, nominated him for the award.

"My father has put his whole career into high school athletics, teaching and administration," Strasser said. "His championship basketball team in 1959 was a landmark for the state of Alaska for basketball championships, being the first one."

McCormick also was honored to join two of his lifelong friends from Sitka, Herb Didrickson and Gill Truitt, who were inducted into the very first Hall of Fame.

"It was nice to see the turnout of people to help me celebrate this achievement," McCormick said. ""It was just an honor to be inducted."

THE COACH

Born and raised in Douglas, McCormick said his passion for coaching started when he was in high school, working with junior high students.

"We didn't have a program for them," McCormick said. "So I coached our seventh and eighth graders, and that gave them a better background when they hit high school. I just really liked working with kids of that age, from junior high up to seniors in high school."

In all, McCormick coached basketball 26 years across Alaska - in Fairbanks, Nome, Wrangell and Juneau. He also was principal in Nome and Wrangell, assistant principal and principal at Juneau-Douglas High School, and superintendent in Wrangell.

McCormick started coaching at Douglas High School in 1951. In January of that year, he was drafted to the U.S. Army, where he played with the Fort Richardson Pioneers, who became Alaska Military Champs that season.

He returned to Douglas in 1954 to coach for Douglas, but after the consolidation if Douglas and Juneau high schools in 1955, he moved to Lathrop High School in Fairbanks, staying four years.

In his first year coaching Lathrop High School, McCormick took the Railbelt Championship, and just three years later, he helped the team win the first Alaska High School State Championship.

"It was a thrilling experience, especially since Alaska became a state that year," McCormick said. "When the announcer handed me the microphone at the award ceremony, he asked me to say a few words, so I took him literally and just said, 'I'm speechless,' and handed the microphone back to him. So I got away with saying just those two words."

A key to McCormick's coaching philosophy was sportsmanship for himself and the team, he said.

"I just would not condone my players committing a technical foul," McCormick said. "Because that gave the other team a free foul shot, and they got possession of the ball, so I was very strict on that."

Strasser agreed.

"Sportsmanship was the hallmark of his career," Strasser said. "He got a lot of letters of recommendation for his sportsmanship for the teams he coached."

While coaching, McCormick most enjoyed the team rivalries at various conferences as well as the seeing his team's progress.

"At the end of the season, if they looked a lot better than they did at the beginning of the season, then I believe I accomplished my goals," he said.

Robert F. Meath, a 1957 Lathrop graduate, said McCormick made a lasting impression on him.

"He was an outstanding coach and teacher who communicated well with his players and students," Meath said. "He was a good listener and his door was always open to players and students who might be having problems in school or at home."

Strasser testified to the affection and concern McCormick showed his students.

"From talking with the players I met at his 80th birthday party, it was his openness to the players to allow them to be part of the team and his caring for the team," Strasser said. "He went further beyond coaching and cared about the guys, their school and their personal lives."

50-YEAR REUNION

McCormick has tried to keep in contact with players he's coached over the years. In fact, he'll be attending a University of Alaska Fairbanks 50-year reunion starting July 17 in Fairbanks.

"I'm sure the first state championship basketball team will be the highlight of the reunion," McCormick said. "One of the kids in charge happens to be a former ball team member, and he told me they were looking into having the original basketball team I had in 1959 there."

Looking back, McCormick says coaching was very satisfying.

"The major incentive in my coaching career was just that I looked forward for the day to end in the classroom and for practice to start after school," he said.

THE PLAYER

McCormick's athletic career started at Douglas High School, where he played basketball for four years, graduating in 1946 as team captain. He then played four seasons with the University of Alaska Polar Bears in Fairbanks.

Aside from being chosen team captain and most valuable player of the University of Alaska's boys varsity team in 1948, McCormick received the Adam Hat-Jack Dempsey Award for outstanding athlete in 1947.

"I was really into sports, and I guess I must have been OK at it, because in my freshman year, I won that award," he said. "I believe that's the only one that was ever given."

In college, McCormick studied education, majoring in physical education and minoring in social studies. In addition to playing ball, he volunteered heavily with the intramural program, being everything from a referee to a scorekeeper.

"He was an excellent ball player," Strasser said.

50 YEARS GONE BY

McCormick has seen a lot of changes in basketball coaching since he started more than 50 years ago.

Aside from some rule-changes, teams have separate coaches for junior varsity, which McCormick said he taught in addition to varsity.

"At that time, the teams in western Alaska, which included Lathrop, stayed in hotels unlike the teams from Southeast, which still stay, for the most part, in private homes in order to cut down the expenses," McCormick added. "Also, most of the travel was by fishing boats or larger boats, like charter boats, that could handle the entire team."

• Contact Neighbors editor Kim Andree at 523-2272 or kim.andree@juneauempire.com.



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