Dads who coach: Memories that never go away
Father’s Day is always a special day to honor those male figures in your life who had a great hand in shaping who you are as a person. But what about those fathers who wore multiple hats at once, including a coaching hat?
Multiple fathers in the area coach their sons and daughters at the high school level. In fact, most are tenured coaches who have been around the block a time or two while building successful programs.
At Rifle, Athletic Director Troy Phillips leads the boys baseball and girls softball programs. Phillips served as the head coach this past season for his daughter Payton in softball. Before that, Phillips was an assistant coach for the Bears, which allowed him to work firsthand with Payton during her high school career in blue, gold and white.
“It’s very interesting,” Phillips said of coaching his child. “Not all of it is as feel-good as it sounds, especially when you have people who think that the only reason your child is playing is because you’re the coach. With that aside, it’s great to be able to spend time with your children, because you’re away from home so much when you’re a coach that you don’t get to spend as much times as you’d like with your family.”
When it wasn’t softball season, Phillips had Payton assist his baseball team as the scorekeeper, giving them the chance to grow their bond around the game they love.
As the head coach of the Rifle baseball program for the last 21 years, Phillips has seen just about everything you can in America’s Pastime, but getting a chance to coach one of his own in softball was something that he’ll never forget and said he will truly miss now that Payton has graduated.
For most coaches who instruct their children, the first year or so can be a tough adjustment for multiple reasons:
Your child is used to hearing you as a father, not as a coach, so communication can be difficult at times; it’s hard to flip the switch from coach to dad when going home; and it’s challenging at times to make sure you aren’t treating your kid any differently from the other athletes on the team.
Fathers in the valley who have experience coaching their own kids at the high school level say they had a mostly smooth transition from dad to coach.
Early on this past season, Phillips ran into a bit of trouble with Payton, having pulled her from a game for a mistake. Although he had made it clear to his team that any mistakes early in the season would result in a quick hook, Payton became upset with her father.
“There were some difficulties at times,” Phillips said. “There was a game against Palisade early in the year where I thought she hadn’t done something right and I ended up pulling her out of the game as the coach and she was not too happy with me. But we were able to talk it out when we got back home and she was able to understand where I was coming from and thinking.”
Outside of the brief issues, Phillips was quick to point out just how rewarding of an experience it was to have coached his daughter the past four years of high school.
Although Payton is now off to college, Phillips gets to coach another child at the high school level this fall; his daughter Delaney will be a freshman at Rifle.
Much like the Phillips family name is synonymous with baseball and softball in Rifle, the Walters name is approaching legendary status for the Bears.
Boys basketball head coach Roger Walters has quite the resume on the hardwood in this valley, having led the Roaring Fork Rams to a state championship before landing the head job at Colorado Mesa University.
Now at Rifle, Walters is building a powerhouse with the Bears. But when he’s not coaching boy’s basketball, Walters is busy strolling up and down fairways as the head coach of the Rifle girl’s golf team, which finished third in the state in 3A this past season.
In that role, Walters coaches his daughter Elly, who will be a junior this fall at Rifle where she stars on the golf course as well as the hardwood for the Lady Bears.
“It allows you to create memories and a bond that will never go away,” Walters said. “It’s much like any other kid, but with your own kid you get to go home with them. It’s just really neat and really special to see all the hard work pay off.”
Ever the coach at heart, Walters said that the transition from coach to dad at home, much like Phillips, has been seamless. But when it comes to basketball, one would understand if Walters tried to coach up his daughter from the sidelines while waiting for his boys game to start. However, that’s simply not the case.
“It’s pretty easy for me to separate being a parent and a coach,” Walters added. “If she plays poorly and they lose, it obviously bothers her that they lost. But it’s a parent’s job to encourage and support them. It’s just easier for me to separate coaching and parenting. I don’t ever want to step on anyone’s toes, but if Elly wants to go to the gym on the weekends and work on things, we will.”
When it comes to coaching golf, Walters spends more time with other members of the team during practice rounds and workouts due to the fact that he knows he can work with Elly on weekends.
That, he said, has played a big part in creating great balance with a girls golf team that has a great shot at winning a 3A state championship in the next two years.
Joining Phillips and Walters in coaching his own child is Glenwood track and field coach Blake Risner, who’s been around the valley for 24 years as a coach.
Just this past season, Risner experienced a first — getting the chance to coach his oldest son, Bryce, a freshman, on the Demons’ track and field team.
“I’ve always tried to keep my distance from coaching my kids until the high school level,” Risner said. “I have an 11-year-old daughter coming up soon too, but I’ve never been one to jump at the chance to coach. My kids know that when they reach the high school level and become part of my program that that’s when I’ll become their coach.”
A former high jumper, Risner was able to watch Bryce grow as an athlete all year, capping off a great season by achieving his personal best of 6 feet 1 inch in the high jump at the Tiger Invitational.
“It was absolutely thrilling to watch him reach his goals,” Risner said. “Qualifying for states in 4A is very, very challenging, so when any of our athletes qualify for state its very exciting. But the very moment when Bryce cleared 6-1, the excitement was tenfold.”
Although that experience was one he’ll never forget, Risner said that the start of the year was very trying due to communication issues with Bryce.
“Going into the season and during the first month of the season we definitely had our challenges,” Risner said. “He’s been hearing his dad tell him how to do things for 15 years, so I could tell at times that he was tired of hearing it and just wanted to have fun. It certainly wasn’t the funnest situation in the world at times, and it wasn’t the easiest thing to do, in all honesty.”
Fortunately for all parties involved, the issues quickly subsided and the Risners were able to work toward a common goal.
Looking to build off of the state championship appearance, Bryce will get another three years to work with his dad on the track, which is something Blake is certainly looking forward to.
Not to be forgotten in the father-son or father-daughter combination in the sports community is Grand Valley boy’s basketball head coach, Scott Parker, who has coached his sons Sam and John during the last four years with the Cardinals.
Both Sam and John eclipsed 1,000 points in their careers at Grand Valley under the watchful eye of their father.
“It was good coaching my own kids,” Parker said. “I didn’t treat them any differently than anyone else on the floor, and they knew what I expected. It was great having a front-row seat each night. I’m really proud of the basketball players they were, as well as the men that they’ve become.”
John has graduated and will move on to play college basketball. Sam graduated two years ago and gave basketball a shot in college. That means Parker won’t be coaching one of his own next winter, but the memories will last a lifetime, especially the memory of winning the 3A Western Slope League title with John this past season before reaching the Great Eight of the 3A state playoffs.
“I’ll miss watching them play for sure,” Parker said. “They both could really shoot; that’s something they did on their own. I know I’m their dad, but they were both really good players and they were fun to watch.”
While just four father-son and father-daughter duos were highlighted above, we’d be remiss not to shine the spotlight on other similar combinations in the valley, starting with Roaring Fork head football coach Jeff Kelley and his son Jake.
Coal Ridge assistant basketball coaches Jeff Gerber and Adam Herrera also coach their sons Hunter and Brandon, while Grand Valley assistant basketball coach Brock Rigsby coaches his son Gunner.
Father’s Day is a special day for all fathers, but maybe — just maybe — it’s that much more special for those fathers that share a bond with their own children through athletics.
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