The classroom King: Mike King taught life lessons in all kinds of classrooms | VailDaily.com

The classroom King: Mike King taught life lessons in all kinds of classrooms

Think of the last things Mike King said to you — chances are, he was smiling and wise.

Mike was friends with Pat Phelan and the two coached together for more than 40 years.

When Phelan posted on Facebook that Mike had died, the page blew up with former students sharing grief, support and memories.

"He was more than liked. He was loved," Phelan said.

Everyone wants to teach. Not everyone can, or should. Mike should, and did, and thousands of young people are better for it.

"The first thing is likeability," Phelan said. "There's no professional evaluation for that. Mike was brilliant at teaching the sciences. Most teachers say they they're happy if they can make a difference for one or two students. Mike made that difference to thousands of students."

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"You had one or two teachers in your life that you remember like that. It truly is a rare thing," Phelan said.

When Phelan became Battle Mountain's wrestling coach, he cajoled Mike, a successful high school wrestler, into joining him.

"Part of it was his expertise, but mostly I liked the guy," Phelan said. "Those kinds of friendships come along rarely in your lifetime."

Locked and goaded

Millions of kids rolled through Mike King's classrooms. Most are success stories. Some are other kinds of stories.

He locked his classroom door the moment the bell rang. If you were late, then you stood outside and peeked in the window.

His favorite classrooms did not have doors. Mike launched applied life and environmental ethics classes that taught kids how to think on their feet and solve problems. In the summer of 1977, he went to an instructor class for Outward Bound to learn how to do this sort of thing.

That morphed into environmental ethics, said Kathy King, Mike's wife.

"His students were mountain kids, so he took them to Denver to work in soup kitchens and feed homeless people," Kathy said.

The next day, students were given a scavenger hunt sheet and had to take public transportation all over Denver — Stapleton airport, the Capitol building — everywhere,

"They were going to graduate that year, and he wanted them to be able to get around," Kathy said.

Part of the program was solo camping, which was exactly that. Kids were by themselves for 24 hours. They had food, water and everything they needed, including a journal. He checked on them consistently.

"He wanted them to know they could be alone," Kathy said.

Everything all the time

Mike was born in Denver and graduated from Evergreen High School. He started college at University of Colorado Boulder studying chemical engineering. He liked chemistry, and his dad was an engineer with Martin Marietta's NASA program, so it seemed like a good fit. It wasn't. He soon discovered that education was really his thing.

"It turned out to be the best decision he made," Kathy said.

Actually, it was his second-best decision. Mike had the very good sense to marry Kathy after their sophomore year of college. They were good friends in high school, dated in college and that, as they say, was that.

They couldn't get teaching jobs in this hemisphere, so they spent a few years teaching in Australia, New Zealand and Tasmania. Their daughter Melissa came with them. She was 2 years old and came home with an Australian accent.

Their son Nathan came along later and tended to be cranky that he did not get to live in Australia. Occasionally he'd write a school essay about life in Australia, which just proves his creativity, Kathy said.

Mike taught at Battle Mountain and Eagle Valley high schools — mostly Battle Mountain — for 28 years.

In the early days, he coached girls volleyball, girls basketball, football, wrestling and track — about anything to supplement the $9,000 teacher's salary.

"Teachers didn't make much money, so they tried everything they could to earn some extra cash," Kathy said. "We were all in the same boat."

After 28 years, he was ready to call it a career and wanted a 30-year pension. He was good at arithmetic, so he bought two years more and retired … the first time.

The novelty of not having to go to a job wore off quickly. He taught cross-country ski lessons for about a year, but it wasn't enough.

He called his buddies Phelan and Bob Isbell, who were both working at upstart Vail Christian High School. Mike became the athletic director and a pillar of yet another school.

Happy on his Harley

Mike was happy in front of a classroom, but possibly happiest on his Harley Davidson with the wind in his face and Kathy riding behind.

He and Kathy both rode motorcycles as kids and bought their Harley on their 25th wedding anniversary.

"He loved the joy of just riding the motorcycle. It feels free. You're riding through the environment, and not in a bubble as you are in a car. It speaks to you," Kathy said.

Like nature, Mike King, who spent his career guiding students through their environment, is still speaking.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

Celebration of life

A celebration of life service for Mike King will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 9, at Battle Mountain High School, 151 Miller Ranch Road in Edwards. Online condolences can be left on King’s memorial tribute page at http://www.kentfuneralhomes.com. Should friends and family desire, contributions may be sent to “The Mike King Memorial Scholarship Fund” at 5485 Hidden Springs Road, Fort Collins, CO 80526, or to a charity of your choice in Michael King’s name.

Q&A with King

This was a Q&A with Mike King and Vail Daily Sports Editor Chris Freud conducted in 2006.

Mike King is no stranger to the local high school scene, having served as a teacher, coach and athletic director at various times during a long tenure at Battle Mountain. Having moved to Vail Christian, King is helping build Saints athletics. For more on King and some funny moments from life at Battle Mountain, read on:

Date of birth: Oct. 23, 1950.

Born in: Denver.

Wife: Kathy.

Children: Melissa and Nathan.

Brother: Mark.

What’s it like being the athletic director?: “It’s a good job because of all of the help and support we get around here. The parents are incredible. Our kids are great. You can sit here and push papers all day long, and you’re not doing what an athletic director becomes an athletic director for, which is to hang out with the coaches and the kids.”

What’s it like working with the coaches and athletes?: “I relish that. I look forward to that. To me, that’s the group of people who are going to make our athletic department what it’s going to be. What I try to do is get them what they need and then get out of the way. Every coach we have here is a quality coach and they’re really good at working with kids.”

What are the goals for the athletic department?: “We’ve been working on that, and we’ve kind of narrowed it down. We want our kids to have good character. We just see athletics as another classroom. We’re concentrating on producing good players, good teamwork and good people. All that comes under what we call ‘Coaching for character.’ … The wins and losses come after that.”

How much fun is it when you get a team that has success?: “I love going to away games, because at home games, I’m usually doing stuff. I love going to away games and just cheering. To watch the kids be successful is absolutely incredible, the smiles on their faces and to be a part of the locker room after. That’s what keeps coaches and teachers and athletic directors going. High school sports are the purest form of sport. It’s cool to see the emotional ups and downs the kids go through, particularly the ups. You’ve got to have the downs to build that character.”

How excited are you for Homecoming?: “I haven’t forgotten what it’s like to be a coach during Homecoming week. Homecoming is a distraction, but it’s obviously a part of high school sports. It’s fun to see the kids out of their normal routine and have some fun during the day. It’s hard to keep the athletes focused on what they need to do during the week. It’s a challenge, but I enjoy it.”

Best moments coaching?: “I remember the state (2A football championship) game (Battle Mountain) played in 1985 (in Roaring Fork.) That was fun. I also remember coaching with Pat Phelan, coaching some state wrestlers. Being in that arena on that mat during the championships, and having your kid come off and win, that was pretty amazing. There are some little things. Last year, I went down and watched our cross-country runners run with Battle Mountain, just the camaraderie there and the support they gave each other was really cool. And watching our programs grow and become better, it has been really fulfilling and fun.”

Favorite coaching role models?: “Right off the bat, the two that come to mind are Pat Phelan and Bob Isbell. I’ve coached with those guys, and you can’t find two better high school coaches. Obviously, you need to know something about the sport to be successful, but more importantly, you need to know how to relate to kids. Those two have the ability to relate to kids incredibly well. And I’ve been around (Battle Mountain soccer coach) Dave Cope, and he’s in that caliber.”

What are the goals for the athletic department with regard to facilities and possible new teams?: “Obviously the first goal is to get our own gym going, so we can play volleyball and basketball in our own gym. At the same time, we’ll be able to build a P.E. program and weightlifting and strength-conditioning programs with that facility. As we grow, we will be careful in choosing what sports we add because eventually what we’d like to do is say that when you come to Vail Christian High School, you will participate in one CHSAA-certified sport sometime in your four years here.”

Funniest moments?: “I think the funniest moment was when we were down in Gunnison in a (football) playoff game. (Coach) John McCarthy and I, we had to stop (coaches) Pat Phelan and Steve Moran from getting into a fight with each other on the sideline. Another one was we were playing a J.V. game on a Saturday morning. We were up 8-0, and Phelan was up in the press box. All he was doing was watching. There’s two minutes left in the game and he’s up there, yelling at the top of his lungs, ‘Pass the ball. Pass the ball.’ He couldn’t see the scoreboard because the sun was in his face, and we didn’t want to pass the ball because we were up. Everyone was saying, ‘What’s wrong with that guy. I thought he knew what he was doing.’ It was absolutely hysterical.”

College?: Colorado – “I hesitate to admit that.”

Majors?: Biology and education – longtime science teacher at Battle Mountain and Vail Christian.

Favorite sports teams?: Broncos, CU – “I’ll support CU when my son-in-law is in the room, particularly because he’s a big Nebraska fan. I love Vail Christian sports, too. I’m a real high school sports guy.”

Favorite athletes?: John Elway and Ed McCaffrey – “You know what? I enjoyed Rachel Glandorf run. I enjoyed Chris Isbell run. Those two on a high school level stand out.”

Favorite TV shows?: “Friends” and “America’s Funniest Home Videos.”

Favorite movie?: “Never Cry Wolf.”

Favorite book?: “Desert Solitaire” by Edward Abbey.

Favorite color?: Turquoise – “The color of Caribbean water.”

Hobbies?: “I love going out in the backcountry. I spend a lot of time in the backcountry during the summer. During the winter, I’ll go into the backcountry skiing. Recently, my wife and I bought a sit-on-top kayak, so we’ve spent a lot of time on the water and taken it up to Alaska. That was fun. I do a little SCUBA diving.”

Mac or PC?: Mac.

Favorite Web site?: Highschoolsports.com.

Favorite food?: “I like a good steak. Run with it through a warm room for me.”

Favorite pizza slice?: Sausage, pepperoni, black olives and mushrooms.

If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?: Ponderosa pine.

If you were ruler of the world for one day, what would you do?: “I would have people stop what they were doing, appreciate each other and appreciate the natural environment that they live in. One of the gifts we have up here – and I’ve got to believe it’s the same everywhere if you take the time – is that natural beauty and the gifts that we are given, we don’t take enough time to appreciate it.”