Former Basalt standout Paul Cain heads to CHSAA Hall of Fame as part of 2021 class

The 1986 Longhorn graduate currently is the District 51 athletic director in Grand Junction

District 51 Athletic Director Paul Cain works the Western Slope Open girls tennis tournament on March 11 at the Elliott Tennis Center at Colorado Mesa University.
McKenzie Lange/Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

Paul Cain believed he was destined to be a coach and teacher. But after years of winning on the basketball court as a coach and player, a coaching job in Hawaii helped turn him toward the administrative side instead.

“I didn’t know they hadn’t won a game in three years. And that first year we go 3-15 and they are thrilled, and it killed me,” Cain recalled. “I cannot handle losing. And I found out right away. I couldn’t sleep, and I was grumpy. So, I just kind of fell into this niche of being an athletic administrator where I can still be involved. I can go home and put my head down and go to sleep and not be worried about what we have to do to get better.”

The move into administration paid off for Cain, a 1986 Basalt High School graduate who will be honored Wednesday as part of the Colorado High School Activities Association Hall of Fame Class of 2021. Only 54, Cain joins Cherry Creek’s Darnell McDonald (standout football and baseball athlete) and Marti Benham (speech and debate coach), longtime Olathe, Douglas County and Chaparral volleyball coach T.R. Ellis and Loveland gymnastics coach Gary Glover in the 33rd Hall of Fame class.

Cain, now the longtime athletic director for District 51 in Grand Junction, is passionate about using sports to provide opportunities for kids. After all, it was basketball that opened doors for Cain to attend college at Colorado Mesa University — he’s already in its Hall of Honor as one of the school’s best players — and later play professionally for a spell in Germany.

“Athletics has totally changed my life. I’m a first-generation college graduate. I would have never gone to college if it weren’t for basketball,” Cain said. “The reason I do what I do is I can see what athletics can do for a kid and for students. It totally changed my life. I’m just so grateful. I never thought of that when I was playing.

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“We were in a very tough financial situation growing up, and when I was on the basketball court, that was my safe haven. It didn’t matter my financial status or anything like that.”

Cain finished as one of the greatest Longhorn basketball players ever, guiding Basalt High to a pair of state championship games. He was named the Class 2A player of the year in 1986 before his standout playing career at Mesa.

Following his stint in Hawaii, Cain returned to Basalt, where he was the assistant principal and athletic director at the high school from 1995 to 2000, the start of his administrative career.

“I really did not like basketball growing up. I loved football. And I had a friend of mine who wanted to come to the Mesa basketball camp, and I couldn’t afford it. I’m so eternally grateful to his grandmother who paid my way to come down to this camp, and I just got hooked,” Cain said of his start in basketball as a middle school student. “The one regret I had in high school is we never won the state championship. We lost in the finals twice. Had some great programs, but we never won that final game. But the opportunities basketball has provided me, I’m just so grateful for that. It was an amazing time to grow up in that valley.”

District 51 Athletic Director Paul Cain, right, works the Western Slope Open girls tennis tournament on March 11 at the Elliott Tennis Center at Colorado Mesa University.
McKenzie Lange/Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

More than his playing success, CHSAA is adding Cain to its Hall of Fame because of what he’s done as an administrator. As the District 51 athletic director, Cain oversees four high schools and nine middle schools, which adds up to about 300 coaches. He’s served on the CHSAA board of directors and was the chairman of the basketball committee for nine years.

He’s also been a key representative for the Western Slope as a whole, helping make sure this side of the state has its voice heard among the Front Range teams.

“There is a fine line between it can’t just be the Western Slope. You’ve got to see the whole picture. But you got to be able to say we do good things over here and we need our fair representation on this side. That’s a balancing act,” Cain said. “I’m so blessed, and I want to provide opportunities for kids, and I have the heart and the passion for what I do.”

Cain doesn’t spend a lot of time in the Roaring Fork Valley these days. His father passed away about eight years ago, and shortly after, Cain moved his mother to Grand Junction.

District 51 Athletic Director Paul Cain checks his phone while working.
Scott Crabtree/Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

But he certainly pays attention, making note of 2017 BHS graduate Michael Glen, who went on to a standout career with the Colorado School of Mines and can rival Cain for all-time greatness on the Longhorn basketball court. Cain also gave a nod to Aspen High School’s state championship in boys basketball this past season, a feat he said helps solidify the Western Slope as a whole.

Wednesday’s CHSAA Hall of Fame banquet will be held at the Hyatt Regency Aurora-Denver Conference Center. Cain will be in attendance, as will his wife and son, who is a freshman at Mesa. He’s known about his induction since it was announced in December, but Cain said he expects it to fully sink in during this week’s ceremony.

“There are so many people who are deserving. Like I said, I’m very humbly honored to receive this. To be honest, I was even more shocked to receive this while I’m still working,” he said. “It still kind of seems surreal.”

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