Longtime coaches honored at Vail Christian basketball’s senior night game
Saints defeat Olathe 75-45 Friday night in Vail
Even with his entire extended family secretly flown in from Pennsylvania to witness the Vail Christian basketball court named in their kin’s honor, Sheldon Kuhns, like any great coach, kept his focus on the present. Or at least he tried to.
“I’ve got the Olathe game to be thinking about — can we do it after the game is over?” Kuhns apparently requested of head of school Steve O’Neil when he learned of the prestigious honor being bestowed upon him at a recent practice.
While his athletes chanted, “Speech! Speech!” the teary-eyed Kuhns, humbly embarrassed, accepted the fact that he would have to balance an emotional night with the standard duties of getting his young men ready to execute, something he has done at a high level at the school for 22 seasons and counting.
On Friday night, his boys delivered, finishing the regular season with a 75-45 victory, though the evening’s significance wasn’t scoreboard dependent anyway. Cathy Alexander, the volleyball coach at the 24-year-old private school from 2001-2015, and Kuhns were honored for their faithful, Spirit-led service to the Christian academy by having the courts they’ve impacted young girls and boys on for years named in their honor.
“I really love honoring people who have gone before us and taking time to recognize them,” O’Neil said earlier in the week.
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The idea sprouted in O’Neil’s mind and was buttressed by longtime athletic director Tim Pierson, who, having been at the school when both Alexander and Kuhns coached (unlike O’Neil, who started the year after Alexander retired), suggested honoring both coaches.
“I could see the banners up on the wall, but he could tell the stories about the difference that she made at our school over those 15 years,” O’Neil said of the former Baylor volleyball player who constructed a culture of competition and high expectations from scratch in her tenure.
“She walks on water,” O’Neil said of the coach. “In many ways, she’s the godmother, the catalyst behind what became a volleyball program known throughout the western slope and even the state. Girls volleyball is a signature sport for us.”
The mentor to countless girls — O’Neil said numerous alumni still seek her counsel — Alexander wore her faith on her sleeve and exemplified the ‘fruits of the Spirit’: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and goodness.
“She lived out her faith,” said O’Neil.
Alexander’s program is in good hands with current coach Adina Petersmeyer. “She’s cut from the exact same cloth — incredibly competitive, incredibly compassionate, incredibly clever with the x’s and o’s — so we’re kind of back at it again,” O’Neil said of the school’s volleyball teams, which will add an official CHSSA boys team this spring.
Founded in 1998 the school is celebrating 25 years in the upcoming school year, a significant milestone O’Neil felt appropriated the court naming.
“I love our school’s history, I love the stories from our school’s pioneers — student, faculty, and board members who have gone before us — just a lot of rich history for a school that’s been around for 25 years.” A former history teacher who loves telling stories, the concept of naming a court is intentional for the head of school.
“I think stories are powerful because when you share a story, some sort of character oftentimes comes up,” he explained.
“And so when character comes up, it’s an opportunity to teach character and show value for a character trait. So, when a kid who never had Kathy Alexander asks ‘why is the court named after Coach Alexander?’ you get to tell the story.”
The official unveiling of the insignia will happen during a volleyball game next fall, symbolically uniting the two sports and their audiences and families which have been touched. On Friday, both coaches exuded deep appreciation.
“Not sure I deserve it, but I’m honored,” said Alexander, who gave credit to all involved, from scorekeepers and line judges, to clockworkers and former longtime Vail Daily sports reporter Chris Freud, who was in attendance.
“It starts with the team. A coach has to have that backing. Everyone that was part of my program, I appreciate it,” Alexander said.
Kuhn echoed the community sentiment, also admiring the journey. “It’s hard for me to believe that an east-coast, rural, farm kid could end up where I am tonight.”
From dairy farm start to hardwood coaching heart
The rows above the student section were Kuhn’s corner on Friday night, flanked by the family which had traveled all the way from Pennsylvania. “When I found out it was going to happen, I wasn’t going to miss it,” said older brother Brad.
Kuhns’s parents ran a dairy farm, but his dad Wayne set up a hoop and Sheldon and his older brother Brad went at it whenever possible.
“He doesn’t just follow the crowd — he’s an entrepreneur. He’s the one that can go ahead and lead and cause things to happen,” Wayne stated about his son.
The commitment to others is derived from a faith Kuhns’s parents raised their son to follow. “We’ve always been very committed to our faith and serving and giving and nurturing people,” his dad said.
For his mom, it’s the multi-faceted commitment that sticks out.
“The dedication through all these years to not only do the basketball, but be a mentor and encouragement for the boys,” Sheldon’s mom said before the game.
Leo Rothenberg, senior guard
“Something I will never forget about Coach Kuhns is his drive to win, he pushes extremely hard in practice so that the games will be easy. He comes up with game plans to help us win and he expects us to do everything we can to win. The most important thing coach has taught me is to be a man. He has taught us to respect women at all times and has prepared us to be gentlemen for the rest of our lives.”
Jeffrey Hall, senior guard
“Something i will always remember about Coach Kuhns is his leadership. He always knew just what to say to encourage us and push us forward both in life and on the court.The most important thing he has taught me is perspective. Having the right perspective on your life can change everything and make any situation into a learning moment.”
Jesse Gonzales, senior guard
Something that I will always remember of coach Kuhns is how much he believed in me and how much he always encouraged me. Whenever I’d have an off game or do something wrong he’d talk to me and remind me every time just how much he believes in me. I’ll always remember that and thank him for it. The most important thing Coach has taught me is “Team Together” he has brought us so close together I consider my teammates my brothers, and as of now I consider Kuhns not only my coach but my friend.“
Winning one for coach
Perhaps anxious to pull through for their coach, the Saints were cold in the first quarter, which ended 11-10 in their favor. Jesse Gonzales hit the team’s first trey to start the second, starting a mini cascade of scoring for both teams. Quinn Downey, back from a multiple game injury, got his stroke back from deep 1:37 into the period to give the Saints a 19-15 lead. An old-fashioned 3-point play from Leo Rothenberg followed, and a hardnosed offensive rebound put-back from Vinny Nowicki punctuated a 12-0 run.
The shooting woes persisted, but chippy playing from Nowicki, Sean Boselli, and Miles Imhof down low and Theo Moritz on the wing eventually led to a flurry of fastbreak points that pushed the Saints to a 36-21 lead at halftime.
In the second half, the Saints searched for easy buckets, using a full-court trap to generate turnovers and patiently moving the ball to get close. On senior night, Leo Rothenberg was the most mature presence in his final game on the court. He followed his own miss for a one-handed put back and converted an acrobatic and-1 layup four possessions later to extend the third quarter lead to 22. He finished the game with 17 points.
In the end, the Saints wore down their overmatched opponent, taking the win by 30 points.
Olathe fell to 4-13 while the Saints finished the regular season 11-7.