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After 24 years on the sideline, boys varsity basketball coach Ken George resigns as head coach

Jake Heilman, Sports Editor in Chief

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Senior Ty George looked at an emotional crowd at the FHC boys varsity basketball’s postseason banquet. He was the final senior to speak, and in his hand was his speech that included memories of his childhood filled with Rangerball, numerous thank yous, and the journey through high school basketball.

At the tail end of his speech, a quick mention of his father’s retirement was slipped in.

Immediately after, 10-year assistant coach Austin Riebel spoke, and mentioned that he was no longer going to be on the staff after his decade of dedication to the Rangerball program. Just like the end of Ty’s talk, Riebel’s ended with a reference to Coach George’s retirement.

Finally, it was Coach George’s turn. He finalized the announcement that he was leaving as the head coach of Rangerball after 24 years.

“I had talked to Ty beforehand about it,” George said. “He said he wanted to mention it because it was an important thing for him — us going out together. I think he hinted at it, but I’m not sure how many people actually caught the hint. I just talked about Henry David Thoreau and talked about his time coming out of the woods and how he knew that he had more lives to live. I believe the same thing; I just have more lives to live.”

Those other lives include a part-time gig as the assistant baseball coach for FHC’s varsity baseball team this season. But there is plenty more than just being on the sideline or in the dugout that George has his eyes set on now that he is finished as Rangerball’s head coach.

“I turn 50 in about a month, and I was just thinking about how there are so many things I want to do in life and so many things I’m passionate about,” George said. “I started to think about the passions I had that this job just never allowed me to pursue. I think that’s the main thing. I’d like to write a book, officiate some basketball, teach a college class, and make my summer camp business stronger. I guess I just had a lot of other things I wanted to dive into, just like I dove into this for 24 years.”

In the 1992-1993 season, FHC’s basketball team struggled immensely and found themselves without a coach at the end of the year. George, 25 years old at the time, interviewed to be the head coach and an English teacher after playing for Albion College and working in their admissions office.

Like the old cliche states, Rome wasn’t built in a day. And although George’s win total soars well above 330, in his first season, he only won 7 games.

“It took time,” George said. “We won 7 games in my first year, and at one point we were 0-7 or 0-8. My first win was a forfeit, it wasn’t even a real win. They called and said, “The team we had lost to in the first game had an ineligible player, do you want the win?ai??i?? And I said, “Yes, of course, I want the win.ai??i?? We finished that year with 7 wins, but it felt like 20. For everyone involved it was just a big step forward.”

George’s breakout year as a head coach was in the 2001-2002 season when he won not only his first conference championship but his first district and regional championships as well.

From 2001 to 2009, George and his teams won five total conference titles, along with three district and three regional championships in that span alone.

Numerous players that competed for George went on and played in college including Kyle Visser (“03) who played at Wake Forest and professionally overseas as one of the most notable basketball alumni.

George has come to learn over the years, however, that it was never about the numbers, the wins, the losses, or the stats. He has taken away such a bigger piece of life than anything a stat book could say.

“Initially when I started coaching, I maybe thought it was more about the x’s and o’s,” George said. “Honestly, I think that’s 10 percent of it. I think if you choose to play man, great. If you choose to play zone, great. I think whatever you want to do, that’s great. Teach it and get people to believe in it. But I think 90 percent of it is giving kids confidence and having them play for something greater than that game, or that day, or that team, or that coach.”

When he interviewed for the job in 1994, he was just dating his wife Meggan. He had only hoped to have a boy to be able to bring up through the Ranger basketball program. After sending his oldest son Jordan to Hope College two years ago, he now sends off Ty to Hope as well. The George household has been nothing but Rangerball for the last 24 years.

“It’s really been all we know,” George said. “You walk in our house and it’s a Rangerball shrine. There are pictures everywhere. It’s summer camps, it’s fall games, and it’s games over winter break. For 24 years, it’s been a cycle that has driven my life and unfortunately, my wife’s life. She, over the last several years, has really dove in with me and our kids, and she’s come to games for 24 years.”

George has impacted so many of his players that he has had throughout the years and has been remembered by the many classes of athletes he’s had starting from his first season on.

Adam Brown (“97)

“I remember at the banquet after his first season, the parents had made him a sign that said, “By George, We Did It.ai??i??” said Brown, who was on George’s first team, an all-conference player in 1994, and has one of the greatest games in Rangerball history with 25 points, 5 rebounds, 8 assists, and 3 steals as only a sophomore. “That was how much he was beloved after a 7-win first season. I remember him then saying he has the best job in the state, at the best high school in the state, and he would sign a 20-year contract if he could. The irony in all of that stands out to me because the sign completely holds true 24 years later, and I know he would describe his appreciation the same way today.”

Thomas Weibel (“98)

“There are so many [favorite memories],” said Weibel, who was an all-conference player in the 1997-98 season and is third all-time at FHC in assists. “My identity in high school was playing basketball on Friday nights. It was what I dreamed about since moving to Forest Hills in 3rd grade. Watching Major Flynn, Austin Riebel, VanFossen, Stover, Pittman, McClean, and Brown before me and finally being able to put on that jersey was a big deal. We had a couple EGR and Rockford wins that I will never forget, but the two I remember the most were against Wyoming Park my senior year. They only lost three games that year, two of them to us. The celebration after a big road win in their locker room was epic.”

Jon Edmondson (“02)

“It’s hard to imagine what playing basketball at FHC would have been like without Coach George,” said Edmondson, who was an all-conference player in 2002 and has two of FHC’s most memorable performances in an outing against East Kentwood, and one against Hudsonville. “Growing up, all I wanted to do was play varsity basketball for Coach George. I was blessed and fortunate to have that opportunity, and it would be an understatement to say that it didn’t far exceed my expectations. His passion for life and the approach in which he attacks everything he does is something I, still to this day, try to emulate. He taught me that adversity and failure is inevitable but how you react to it is not. He taught us in order to lead you must know how to follow. He turned us into leaders by showing us what it’s like to follow. Coach stressed the importance of small victories because we work so hard and grind every single day. Sometimes we need to stop and appreciate the Ws along the way. “Wins are hard,ai??i?? he would say.”

James Telman (“03)

“Coach George is the man,” said Telman, who is second on the all-time leading scoring list with 1099 points and has coached JV under George for multiple seasons. “I say that because he is the kind of role model that every young man should have at one point in their life. In everything he does, he does it giving 110%. He was the example I needed growing up. He’s consistent, dependable, honest, hard working, and compassionate. As a coach, this guy did more things for us as individuals and as players than what most people get in an entire career.”

Kyle Visser (“03)

“The one thing I will always remember about Coach is that regardless of the time whether it be practice, lift, or film, he always came with an intensity and desire for us to get better,” said Visser, who is 7th all time in scoring and 3rd all time in rebounds at FHC. “He is the ultimate encourager. He knows this story well as he often repeats it as a learning experience, but my senior year on a game day, I didn’t feel like participating in one of my classes that day and my teacher informed Coach promptly about my behavior. It was not typical of me, as I was a good student and person. He came down the hall to my locker and let me have it. He knew this was not my character and wanted to remind me of what was truly important. I believe I did not start that game, and I quickly realized he cared more about me as a person than me as a future D1 basketball player.”

Cam White (“08)

“Coach George was an outstanding role model for me, especially during my high school career,” said Cam, who was a two time all-conference honorable mention. “He helped cultivate my love to prepare. Being prepared as an athlete gives you a huge advantage over your opponent. I carried this trait with me into my career playing football in college at Hillsdale, but also professionally with the Indianapolis Colts and overseas. Knowing my playbook forwards and backwards helped me to excel on the field. Scouting other teams, which we did in Coach George’s room every lunch hour, helped me prepare for gameplans I could expect to see our opponents execute. I have taken that love for being prepared before game day to my personal life as well. Coach George is the man who taught me that in high school, and it’s made an enormous impact on my life.”

“My favorite memory from my time as a Rangerballer was during a Regional Finals game during the 2006-07 season. We were playing against Rockford and were up by 2 points with seconds left on the clock. I was fouled and Coach gave me a smile and during the timeout said, “Cam’s gonna hit both of these.ai??i?? Deep down I knew he was still pretty worried about it because I wasn’t the best free throw shooter… The entire student section was doing their best hoedown impression as they played “Cotton-Eyed Joe” over the PA system. I was able to make both of those free throws and we won the Regional Championship. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to listen to “Cotton-Eyed Joe” without thinking back to that game. Congratulations on such an incredible coaching career at FHC, and good luck on the next chapter in your life.”

Derek Dennis (“09)

Coach George could get the best out of you in any circumstance: basketball, school, relationships, and even your family,” said Derek, who leads FHC in career points, total field goals, and three pointers made in a career. “He has such a passion for wanting people to succeed that it is contagious. I inspire to be even half the coach, teacher, father, and, husband he is when I get older. Congratulations Coach on an amazing and memorable career at FHC. You were hands down the best coach I have ever played for…in any sport.”

Joey Saladino (“09)

“Some of my best memories of Rangerball are early Saturday morning practices, running horse after practice, Coach George drinking his pumpkin spice latte during our before school shoot around, matchups in the locker room before a game, scouting reports ([and him] somehow knowing what the guy I’m guarding ate for lunch all last week), and Mr. Lovell sliding across the floor after winning conference,” said Joey, who holds the record for most threes made in a season.

“Coach George was more than a coach to all of his players; he was, and is, the type of guy that will do anything for anyone. He cared more about the men he was molding than just winning a hoops game. The most impactful thing that he taught me was to give everything I had. It didn’t matter what we were doing, playing hoops or getting after a 12-page essay paper, everything we did was 120 percent. That definitely has shaped me in everything that I do; no matter what it is. I give 120 percent. Last but not least, I want to say thanks to Coach George and how proud of him that I am. He has shaped a lot of men into being the best version that they could be. For guys that have played for him, when they hear the saying ” the Rangerball way” it means something, and it’s a way of life for us. I also never want him to forget that my jumper is and will always be more silky than his.”

Johnny Nutter (“15)

It’s tough to put into words what Coach George did for me. No doubt he would push me to play the best I could– whether is was shooting early before practice or staying late after, he was there. But what he did for me as a person really changed me for the better. He taught me how to lead in more ways than one and how to handle criticism and adversity. As I graduated and matured, it was really amazing to look back and be able to now fully understand how much time, effort, and heart Coach George put into his program, but most importantly into all of his players development not just basketball players, but young men.”

Chad Bauchan (“15)

Coach George had a huge impact on me both on and off the court. First, on the court, he was a great coach for me. For me as a player, I wanted to go out and play hard for him every game to show how good the team was and that we were an image of Coach George. Off the court, I would not be where I am today without Coach George. Even after my senior season ended, we would still have conversations daily about what was going on in my life, what my plans were for college, how he could help. Coach George did so much for me in terms of talking to colleges and having coaches look at me and also with what my mindset needs to be, how to be mentally tough, and handle any situation that comes at me.

My favorite time from my Rangerball career has to be my senior season and finishing the regular season 20-0. Seeing all the hard work that was put in before the season and just getting the result that we’d hoped for was an incredible feeling. I don’t think Coach George got enough credit during that season. He did an unbelievable job as a coach making sure the team stayed ready and always played hard and together; we were really a spitting image of our coach.

Coach George is not only a great coach who had a huge impact on my career and is a big reason of why I am currently playing college basketball, but he is also a great person that really cares about people– not just considering them to be players. I have been out of high school for three years, and I still talk to him fairly regularly. I know that if I never need advice, or anything, he is one of the first people I would call because I know how much that he cares. He still checks up on my games in college and will text me about them; during my sophomore season he even came up to Lake Forest Illinois to watch one of my games. That meant the world to me and family– seeing that he still cares about former players.

Jordan George (“16)

“It’s pretty bittersweet that his career at FHC is coming to an end, and it makes me think about all the memories that we shared over Rangerball,” said Jordan, who is now a student assistant coach at Hope College. “My whole life has been centered around Rangerball since I was really young, and I’ll always remember both the big wins and the daily practices in the gym getting to spend time with my dad. One of my favorite memories was when my dad got his 300th win up in Traverse City during my senior year, and I scored a career-high 22 points. It was a pretty surreal memory that we get to share and talk about often. Another favorite memory has to be the whole experience that I’ve had this last year sitting on the bench with him and Ty. To be able to watch my brother have such a good season and do it while sitting next to my dad, I couldn’t have asked for a better way for it to end. My dad has sacrificed a lot for our family, and I’m just really grateful that I was able to grow up around Rangerball. He deserves a ton of credit for building something so special.”

Ryan Dunn (“18)

“He sat us down this season after the FHE game and just talked to us about how soft we were playing,” said Ryan, who set the record for blocks in a game and was first team all-conference this season. “He said if nothing changed, we’d be a .500 team, and that just wasn’t the goal for this team. He got us in position to make a run. He has super physical and tough practices and got us into a spot to compete. That was all due to him. We really did that and for three months, we were pretty much unbeatable. No matter what team we played, they struggled against us offensively and defensively and a lot of that is just due to his dedication and preparation day in and day out to this program like he has for so many years.”

Ty George (“18)

“Growing up in the gym and watching the team do the drills in practice that we still did this year is surreal,” said Ty, who broke the record for points in a game this season with 41. “I learned the values of leadership, teamwork, and family which have all all been big factors of Rangerball throughout the years. Being around those guys that I looked up to as role models for so many years, to now being that role model to the younger generations is special. My dad’s greatest loves have been in Rangerball and in his family. He carries himself as the bigger man in every situation, and is like a father figure to all of these players. He is a peoples person who cares about giving his team the best experience, no matter how much time and effort he has to put in. For me, growing up Rangerball was an experience few get, and i’m grateful for every second of it.

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