Jerry Williams met with his Cascade Christian boys basketball team a few weeks into the season.
He told them this year – his 19th as the school’s boys basketball coach – would be his final.
“I want him to be able to look back and say, ‘That last season – that was my favorite season,’” Cascade Christian senior Dylan Cooley said.
They keep playing like this and it might be up there.
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The night started with an ovation – parents, players, fans and school officials all standing and clapping for more than 30 seconds as Williams stood just in front of the Cascade Christian bench with his arm around his wife, Laura.
The crowd paid its respects for the man who orchestrated back-to-back 1A state championship victories over Meridian and Zillah in the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons. Those are the only two titles in the program’s history.
And then there was the game. Cooley scored 25 points and Cascade Christian held off rival Seattle Christian for a 67-60 victory on Tuesday night in a night that not only honored their longtime coach, but also secured the 1A Nisqually League title because Vashon Island beat Bellevue Christian.
They found that last part out while they were in the auditorium across the hall after their game, eating pizza and cake and celebrating Williams’ career – which isn’t officially over until their looming playoff run is.
“It’s kind of weird,” Williams said of the celebration. “I still love coaching. So it’s hard to kind of put a grasp on it right now.”
The win leaves Williams three shy of 300 career wins. Only eight other coaches in the South Sound, all classifications, have at least 300 career wins.
He’s leaving because of his day job. Williams is a sales manager for Auburn Dairy Products, but he’ll be promoted to general manager next month. The job flexibility won’t be what it currently is, where he can manage both being a high school basketball coach and making a steady income.
Cascade Christian senior Corbin Nohr just figured Williams would be coaching until his heart stop beating.
“He’s been with us for so long that it was really a surprise to be honest,” said Nohr, who scored 12 points. “But it’s best for him. I know I’m going to be gone next year, but I’m going to miss the guy.”
Cascade Christian advances to the 1A West Central District tournament where it will face the winner of Vashon Island-Klahowya at 6 p.m. Tuesday, at Bremerton High School.
And the Cougars (12-8; 6-2 1A Nisqually) seem to be playing their best basketball of the season at the right time, another staple of Williams-coached teams. They’ve won six of their past eight games, including over previously No. 5-ranked Bellevue Christian.
Last year, Cascade Christian entered the playoffs with a 9-11 record, and then went on to reach the 1A state quarterfinals before losing to eventual champion Zillah.
Williams is a frequent fixture in the Yakima SunDome. His teams have been in the state tournament six of the past eight seasons, and 11 of his previous 18 seasons.
“It was hard because I tried to look at every possible way there was to stay,” Williams said. “I just can’t do something halfway. I didn’t want to put something like that on the school or the other coaches that I would feel bad about. I would feel horrible if I missed two or three games or practices.
“I just want to be fair to the kids, to the school and everybody else and this wouldn’t have been fair to all of them.”
He graduated from Puyallup in 1980 before playing basketball at the University of Puget Sound for hall of fame coach Don Zech. It was Zech who inspired Williams to get into coaching. Zech was 83 when he died two years ago of liver cancer.
“I just respected him so much. When he opened his mouth, every little thing he said I listened to,” Williams said. “And usually you know the coaches you most respect because you end up running their stuff down the road – I run a lot of his stuff still today.”
So Williams then went to Australia and coached for three seasons near Brisbane before returning to Puyallup. He first coached the Cascade Christian girls basketball team for two years, taking them to a fifth-place finish in the 2000-01 season.
The next season, he switched to the boys basketball team, taking over a team that started the season 1-5.
By the end of the season, Cascade Christian was playing in its second state tournament appearance in school history.
“He will do anything for his team,” said third-year Seattle Christian coach Michael Watts, who was a senior at Seattle Christian when Cascade Christian was in the midst of its back-to-back state titles. “The thing that stands out is, by far, his love for his team.
“And I still don’t know their offense. It’s two down screens and then who knows. That’s how it was when I played against them and that’s how it is now.”
Williams stresses defense and unselfishness. You’re missing one or both of those attributes and you’re not playing, Cooley said.
Nohr said their most grueling practices have been defense-only ones. They struggled at times defensively on Tuesday night, but Cascade Christian’s starting lineup is so balanced – Cooley averages 17 points per game, but the other four starters were averaging between 7-10 points per game.
Williams was asked how much it would mean to end his career with this group on a high note.
“I really don’t know,” he said. “It would mean more to me to give the kids an experience. That’s even when we won state championships, that’s the thing I remember the most is the kids’ experience and the looks on their faces and the enjoyment they get from their whole adventure of going to state.
“That would mean more to me than anything is seeing these kids get to fulfill their dreams.”
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677
Seattle Christian: Alex Clear 4, Jared Cattell 16, Spencer Howell 12, Connor Knack 3, Zac VanderLey 23, Harrison Hohimer 2.
Cascade Christian: Dylan Cooley 25, Noah Wilkins 5, Nathan Larsen 15, Corbin Nohr 12, Parker Johnson 7, Connor O’Brien 3.
ACTIVE SOUTH SOUND COACH RECORDS
Where Cascade Christian coach Jerry Williams stands among the active coaches in the South Sound region in terms of total career wins. Updated through Feb. 6, 2018 (based on avaialable information)
Jerome Collins, Federal Way
Gary Wusterbarth, Steilacoom
Tim Kelly, Curtis
Mark Lovelady, Life Christian
Bernie Salazar, Bellarmine Prep
Mel Ninnis, Clover Park
Pat Mullen, Emerald Ridge
Tim Brown, North Thurston
Jerry Williams, Cascade Christian
State’s all-time winningest coach: Ed Pepple, Mercer Island, Fife, Mark Morris (49 years, 952 wins)