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In a high school basketball coaching career that spanned 44 years at the same school, Jim Yerkovich of Judge Memorial Catholic High School in Salt Lake City won more games than any high school, college or professional coach in state history not named Jerry Sloan -- 634.
But it never has been about the numbers -- although they are mind-boggling -- for Yerkovich. It has been about the journey, the lives he has impacted along the way and the legacy he leaves as a teacher of sportsmanship and team unity and a man who waged a lifelong effort to bring more dignity, respectfulness and positive values to amateur athletics.
Just three days after the 67-year-old Yerkovich's Judge Bulldogs played for the 3A state championship, the longtime coaching icon announced to his team Tuesday afternoon that he is retiring. His replacement will be announced Thursday.
Yerkovich said there are several reasons why he is stepping down, most related to his declining health.
"I no longer have the energy to run the program at the quality that I would like to," he said. "It's probably the right time, after 44 years, to give somebody else a chance."
Rival coaches and administrators statewide said Yerkovich's retirement leaves a void in the state's high school sports scene that never will be filled.
He's perhaps best known in and out of the state for taking Judge to the prestigious Alhambra National Catholic Invitational Tournament 12 times, becoming the first Utah prep coach to take his teams outside the state for national competition on a regular basis. The Bulldogs will go again this month for the 13th time as part of the ACIT's 50th celebration.
In 1990, Judge defeated two nationally ranked teams and finished second, one of its eight top-five finishes at the Cumberland, Md., event.
Asked to list the most memorable moments of his career, Yerkovich said "none of the top ones pertain to the scoreboard." Rather, "it was the people, and the relationships built along the way."
Indeed, when a 19-6 Judge team picked to finish fourth in its region made a run at the 3A state title last week, dozens of calls and messages poured in from former players scattered all around the country.
It is all part of the "We" approach that Yerkovich incorporated into his program early on. He took that message throughout the country, speaking at the National Catholic Education Association's annual meetings several times with his well-known "basketball is a classroom for values" mantra.
In 2003, Yerkovich published his "We, a Model for Coaching and Christian Living" book as a formal presentation of his coaching philosophies, and the book is used as a resource in more than 800 Catholic schools around the country.
Other highlights of Yerkovich's coaching career included coaching the West team in the 1981 McDonald's All-America game that lost 96-95 to the Michael Jordan-led East team. He was selected to coach the 1989 Utah AAU select team that beat a touring Soviet Union national team, 104-85, and earned dozens of honors, including the Utah Sports Professional of the Year at the Utah Chapter MS Dinner of Champions.
Having moved from Rock Springs, Wyo., and enrolling at Judge prior to his sophomore year of high school, Yerkovich returned to Judge after graduating from the University of San Francisco.
Despite playing out of their enrollment classification for most of his tenure, the Bulldogs won three 3A state championships (1980, 2006, 2008) and played for the state title nine times.
Yerkovich sent more than 50 players on to Division I college basketball, including players who were multi-year starters at Wake Forest, Stanford, Utah, Utah State, Washington State and elsewhere.
Although he declined to list his best or favorite players, he mentioned Jimmy Soto, who went on to an all-conference career at Utah, as one who symbolizes the remarkable program he built at one of the few private high schools in the state.
"We are proud of the wins and the championships, but they are all just a byproduct of the journey, and were never, ever more important than the people," he said.
Yerkovich was academic vice-principal at Judge until retiring two years ago, and taught advancement placement calculus for 25 years before moving into administration.
He said much of the credit for the program's success should go to his loyal assistant coaches, including two who have been with him for more than 23 years - Marty Giovacchini and Dan Del Porto - and one who has coached the freshman team for at least 15 years, Jeff Baird.
"My assistants made it possible for me to go this long," he said, also crediting the help of his wife, Betty, and the support of his children Noel, Mary Chris and John and step children Matthew, Chris and Jackie.
44 » Coached 44 seasons at Judge Memorial, more seasons than any prep coach in state history
634 » Amassed 634 wins, more than any high school or college coach in state history
38 » Led his teams to 38 state tournaments
16 » Led his team to 16 region championships
13 » Invited to participate in the prestigious national ACIT 13 times
9 » Teams played in nine state championship games
3 » Won three Class 3A state championships