Regardless of the results of the past week, Jeff Kloster already was more than comfortable with the legacy he eventually will leave behind at Longmont High School.
Over 400 wins. The seven Final Four appearances and, until last weekend, two appearances in the state championship game that ended in heartbreak. Above it all, however, it has always been the relationships with the players that have both fueled and inspired Kloster, and not just those with the 40-plus players he has sent to collegiate rosters.
As a teacher, educator, and mentor, Kloster has succeeded in every way imaginable over his 24 seasons as the Trojans’ boys basketball coach. A Longmont native and alum of the school who, by his own admission, “bleeds Trojans blue” Kloster’s legacy already was firmly established.
Last Saturday’s 62-59 win against Lewis-Palmer in the Class 4A title game just made that legacy a heck of a lot sweeter.
“It’s about teaching kids life lessons and trying to get them ready for life,” Kloster said. “Down deep though, as a head coach you always strive to want to be on that championship side, where yes, you do get a state championship. There’s been so many coaches who have reached out to me. One in particular was Mike Flynn, who was the head coach at Skyline, and Mike was my mentor. Just the people who have called or given me texts just saying congratulations and saying, ‘You’re part of the group now.’
“There are so many really fabulous coaches who are in that crew as far as winning state championships. But on the other hand, there are a lot of great coaches out there who are great in every way, they just haven’t been fortunate enough to win one. It humbles me. I was hoping that someday I’d be able to say I got a chance to coach a state championship team. It’s something I will cherish for the rest of my life.”
On Friday, Kloster and the Trojans celebrated the school’s first boys basketball state championship since 1942 with a rally at the school gymnasium. It was the culmination of sorts for a journey that began for Kloster almost three decades ago in a conversation in his back yard with his predecessor at Longmont, current University of Colorado coach Tad Boyle.
Kloster played against Boyle’s older brother during their respective Colorado prep days, and it was Boyle who first coaxed Kloster out of a burgeoning career as a referee to try his hand at coaching. When Boyle left his home state to take his first collegiate job as an assistant at Oregon, there was little doubt Kloster was the perfect choice to take over.
As a native son, the six days since claiming his first title have reinforced to Kloster this title belongs to more than just himself and his players. On his to-do list on Friday afternoon was to take the championship trophy over to the home of Chuck Mariotti, the 94-year old Longmont resident who played on the ’42 title team. Kloster, who played alongside Mariotti’s son Ned at Longmont, invited Chuck Mariotti to the rally, but since the journey would be a little strenuous for Mariotti, Kloster wanted to make sure the ’42 champ still had an opportunity to get a glimpse of his alma mater’s shiny new hardware.
Kloster also related the story of Ethan Gottschalk, a member of his first Longmont team in 1994-95 that suffered its tournament heartbreak in the state semifinals. Now living in Italy, Gottschalk live-streamed last week’s Final Four games and staged his own victory celebration a half a world away from his hometown.
Kloster has had, by his count, three opportunities to pursue other job offers through his 24 years Longmont. He was tempted each time. He stayed home each time. Among the myriad messages the 61-year old Kloster has received over the past week were a handful telling him how fitting it is that he’s going out on top, heading into retirement with his first, long-awaited state title.
Not so fast.
“I have a deep love for this school that, in the end each time (with other jobs), it was ‘I can’t leave,'” Kloster said. “I can’t leave, because I bleed blue so much. I’m so proud of not only Longmont High School, but the city of Longmont. Do I want to come back? I still have that itch. I still love this school. I still love our program. There’s still a hunger inside me because I still have something to give to kids.”
I spent much of the winter reporting on the off-court drama surrounding a couple maligned basketball programs in the Pac-12 Conference. Kloster and his Trojans offered a refreshing reminder of what the game is supposed to be all about.