By Dave Price
Appeal Sports Writer
It's quite likely Curt Kraft had a lump in his throat after stepping down as head coach of the University of Nevada track and field program last year.
After all, he had put in 10 seasons as head coach of the Wolf Pack women - bringing home three conference championships along the way - in addition to four previous seasons as an assistant at the university. Walking away from a program firmly established among the best in the Western Athletic Conference was no easy thing.
But there were other priorities - starting at home with his own family.
"That was one of the reasons, I wanted to spend time with my family," Kraft said. "I look back and there were a lot of days I missed being with my daughters."
And last week he had a chance to watch his oldest daughter, Alicia, play as a senior catcher for Galena High at the Northern 4A Regional Softball Tournament in Carson City. A younger daughter, sophomore Kayla, would have been in the outfield if not for an ACL injury that will require surgery on her left knee in July.
It's an opportunity he is thankful to have had.
"That was the first zone tournament I'd ever gotten to see Alicia play in and I guess I didn't know what I was missing," Kraft said. "I got to see Galena knock off Spanish Springs and Reno, and finish as one of the top three teams in the tournament. To be honest, it was emotional. I watched Alicia ground out to the pitcher in the last game, and I felt a lump in my throat. She wasn't successful at that moment, but just realizing that was her last at-bat as a high school softball player, I was glad that I could be there.
"If I had been coaching (at Nevada), at that particular time and moment, I would have been in Tulsa, Okla., for the WAC Championships, just like I'd been for the last 15 years."
He had quite a run at Nevada because the Pack won WAC Indoor track and cross country championships in 2003, to go with a Big West track title in 2000. He was named Big West Coach of the Year in 2000, plus he was named WAC and NCAA Mountain Region Indoor Coach of the Year in 2003.
By the way, between watching softball games, Kraft has managed to find his way back into coaching as a member of the Rite of Passage staff in Yerington. He works as a coach/counselor - seven days on, seven days off - at a school for at-risk teens. So instead of a trip to Tulsa for the WAC Championships, he will be in Las Vegas for the high school NIAA/Las Vegas Review Journal State Championships this Friday and Saturday.
He couldn't be any happier, either.
"John Dibble (athletic director) and Kip Lee (head track coach) asked if I'd be interested in helping out, so I've been out there since April and I'm enjoying it," Kraft said. "Kip is a wonderful man and a very good coach. We're looking forward to going down to Las Vegas."
ROP is sending a talented group to the 2A state finals that includes Zayid Wolfe, the No. 1 seed in the triple jump (43-feet, 7 3/4 inches), No. 2 in the long jump (20-11 1/2) and No. 4 in the 100 (11.45). Fredrick Patton comes in with the third-fastest qualifying mark in the 200 (22.95).
"I enjoy working with these kids. I'm one of those people who wants to make a difference in the lives of young people and I'm excited about this opportunity," Kraft said. "It's challenging, but at the same time, I see where it's rewarding. In most cases, these kids have never done their sport before, but a lot of them have tremendous natural talent."
His new job involves long days.
"As a coach/counselor, you're up at 5:30 in the morning and you work until 9:30 at night. You're working directly with the kids, when they go to class, you go to class with them and make sure things go smoothly; you're trying to teach them how to take directives and to understand there are right ways to do things and wrong ways to do things," Kraft said.
Kraft, a 1984 graduate of Minot State (N.D.), especially enjoys hearing questions from ROP athletes who express an interest in pursuing their sport in college.
"I've had experience at the college level, I have contacts with college coaches and junior college coaches," he said. "A number of kids have asked me about junior colleges, about Feather River College in Quincy (Calif.) and about junior colleges in the Sacramento area, and it feels good that I can help in that direction."
Kraft still hopes to coach again at the college level. If he doesn't find another job, though, he will be content to work at the high school level.
"It's still my choice to coach in college again, if somebody comes calling with the right situation," he said, noting that Alicia graduates from Galena on June 11 and Kayla still has two more years of high school. "If that doesn't work out, I'd like to get back in the classroom and coach in high school. I'm still pretty new with this (high school coaching). I've been doing it for a little over a month, but I see people who have been high school coaches for 18, 19, 20 years and more. God bless those people because they're definitely needed.
"I guess that's why we take it one day at a time. You never know what tomorrow is going to bring."
n Contact Dave Price at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 881-1220.