As basketball coach at Denver Christian High School, Dick Katte ’58 won his first state championship more than three decades ago. Since then he has added five more titles to his record, not to mention numerous other state title runs and Metro Denver League championships. Yet one of Katte’s most memorable moments occurred off the court just a few years ago when one of his state championship teams held a reunion.
“Every player from that 1978 team came back, and they all testified as to how basketball had played a significant part in their lives, in their being able to deal with situations and hardships,” said Katte. “That was one of the most special times in my life. You see, coaching and teaching and mentoring kids is not like painting a house, where you can step back and say, ‘Man, that looks nice.’ It takes a while to see the impact.”
But that impact is evident among the 46 years’ worth of Denver Christian graduates whose lives Katte has touched.
“Dick Katte has been a part of my life since about fourth grade, when I first encountered him at Katte’s Kamp, his summer basketball clinic for elementary and middle school-aged boys,” explained Josh Vriesman, a Calvin College senior, in a letter of recommendation for Katte.
“At that time the gym was filled with blue conference championship and state championship banners. He talked about the many great experiences he had had over the years but then stopped abruptly and said, ‘These accomplishments don’t mean anything. The only banner in this entire gym that has any significance is the one right above me.’ Hanging directly over the middle of the court was a white banner that read, ‘To God Be the Glory.’”
That message is one that Katte has spread across Colorado and beyond through his numerous award acceptance speeches and his interaction with the media.
The winningest coach in Colorado history, with a career record of 748-183, Katte was recently inducted into both the National High School Hall of Fame and the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame. In 1999, the Denver Christian gymnasium was named in his honor.
“I was deeply humbled about being selected for those honors,” said Katte. “I always try, though, to take the opportunity to talk about the qualities that I strive to teach my players — things like respect, discipline, relationships, faith — things that mean a lot more than basketball.”
In fact, one of the things Katte tells his players all the time is that he is more concerned about life after basketball than he is about basketball as life.
“I feel very strongly that as coaches it is our responsibility to serve as models and mentors for students, who are at very impressionable ages,” he said. “I feel like I am making an impact that way. That’s probably why I continue to stay in it.”
Katte has also been recognized for his efforts in this regard; he was named the first Dave Sanders Award recipient in 2000. This award is given in honor of the teacher-coach killed in the Columbine High School tragedy of 1999.
“Receiving that award was a real honor because it embodies Sanders’ qualities of commitment, integrity and courage, which I really like to emphasize,” he said.
The legendary coach began his career at Denver Christian in 1960, after completing his master’s degree in education at Indiana University. Originally from Sheboygan, Wis., he moved to Denver with his wife, Lorraine Stap Katte ’58, to take a teaching position in math.
A baseball player while at Calvin, Katte also began his Denver Christian coaching career in that sport. His career also includes stints as the school’s football and track coach, athletic director and assistant principal (a position he still holds today).
His four children all graduated from Denver Christian. His son, Keith, played on the undefeated 1978 Crusader team. Katte continues in the classroom, teaching two math classes.
In fact, despite all of the coaching accolades, Katte considers himself first and foremost a teacher. “Dick Katte is a master teacher, and it is his math classroom in which he takes most pride,” said Denver Christian principal Mark Swalley. “Denver Christian students know well Mr. Katte’s equal enthusiasm for a basketball game and a math lesson.”
On the court and off, it is all about teaching for Katte. Disappointing losses, calls that don’t go your way, incredible victories — all present “teachable moments.” And in 46 years in the classroom and in the gym, Katte and his students have experienced many of those moments.
In his life, he tries to live out his motto: Bloom where you are planted.
“My original plan was to take the job, stay for maybe five years and then move back to the Midwest,” he said. “I never thought I would stay in one place for this long of a time, but being able to minister to young people in Denver and to see the faithfulness of God has been very fulfilling.”
Katte has not been without some physical trials and infirmaties. In 1984 he suffered a life-threatening brain aneurysm. In 1993 he had a malignant tumor of the small intestine removed and underwent weekly chemotherapy for a full year. He has recovered fully from both of these and testifies openly that “God is good.”
Winning a state championship with his most recent team prompted reporters to ask Katte about his retirement plans. “Many of them said, ‘Boy this is a good way to go out — on top.’” Katte, who is 68, said, “Right now I’m committed to coming back for another year. I still have the energy, and I still think I can help young people. Besides, I’m not really good at anything else.”
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