Kit Carson's Jim Trahern is, as his colleagues say, a legend.
He was elected into the Colorado High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2015, was the Colorado High School Coaches Association Basketball Coach of the Year in 2004 and 2008, the CHSCA Tom Sutak Basketball recipient in 2004, and has his name in both the CHSAA football and basketball record books for career victories.
Trahern created a culture in the Kit Carson community built on respect. That respect is in no way unidirectional. It's the respect that Trahern has for others that garners the respect others have for him.
"He is a legend," 21-year Kit Carson volleyball coach Penny Isenbart said. "He has earned respect from people, but that comes from him respecting them and treating them as human and that they are important no matter what job they have, no matter what they do. That's one of the things he taught me the most."
The time has come for the legendary coach to retire.
"I felt it was the right time. Once football starts, I rarely leave the city limits on anything except a school bus," Trahern said. "I've had the philosophy that to be competitive, during the summer there really is no time off. You've got to be doing something. In a small community, the gym needs to be open often because of flexibility for the kids to come and I noticed that my feelings towards staying at the gym all night had changed a little."
Nearing the end of his 35-year career, Trahern has his hands in numerous aspects of the Kit Carson community: he is the athletic director, the football and basketball coach, the principal and a teacher at the high school.
"I've just been blessed. I've worked for a terrific board of education members and great administration and great assistants over that time," Trahern said. "Probably one of the huge keys was that I worked for terrific parents —parents that have trusted me and shared my philosophy. Last and most important, just some great student athletes over that time that have taken coaching and been willing to be pushed. It's just been a terrific run."
Think that's all? Trahern is also a sixth grade science and elementary P.E. teacher.
"I think that's also led to success in that I have the elementary programs, so most of the kids that I've taught, I saw them in second grade," Trahern said. "Then, I coach the middle school level, so when they get to high school, they're ready to go. I think that continuity has been huge."
The continuity that Trahern believes in helped create the culture.
"I noticed that there was a culture here that he had established that was prideful," Isenbart said. "Not every community has that culture. He's instilled it. Kids know it's for real. The parents understand the culture. I think it's really amazing that somebody has built that."
Trahern points to the experience as an aide for his coaches as the moment that launched him into this illustrious career.
"I got to teach and coach with them and I was blessed with great coaches. That captured me," Trahern said. "45 minutes every day getting the opportunity to work with kids. After that, I didn't hesitate. That was the choice that I was going to stick with."
And man, did he stick with it. Trahern stuck with it above and beyond what his duties as a coach, teacher, athletic director, principal or whatever mask he had on in the moment. He was there as a friend. He was there as an ear for a voice in need of advice.
"He believed in me when I didn't believe in myself," Isenbart said. "I was doubting if I was doing things right or if I should even be doing things, he was always there to help. He never judged me, he respected me and listened. He's a great listener and he's a person of action. If there is something wrong, he doesn't sit on it. Something has to be done. No matter how small your system is, you have a voice."
Trahern started his career at John Mall in Walsenburg before moving to Kit Carson.
"At Walsenburg, in my two years there, I worked with some terrific people," Trahern said. "That really helped mold a philosophy as far as athletics."
Trahern finds it easy to point to moments that sting, but has no regrets with his career.
"There are just a lot of losses that sting. When you put that much time and energy into it and the kids invest their heart and time, those sting. I don't know if you could point to just one," Trahern said. "In football, we've been to the state playoffs multiple times and haven't been able to capture a state championship. We've had a couple semifinal losses, had a quarterfinal loss this year that will probably sting as much as anything. In basketball, same thing. This year we lost in the state semifinal game in triple-overtime.
"I'd say regrets are few. In the coaching part, you always look back and wish there had been a couple third downs where I made a different call or a timeout here and there in basketball. I've had some opportunities to leave along the way and go to bigger schools, but I don't have any regrets. Kit Carson was a great place to work."
As for those opportunities to leave, Trahern went with his gut when faced with the decision of staying or going.
"I've always had players that wanted to put in the time and wanted to get better," Trahern said. "I always felt that as long as I had players that wanted to be coached, and willing to be coached at the level that I was coaching at. It's just been special and felt right. Never thought about leaving."
The Trahern legacy extends from the patriarch to his two sons: Jake and Ty. Jake and Ty were both on the 2004 state championship basketball team, and Ty was on the 2007 state championship basketball team.
Also, Trahern employs multiple former players as assistant coaches.
"I've coached a lot of terrific (players). My two sons both played for me and were both members of the state championship teams. That holds special to me," Trahern said. "Somebody asked me to count — and I have not done it — how many former players are in the coaching ranks. That's something I hold really special, too, because obviously they loved it and wanted to be a part of it to go into it as a career."
The two sports that Trahern has put the most time into as a coach are football and basketball. He looks to basketball as the most enjoyable sport to coach.
"It's hard to pick a favorite. Football, there's so much more control from a coaching standpoint, making adjustments on every play, moving substitutes in and out," Trahern said. "The flow of basketball is what captures me and makes it my favorite."
Beyond the flow of the game, it could be his 487-216 record at Kit Carson (494-243 overall) or maybe the 11 state tournament appearances (state champions 2003, 2007; two state runner-ups) that make Trahern say basketball is his favorite.
That's not to say Trahern hasn't seen success on the football field. In 30 years, Trahern took Kit Carson to the playoffs 24 times, including 11 state semifinal appearances and two state runner-up finishes.
Trahern will be missed in many ways, but the greatest hole will be left in the stability that he has created.
"The stability. We all go to him, and now it's like, 'Who do we go to?'" Isenbart said. "I've talked to him about this and he always says, 'I'm not dying, I'm not dying! I'm not dead, I'm just not going to be here in the building.'"
And, Trahern is only a minute's walk away if his services are truly needed.
Trahern lives across the street from the Kit Carson football field. And that's where he'll be, still a friend and still a welcoming ear.
"The memories that I have will be cherished. But it's the relationships," Trahern said. "Coaches and players throughout the state; those friendships are lifetime. There are a lot of good people in education in the state of Colorado. I've developed a lot of lifetime friendships that I will cherish forever."
Jim Trahern's career numbers
- 35 years in education (33 at Kit Carson, 2 at John Mall High School)
- Athletic director for 33 years.
- Colorado High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame, 2015.
- Basketball: 494-243 as a head coach, including 487-216 at Kit Carson. Two state championships (2003, 2007), two runner-ups. 32 years a coach.
- Football: 191-82 as a head coach. 24 playoff appearances, 11 state semifinal trips, two runner-up finishes. Head coach for 30 years.