Coach Risen takes post at Air Academy High School

Sean C. Morgan

Sweet Home High School head boys basketball coach and social studies teacher Mark Risen has resigned to take a job at the Air Academy High School at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.

He will begin teaching advanced placement U.S. history and current events and take the head boys basketball coach position at the 5A school next school year.

The Air Academy belongs is part of the local school district, Coach Risen said. “It’s kind of an elite academic school where a large percentage of students do go on to a military academy of one kind or other.”

Each year, the school has a period where students from all over the school district can apply. About 25 percent of the students there are military dependents.

“It wasn’t anything Sweet Home did,” Coach Risen said. “My wife’s parents (formerly of Albany) bought retirement property in January and moved away.”

In 18 years of marriage, Coach Risen’s wife, Julie, has given up two jobs to follow Coach Risen’s career, first in Ashland then in Sweet Home.

“Most people can’t even fathom the sacrifices she makes for me to devote my life to other people’s kids,” Coach Risen said. “Julie just sat back and let me pursue my dreams.”

Mrs. Risen, a health care manager, commutes to Corvallis every day and would like to spend the two hours a day she spends on the road now with her children.

After her parents moved, for the first time in their marriage, asked Coach Risen look at three other places to live. The Risens had attended college in Tucson, Ariz., and liked the climate. They wanted to get away from Oregon’s rain and started looking in the southwest.

The family looked at Albuquerque, N.M.; Flagstaff, Ariz.; and Colorado Springs, Colo. After exploring each, they decided to look at Colorado Springs. Flagstaff was too small to offer a market large enough for Mrs. Risen to find work, and Albuquerque was simply too large.

Coach Risen set up six interviews. Mrs. Risen set up three. Coach Risen was offered jobs at all six interviews, and both secured positions. After talking to students, parents and staff members and exploring Colorado Springs, they decided they wanted to live in the north part of the city where the Air Force Academy is located.

“The prestige of that job appealed to me,” Coach Risen said. The school offered the most scholastic opportunity for Coach Risen and his children, Darrell and Alyssa. “All of the schools there were much better funded. Air Academy High has a very strong reputation as an intellectual institution.”

Coach Risen is looking forward to the “challenge of teaching honors, advanced placement type kids all day long,” he said.

In Colorado Springs, Mrs. Risen will have a five-minute commute, and the area is sunny 330 days per year though it gets about 21 inches of snow annually.

“I feel like here at Sweet Home we have greatness,” Coach Risen said. Since he came to work in Sweet Home for the 1997-98 school year, he has turned down 27 job offers or offers to be placed on a short list. To convince the family to move, “it had to be an ideal. It had to be greatness squared.”

“We have greatness here,” Coach Risen said. “We love it here. We love the people here.”

The family wasn’t really looking to leave Sweet Home, but Colorado Springs has everything Sweet Home has but offers a number of educational opportunities.

“It was tough to walk away,” Coach Risen said.

As Coach Risen prepares to leave, he will work with his likely successor, Assistant Coach Tim Little, to transition the basketball program over the summer.

“I want to leave this place the way I came into this place,” Coach Risen said. “I want to leave it with class. My heart and soul is here. I think I’m going to ache till I get there (to Colorado Springs) and get my feet on the ground.?

“The way I look at it, Tim gets to fulfill his dream. I get to pursue another dream that I have. Julie gets to fulfill hers.”

“The basketball program is in great shape,” Coach Risen said. The team will probably be picked to win the conference next year, possibly winning the next two years. “The program is going to flourish, especially with Tim at the helm.”

Coach Little has wanted to take a head coach position for a couple of years now, Coach Risen said. “Tim brings some talent to the table that I don’t possess.? I’m very excited about what he brings the head coach position.”

Coach Little has a rapport with the students in the program, and he’ll have a high energy level as he begins tackling his first head coaching position.

“He balances well between knowing when to let kids play or make adjustments,” Coach Risen said. “I think Tim’s going to take the team to a whole new level.”

Coach Little committed himself to Sweet Home for six years already after planning to be here for only a couple years.

“I look at it as a gain,” Coach Risen said. “The community is gaining Tim Little’s dedication and experience as a coach.”

Coach Risen wanted to wish Coach Little and the athletes at every level of the program down to grade school the best of luck.

“I’m forever thankful and forever indebted to our administrators here,” Coach Risen said. “People have no idea the job they do with the resources they have.”

Coach Risen also will miss the staff, which is incredibly supportive, friendly and congenial. The school has few problems because of the staff’s mutual respect and optimism.

He gives kudos to his coaching staff at all levels, from high school down to the traveling teams in grade school.

“Those guys did a remarkable job helping build something I treasure,” Coach Risen said. Since he announced his resignation, Coach Risen figures he has had 50 youths tell them their goal was to play varsity ball for him.

The development of a feeder “was the goal of building the program we did,” Coach risen said. “I feel great about having accomplished that.”

The Risens have had few problems in the community, Coach Risen said, but there have been times, and he is thankful to the many in the community that stuck by them.

He offers his thanks to the community too.

“We’re successful across the board (at SHHS),” Coach Risen said. “That’s because of the community. I’m leaving with a very heavy heart.”

At SHHS, Coach Risen has taught geography, world history, Oregon today, U.S. History and more. He was director of student activities for a year. He has been a class adviser every year. He was an assistant varsity football coach. He was a play-by-play radio announcer on KFIR. He coached junior high football and basketball.

He built the Sweet Home Junior All-Stars program. He has directed local camps and will continue through the summer. He also directed the Larry Steele Camp in Venonia for 15 years, working with 16,000 students and 2,000 coaches.

Coach Risen was state coach of the year in 1999. He was conference coach of the year three times and coached his team to three conference championships. His teams placed second and fourth at state. He estimates his overall record at 128-43.