SONORA — For 37 years, there has been no tougher place for visiting teams to win basketball games than at Sonora High.
It was due to much more than the long drive.
If you were a fast-breaking team, the Wildcats would slow you down. If you preferred to slow it down, Sonora would beat you at your own game.
And through it all, Rick Francis was pulling the strings.
Francis, 64, officially stepped down as the Wildcats' head coach on Tuesday after 42 years coaching in the Sonora program and 37 as varsity head coach, during which he compiled a 651-394 record.
According to Cal-Hi Sports, the 651 wins are the most in the history of the Sac-Joaquin Section. The only other coach ever to eclipse 600 wins in section play was Vanden's Jim Boyd, who retired in 1997 after notching 614 wins.
"I just think it's time," Francis said. "It's been a great run and I enjoyed every minute of it. I got a little tired this year and I thought a lot about this since the end of the seasons, then discussed it the with family and administration."
Francis retired from teaching in 2009, but remained the school's athletic director and has been instrumental and outspoken in his support of Sonora's pending move from the Valley Oak League into the Mother Lode League.
Before tendering his resignation, Francis was asked to think about his decision for a full week. It was made official Tuesday during a meeting of the school's board of trustees, a few hours after he broke the news to his team.
"I met with the kids yesterday and it was emotional," Francis said. "I didn't expect it to be that way, but I told them to just keep working hard, no matter who the next coach may be."
Francis will not be leaving the school. He said he plans to stay on as athletic director.
"Now I can go to the games and enjoy watching them from the stands," Francis said. "I told the kids I'd be around and would help if they needed someone to look at their shot, but whoever takes over it will be their program. I won't be lurking around."
If Sonora's tradition continues, the new coach will be a young man with an eye on leading the program for many years.
Francis took over the program from Bud Castle, who held the position for 26 years, giving the Wildcats only two head coaches since 1950.
Castle's name is on the gym, and Francis isn't leaving Sonora High anytime soon.
"Old basketball coaches never leave," Francis said. "They just dribble away."
Lewis steps down at East Union
The VOL lost a second boys basketball coach this week when Brett Lewis stepped down on Wednesday after four seasons at East Union.
Lewis, 25, who was not a teacher at the school, accepted a position with Grainger Industrial Supply that required him to relocate to the Santa Rosa area.
"I love coaching, which made this a real tough decision for me," Lewis said. "But I felt like it was time to get my big boy pants on.
"My plan was to go into education, but I was given this opportunity to jump into a great sales job with benefits and they needed me to relocate to take the job."
Lewis posted a 62-44 record with the Lancers, and his teams improved each season from 13-13 his first year, to 15-11, 16-11 and 18-9 this season.
Brian VanderBeek can be reached at (209) 578-2150 or follow him on Twitter, @modestobeek