Gary Porter, who since 1996 has led Modesto Christian boys basketball to a level of success never before seen in the Sac-Joaquin Section, announced in a team meeting shortly after noon Tuesday that this will be his last season on the bench.
Porter, 59, will be turning the reins over to Richard Midgley, the former MC and University of California point guard who has been the co-head coach for the last two seasons.
As the players filed into a classroom during lunch break, most were expecting to hear a pre-playoff talk from Porter. On Friday, the Crusaders will be embarking on a push toward what could be the school’s unprecedented 16th Sac-Joaquin Section boys’ basketball title.
Instead, the room went silent as Porter broke the news to his players.
“I wanted all of you to be the first to know that this will be my final year as head coach,” Porter said, pausing to collect his emotions. “When you’ve been somewhere, doing something that you love it’s hard to quit.
“I’m looking forward to having a new captain of this ship. Right up until last night I was still asking Richard if this is what he wants to do, and he assured me that it was, so I’m confident the program is being left in great hands and confident that it will continue to be successful and move forward.”
Porter was successful in catching at least some of his players by surprise.
“I thought he’d stay another year and it’s going to be sad to see him go since he’s the reason I came to school here,” said junior center Anthony Townes.
Sophomore guard Christian Ellis said he wasn’t entirely surprised, but still was a little saddened.
“I’ve heard him talk about it before and was kind of expecting it, but he’ll still be around,” Ellis said. “The big effect is that he won’t be with us when we go to Vegas or Los Angeles, and he won’t be at every single game, but I know he’ll keep us in his prayers and he’ll make it to as many games as he can.
“As long as he’s happy and the team keeps running I’m fine with it, and I know we’re in good hands with Richard.”
Modesto Christian, 19-8 this season after a perfect 12-0 run through the Trans-Valley League, earned the No. 1 seed in the Division 3 playoffs and opens postseason play Friday night at home against the winner of tonight’s Rio Americano-Center game.
A victory in Friday’s game, followed by a win in next Tuesday’s semifinal round at Cosumnes River College, would give Porter 500 wins at Modesto Christian in an amazingly short span of 18 seasons.
His record with the Crusaders is 498-104, including a 128-0 record in league play – a state record for consecutive league wins by a boys basketball team. The MC boys and girls will be playing basketball in the Modesto Metro Conference starting next season.
Counting the 1978-79 season in which he was the head coach on an interim basis at Central Catholic while still attending college, posting a 7-18 record, Porter has an all-time varsity coaching record of 505-122.
Porter took a demotion from his sales job to take over the Modesto Christian program in 1996, bringing with him a group of four freshmen he and Bobby Cole had coached to regional prominence through the Slam ’N’ Jam program. He agreed to take the post for one year, but after that group went 33-0 and sailed to the Division 5 state championship, he stayed aboard.
To date, the Crusaders have claimed 15 section titles – no other boys program has more than nine – and added a second state Division 5 title in 2004.
But the team that captured the attention of the entire region was the one that fell three points short of a state crown.
In 2001, the Modesto Christian team led by lone senior starter and current Toronto Raptors forward Chuck Hayes made it all the way to the state Division 1 final, where they lost 57-54 to Mater Dei at Sacramento’s Arco Arena in front of 13,495 fans – then a state record crowd for high school basketball.
Hayes was the lone senior on the team, and after he left for the University of Kentucky, the Crusaders appeared to be poised to make another title run. But that was before the section ruled Midgley and forward Marc Pratt ineligible to play their senior season. Without the two Brits, Modesto Christian went 23-10 against a difficult independent schedule, still claiming the section Division 1 title.
Midgley returned to Modesto Christian four years ago as an assistant coach, and prior to the 2012-13 season was elevated to co-head coach. He also has been a full-time teacher at Modesto Christian for three years.
“I’ve been helping Gary for four years and each season I was doing more as he was doing less, as he was easing me into this,” Midgley said. “The easy part of coaching is the basketball stuff. It’s all the other things, like handling the relationships with the players, is something that Coach Porter has helped me so much with.”
When Midgley came aboard, it was only a matter of time before Porter stepped aside to let his former point guard take the reins – sometime Porter mentioned often over the last four seasons.
“I want Richard to have his own legacy and time here, and when I’m standing in the way it’s hard for him to have that,” Porter said. “We’re always called co-coaches, but the attention comes to me for getting all the wins and losses. It’s time for Richard to take control and allow people to look to him as the coach.
“If Richard wasn’t here to take the program, I’d probably still be going. But I’m glad he came around and is crazy enough to want to do this.”
As Porter wrapped up his meeting, he told the players to go out and win a section title not for him, but for themselves. Ellis said Porter’s retirement just adds to the motivations fueling the team.
“It might sound selfish, but of course you’re trying to win it for yourself,” Ellis said. “We’re still going to win for our coaches, our fans, our parents and families, for our teammates and for God.
“Everyone has a place on the list of people we’re going to win for – not just one person.”