Passion for the game draws former Steamboat coach Kelly Meek back to basketball court |

Passion for the game draws former Steamboat coach Kelly Meek back to basketball court

Sailors head coach Michael Vandahl hopes to finish strong, have his team primed for playoffs.
John F. Russell

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Longtime Steamboat Springs High School coach Kelly Meek officially retired as the Sailors head basketball coach after the 2008 season, but he has never stopped working.

“My wife, Karen, was upset when I retired out of this job, because she knew I was not going to stop,” Meek said. “But this is different. I have freedom. I can come in here, and if Mike (Vandahl, current high school coach) needs me to do anything or he needs my help, then I can help him. But we also have the option to go see the grandkids.”

Meek spent 36 years coaching basketball in Steamboat Springs. In his 34 years as head coach, he won 544 games, including 44 league, district or regional championships and 20 preseason tournament championships. He also guided the Sailors to state track titles in 1975, 1979, 1980 and 1981.

But as the coach looks back on his accomplishments, the most important thing to him is not the wins, but the relationships he built with his players and the community.

“I think the relationships are more important than anything. The relationship is the key,” Meek said. “The kids want to know how much you care, before they want to know how much you know. Trust is the biggest thing. If the kids trust in you, and they know you trust in them, amazing things can happen.”

After stepping away as the Sailors head coach, Meek landed at Western State University, where he spent six years helping his son-in-law Mike Moskowitz coach the Mountaineers basketball program and his daughter Katie coach the volleyball program.

The duties meant that he spent about seven months a year in Gunnison, but when he came back home, he could be found in the Steamboat Springs High School gymnasium, which bears his name, working with young players.

A few years ago he started helping Vandahl, who had taken over as the Sailors head coach, and expanded his involvement to include working with elementary and middle school players at camps.

“I feel very, very fortunate having a mentor like coach Meek,” Vandahl said. “He is outstanding for the kids, he works them out throughout the summer and he comes into practices, and he helps me out a lot. I’m still learning every single day — coaching is not easy — and any kind of advice he can give helps me out a lot, and I welcome it. “

For Meek, the opportunity has allowed him to step back into the gym where he can still have an impact on young athletes, and it also gives him the space he needs to spend time with his five grandchildren who range in age from 6 to 13 and live in California, Frisco and Louisville. He also volunteers his time with several club programs in Denver, and he even coached one of his grandchildren’s youth basketball teams a few seasons ago.

But it’s Meek’s energy for teaching that has brought him back to the court.

“I just love it,” Meek said. “I get as much energy out of it as they get the other way.”

Meek said he has spent his life working with young athletes, and he has no plans to give it up anytime soon. In addition to working with the boys team in Steamboat Springs, he has also developed a following in Oak Creek — a place several of his former players call home. When one of them called and asked Meek if he would be willing to work with their children, Meek agreed.

He started working with Briana Peterson, who’s dad played for Steamboat in the 1980s, and Jessica Rossi, who’s mom was a track star at Steamboat. Before Meek knew it, he had a car full of players traveling from Oak Creek to Steamboat for workouts.

Basketball fundamentals are what Meek prefers to teach no matter what team he’s working with. 

“We just do a ton of ball handling, offensive shooting and footwork and stuff like that,” the coach said. “It’s just fun, and the kids are so appreciative.”

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.

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