Girls Basketball: Bartok finds right time to call it a coaching career

Jim Bartok gives instructions to his Vista PEAK girls basketball team prior to a game against Gateway during the 2015-16 season. Bartok, who spent three seasons at Vista PEAK and six total in Aurora after another three-year stint at Cherokee Trail, has retired after 42 years as a head coach or an assistant. (Photo by Courtney Oakes/Aurora Sentinel)

AURORA | Jim Bartok found out long ago that it’s not acceptable to light up a cigar while on the bench coaching.

The longtime girls basketball coach won’t have to worry about where he smokes his Stogies anymore, as he’s called an end to a coaching career that stretches back more than four decades as a head coach or assistant.

Bartok informed Vista PEAK he would step down last month, around the same time the Bison’s boys basketball coach, Gary Childress, also retired. Both coaching veterans put the finishing touches on long, distinguished careers with three-years stints at Vista PEAK, which is currently in the hiring process for both positions.

Bartok, 65, thought it was the right time for him to retire as he is still in good health and would like to travel and spend time with aging relatives in other states. His last Vista PEAK team finished 14-10 overall — 9-1 in its debut season in the East Metro Athletic Conference — and ended with a Class 4A first round playoff loss to Mullen.

Jim Bartok pulls Vista PEAK player Kierra Cox over to talk during a free throw attempt during one of the Bison’s games at Gateway during the 2015-16 girls basketball season. Bartok picked up the last 42 wins of a 412-win career with the Bison over the past three seasons. (Photo by Courtney Oakes/Aurora Sentinel)

“I could have gone on a lot longer, but the point was this is a good time to step away,” Bartok told the Sentinel recently. “It’s time for me to step away now while I’m still feeling good. I want to be able to spend time with my friends and family and I don’t want to cheat the kids by not giving them 100 percent.

“I just finished my 29th year as a head coach and counting the years I was an assistant, that’s 42 years of coaching basketball. I think that’s a pretty good time.”

Bartok has given 100 percent for many years at a variety of stops around Colorado, where he has amassed a 416-245 career record as a head coach, a mark that ranks him No. 6 all-time according to the recently updated Colorado High School Activities Association girls basketball record book. Only eight other coaches in state history have 400 or more career wins to their credit.

After a 15-season stint at Ponderosa, Bartok moved along to Columbine for seven seasons and eventually came to Aurora when he took over at Cherokee Trail prior to the 2009-10 season. He guided the Cougars for three seasons (with a 34-40 overall record), spent a season at Bennett and joined Vista PEAK in 2015. The Bison went 42-29 under his watch.

Retirement also allowed Bartok to reflect on the coaching journey he took.

He recalled a memorable incident back in Ohio when he had his first job as a freshman basketball coach at tiny Margaretta High School in Castalia, Ohio.

“I did something really stupid as a 23-year-old; we beat an undefeated team and very silly of me, I promised my players that if we beat this team, I was going to fire up a cigar on the bench,” Bartok recalled. “I wasn’t going to do it, but the coach of the other team pulled his starters out when we were up seven and sent his kids to the locker room.

“Our kids were upset about it, so I took two puffs of my cigar and threw it in a trash can. I got called into the ADs office the next morning and he said ‘Red (Auerbach, the cigar-puffing coach of the Boston Celtics), we don’t light up cigars on the bench around here.'”

Bartok still has the gag cigar his team presented him with after the season.

While in Aurora, his most memorable season was his first year at Cherokee Trail in 2009-10, when he helped a team that finished 4-19 the previous season make a complete turnaround to go 18-8. The Cougars lost by two points in the Class 5A Sweet 16 to Legacy, which went on to make the state championship game.

“Nobody expected that from our team and boy oh boy, was that like riding the most fun rollercoaster in the world,” Bartok said. “That’s one thing you love most about coaching, when a team comes together and exceeds expectations because they work hard.”

Bartok didn’t want to “leave the cupboard bare” at Vista PEAK and it would appear he hasn’t, with a bevy of talented young players expected to return.

The Bison had just three seniors last season and expect big futures from young players such as junior-to-be Denali Hughes, who made the All-EMAC first team and played in the inaugural A-Town All-Star Game following the season.

Courtney Oakes is Aurora Sentinel Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Aurora Prep Sentinel


2017: Vista PEAK — 14-10 overall; 2016: Vista PEAK — 18-6 overall; 2015: Vista PEAK — 10-13 overall; 2014: Bennett — 8-7 overall; 2012: Cherokee Trail — 9-15 overall; 2011: Cherokee Trail — 7-17 overall; 2010: Cherokee Trail — 18-8 overall; 2009: Columbine — 18-7 overall; 2008: Columbine — 15-11 overall; 2007: Columbine — 14-10 overall; 2006: Columbine — 13-11 overall; 2005: Columbine — 17-8 overall; 2004: Columbine — 11-10 overall; 2003: Columbine — 9-12 overall; 2001: Ponderosa — 7-12 overall; 2000: Ponderosa — 16-5 overall; 1999: Ponderosa — 15-6 overall; 1998: Ponderosa — 12-9 overall; 1997: Ponderosa — 13-9 overall; 1996: Ponderosa — 14-8 overall; 1995: Ponderosa — 12-9 overall; 1994: Ponderosa — 19-6 overall; 1993: Ponderosa — 21-5 overall; 1992: Ponderosa — 20-5 overall; 1991: Ponderosa — 14-8 overall; 1990: Ponderosa — 21-4 overall; 1989: Ponderosa — 18-5 overall; 1988: Ponderosa — 15-5 overall; 1987: Ponderosa — 18-4 overall. Totals: 416-245