Curt De Haan, the storied girls' basketball coach at Lynden Christian High School for 34 years, made his way off the court at the Yakima Valley SunDome on Saturday, March 8, a champion for the eighth time.
That walk would prove to be his final as the Lyncs' head coach, with De Haan announcing his retirement from the sport Tuesday, March 18, after amassing a record of 772-149, 23 state semifinal appearances and eight championships after taking over the program in 1980.
"I just felt it was the time," De Haan said in a phone interview. "I pretty much made my decision before the beginning of the year that this would be my last year. I decided I wasn't going to say anything before the season was over."
In the waning moments of Lynden Christian's title game against King's, De Haan said he couldn't bring himself to sit down.
"(I) just took in the excitement of the moment," De Haan said. "I guess it was a pretty special finish the way the kids played so well together as a team."
De Haan will continue in his roles as the athletic director and teacher with the person replacing him still remaining unknown.
The 2013-14 season was a fitting curtain call for De Haan, leading Lynden Christian to a 25-2 record and a Class 1A state championship after defeating King's in the title game.
But for all that he accomplished on the court as a coach - the 772 wins being more than any other girls' basketball coach in the state of Washington, two undefeated seasons, eight titles and 31 state appearances - it was his unwavering devotion to his players that will be his lasting impact.
"He was trying to teach the game of life more than the game of basketball," said Harlan Kredit, the former athletic director at Lynden Christian and a close friend to De Haan, in a phone interview. "These kids had more value to him than on the basketball court. ... He realized he had to be a role model, and he tried to live his own life that way - with a tremendous amount of integrity."
De Haan made his way into Kredit's office near 12:30 p.m. Tuesday at the high school to tell him of his decision to retire. Kredit said he thought De Haan was nearing the end of his time, but wasn't sure whether it would be this year or the next. What he saw was a man ready to begin the next chapter of his life.
"He believes it is the right thing to do," Kredit said. "Even just looking at the X's and O's, the record is amazing. I think I can say this for the LC community, but personally working with him all these years, it's been an honor for me to have had him in that position, and to watch the impact he's had on so many people for so many years."
Rob Adams, the coach of Lynden's girls' basketball team since 2007, was one of the many De Haan touched over the years.
"He's an icon to not just Whatcom County basketball, but to the state of Washington," Adams said in a phone interview. "He's been a great mentor for me, and is somebody I am proud to call a friend."
Throughout the course of a season, De Haan and Adams routinely exchanged phone calls, the two picking each other's brains about competition and coaching philosophies, Adams said. That's what he came to value most about their relationship, and what he said he will miss about not standing opposite De Haan next season.
And when Adams won his first and only state championship with the Lions in 2008, he saw the light-hearted side to De Haan that embodied the man that he was away from the game of basketball.
"After the year we won it at the big coaches social, he officially said I got to join the club, and I wasn't quite sure what the club was," said Adams, realizing he meant the select few coaches who had won a state championship. "I finally got it."
Both Kredit and Adams pointed to the compassion and genuine care De Haan carried with him toward each one of his players as the foundation to what he created.
He routinely found inspiration from John Wooden, the legendary coach of UCLA's men's basketball program that led the Bruins to 10 national championships over his 27-year career, quoting Wooden often to his girls, reinforcing the importance of playing the game with integrity.
"(De Haan) was always looking for life lessons," Kredit said. "The game of basketball was very equivocal to him. That was not the most important thing in life. It was one way for him to serve as a mentor and a teacher and a role model to these kids through the game of basketball."
De Haan lives life by the same principles, Kredit said, even when he faced the challenge of cancer after claiming his seventh championship in 2008.
Following the 07-08 season, De Haan was diagnosed with cancer, but despite going through chemotherapy, he never left his post as the girls' basketball coach.
Another quote from Wooden stood out through the trying time, De Haan said.
"Make each day your masterpiece," De Haan said. "After developing cancer, that one really stuck out. I think I really tried to live that way."
Jasmine Hommes, a freshman when De Haan was diagnosed, remembered seeing him fight through practices, battling fatigue on a near-daily basis.
"He would come to practice and he couldn't feel his hands, but he would still be there," Hommes said in a phone interview. "It was so amazing to see that he could easily roll over and go lay on a couch, but it makes you work that much harder for him to realize how much he was putting in. He was going through so much."
Following his diagnosis in '08, De Haan reinforced his dedication to the program despite the tough hand he was dealt.
And his parting message Tuesday was very much the same as it was then.
"I enjoyed the opportunity to make a difference in the players' lives through a game I really enjoyed," he said.
Reach Alex Bigelow at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-715-2238. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for other Whatcom County sports updates.