After 10 years as basketball coach at Moses Lake High School, Mike Thacker left the big-school fast lane.
Two years later he’s driving Highway 27 for the more relaxed atmosphere of Freeman High’s Class A basketball program.
The hiring of Thacker, youngest son of longtime Central Valley basketball coach Ray Thacker, was announced last week.
“The AAA rat race is more of a business than I cared for,” said Thacker, recounting the fund-raising, organizing and extra things it took to keep his program afloat at Moses Lake. “I got tired of it. Freeman is more of a community, a family. When the job opened I jumped at it.”
The Valley native also wanted to return to the area. A 1977 CV graduate, he was second leading scorer for a Bears team that was a regional qualifier.
Following in the footsteps of both his dad and his older brother Jim, Thacker began coaching in Tonasket where he took one team to state and won two other league championships.
He moved to noted wrestling power Moses Lake and spent 11 years there, the first 10 as head basketball coach.
The Chiefs had made only four post-season basketball appearances in school history before he arrived.
Yet Thacker teams earned two post-season tournament appearances. And his 1992 team went to state, the school’s first Seattle trip in 34 years.
Following the 1994 season, Thacker stepped down, to the regret of his principal, Larry Smith.
“I hated to release him out of his contract,” said Smith. “He taught history for me and started the honors advanced placement program.”
Thacker said it was difficult to be the basketball coach at a school that has dominated state wrestling.
Until wrestling coach Ron Seibel raised funds to build his own practice room, all winter sports shared the same gym.
Thacker however, made inroads. Thacker said his youth basketball program attracted 150 kids and Seibel told him it cut the junior wrestling turnout in half.
But the grind of basketball and public scrutiny wore on the 35-year-old coach.
“Certain people didn’t like the way I was doing things. I probably stepped on a few toes getting the program started,” Thacker said. “I’ve always had a good rapport with kids, but I will admit I’m pretty demanding and am a disciplinarian.”
Freeman Principal Dennis Schuerman was aware of all that when Thacker was hired.
“We have done our homework and know what we are receiving,” said Schuerman. “He’s an outstanding teacher. Everbody we contacted said he was one of the best in the Moses Lake School District. In addition, he’s also an outstanding coach.”
Thacker will run a modified flex offense. Freeman, he said, “will get after it on defense” using both man-to-man and zone.
Above all, he’s glad to be in an atmosphere more like his first job at Tonasket - and to be back home.
“If somebody told me to take my pick, it would be Freeman,” he said. “It’s a great community and a basketball town.”
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