Colorado Classics: Joe Strain big part of Denver Prep League history as player, coach
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Joe Strain isn’t exaggerating when he suggests he could have qualified for a lot of overtime to fulfill his duties as a high school and college coach.
When listening to him go through his 34 years in the Denver Prep League, eight years at Metro State and an assortment of stops in summer and age-group programs, one wonders if he had time for anything else. If it wasn’t 24/7, it was close to it — and he has a trusted eyewitness to prove it.
Jeannette Strain, Joe’s wife of 61 years, has her way of verifying every game, every field visited.
“Whatever the actual tally of games might be, I was there,” she said. “I’ve sat in every bleacher in Colorado. I can tell you that critiquing bleachers is quite an art.”
The Strains met while Joe was attending Phillips University in Enid, Okla.
“I’ve been a big sports fan,” Jeannette said. “If I hadn’t been, I probably would have been bored to death being at all those sports events.”
If the bleachers weren’t uncomfortable enough, her role as a sports mom would be. When Joe Strain was coaching basketball at Denver South, Joe Strain Jr. was playing basketball for George Washington. Father and son faced each other six times.
“I told them that while Joey was playing for Washington, I’d be a GW fan,” Jeannette said. “It was an interesting time, but it worked.”
Juggling the support became much easier when Joe Strain Jr. turned to a professional baseball career. He was an infielder who played in the major leagues for three seasons, 1979 and 1980 with the San Francisco Giants and 1981 with the Chicago Cubs. He made his big-league debut at age 25 and was a career .250 hitter in the majors.
Joe Strain was rewarded for his effort too. As a basketball player at Denver South, he helped the Rebels win the 1947 state championship. That team included Chuck Darling, Mickey McMullen and Keith Patton. Strain coached Denver South to state championships in 1969 and 1970. His 1969 team upset previously unbeaten Manual in the championship game, and it resulted in some spectator turmoil outside the Denver Coliseum.
Strain left Denver South in the mid-1970s and moved to the coaching chair at George Washington. He guided the Patriots to state championships in 1982 and 1986.
“I just thought it was time for a change of scenery,” Strain said of his decision to leave his alma mater. “I don’t think any more of the teams that won state championships than any of the others I coached. When we won the state in 1969, any of the other top teams in the Denver Prep League could have won the title.”
Strain’s coaching tenure transcended eras. When he joined the coaching staff at Manual, where he was head baseball coach, the Denver Prep League consisted of five high schools: South, East, North, West and Manual.
At the time, DPL coaches were required to be members of the faculty at their school. That ensured a close-knit, well-acquainted group.
“There was great camaraderie among the coaches when they had to be in the building to be a coach,” said Rob Conklin, a member of the South coaching staff and later the athletic director at South and the Denver district. “I feel sorry for the coaches who no longer have that experience. It’s more like an AAU thing today. Joe taught classes during the day and mingled with all of our students and not just his team members.”
Strain returned to South in 1964. When the Rebels won the 1969 state championship, the DPL consisted of eight high schools. The other DPL head basketball coaches were Mike Jurich at West, Gaston Santi at Thomas Jefferson, Bill Weimar at George Washington, Ed Calloway at Manual, Bob Salen at North, Tom Bock at Abraham Lincoln and Paul Coleman at East.
“Joe was a terrific player in high school and he was one of the best coaches I’ve ever known,” Conklin said. “He was a fun guy, and he knew his stuff.”
Born: Nov. 15, 1930, in Denver
High school: Denver South
College: Phillips University in Enid, Okla.
Family: Wife Jeanette, daughters Jeannine and Joan, son Joe
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