Yarcho surpasses 400 coaching wins, nets third hoops crown

Carol Jankowski
Four-hundred win club: Morton Junior High School seventh-grade boys basketball coach Matt Yarcho instructs the team during a timeout. Yarcho won his 400th career game during the Junior Potters’ run to the Illinois Elementary School Association Class 4A state title.

It was a season for the record books.

The Morton Junior High seventh-grade boys basketball team was undefeated and became state champions last week.

For coach Matt Yarcho, it was a season to remember, too.

For 21 years he has been coaching basketball at MJHS, mostly at the seventh-grade level.

He topped the 400-wins mark with an overall record of 403-97.

Yarcho achieved a personal goal, too. A goal that has been in the back of his mind for several seasons.

He now has won three state championships, the same as Ward Grundy.

“I wanted to equal that. I put that load on myself,” Yarcho said. He shared that goal with his wife, Betsy, and close friends. During the last several seasons he thought the opportunity might present itself.

The 2008-09 season was the year.

“It’s such a relief,” he said.

The achievement of 400 wins is hard to reach as a junior high coach and Yarcho attributes his success to hard work and putting the focus on the fundamentals.

“We do not back off the fundamentals. The drills become habit and they will repeat them on the floor,” Yarcho said.

At the junior-high level there are about 22 games per season - 28 if a team plays in the state championship game. It takes a lot of winning seasons to reach 400 wins.

“Not many people coach junior high for 20-some years. Matt just loves seventh graders,” Chris Carter, assistant principal and athletic director at MJHS, said.

Yarcho has coached at higher levels - he actually started as a student assistant at Eastern Illinois University and has coached at the high school level.

Before he started coaching junior high basketball he watched games at the state tournament.

“I thought I could have some success at this level,” he said.

Growing up, he admits he wasn’t a talented player.

“I was never very good or very big,” Yarcho said about is own skills.

But his hometown of Lincoln was a basketball crazed community and he knew he wanted to be involved in the game.

Over the years, Yarcho says he has learned a lot and tried to improve as a coach.

“I’m a lot calmer now and I think that’s made me a better coach,” he said. He says his expectations for his players are simple - hard work and personal pride.

“I expect them to work hard in practice. I expect them to act like gentlemen, on the floor and off the floor. I make them very accountable on and off the court,” he said.

He has seen many boys start their basketball careers and watched them play through high school and some in college. Although the record book and the wins is something to be proud of, he says the players don’t remember the scoreboard.

“What sticks with them is the funny stories from practice. They say ‘Coach, remember when this happened?’”, Yarcho said.

Yarcho plans to continue coaching at MJHS. He approaches each season and believes his players will learn and improve.

“I always think we are better than we are. I don’t let the kids think we can lose,” he said.

He is meticulous about keeping his own statistics and watches game film to keep his books. He also uses that information to make the players better.

“I’ve done that since day one,” he said.

The idea of moving on to another level, isn’t something Yarcho plans to do. He likes the age of his athletes because they want to learn and listen.

“Once they believe in you, you got ’em,” he said.