Christine Eckles, the longest tenured girls basketball coach in the High Desert League and second longest in the D-I North behind Douglas’s Werner Christian, turned in her letter of retirement in late-January. She will finish out this season, and doesn't have any immediate plans to pursue another coaching position.
“I love coaching. I love the kids and competing,” she said. “As for right now, it’s time for my life to take on some new things. I don’t know if I would say that I never will coach again. For now, I think it’s the best decision for me and for Spanish Springs girls basketball.
“Definitely my kids and family are my priority. My son is getting older and I want my daughter to have opportunities to do things as well. I have some other professional goals that it’s time for me to do. Another big piece of it for me is just taking better care of myself. There are really a lot of reasons that I think are all great reasons.”
Eckles started her coaching career at her former high school, coaching the Reed freshman girls team in 1995-96 season and the Reed girls JV coach a year later.
She coached the Sparks girls varsity squad from 1999-2001 before taking over the fledgling Cougars program.
During her time on the sidelines at SSHS, the Cougars have gone 159-137. Spanish Springs qualified for the postseason in its third season -- the quickest any large school had reached the playoffs in northern Nevada in the past 40 years.
Sustained success was hard to come by in the early going. However, since the 2006-07 season, the Cougs have accumulated a 122-72 mark and are in the midst of seven straight winning seasons. Spanish Springs has not had a losing season since Eckles returned for the 2006-07 season following a one-year hiatus after the birth of her first child.
As a non-teacher, Eckles also works longer days and had to take time off from work to do basketball stuff. Eckles is looking forward to having some time that’s not rushed.
“I work until 4, run home to get my kids and have dinner. Then I run practice from 7 to 9. I literally get about an hour and a half at home before going to practice and then going to bed and getting up to do it the next day,” Eckles said. “Having more time to do that, it’s going to be nice. I have to take time off from work to do basketball stuff, which I love to do. But this will give me the opportunity to do other things, and that’s exciting.
“The amount of hours coaches put, in with summer ball and camps, watching film and stuff, a lot of times goes unnoticed. It’s going to be interesting. I really like being busy, so it will definitely be a transition for me to have a little bit more free time. I think most importantly my kids will benefit from having their mom home more often.”
The three-time HDL Coach of the Year has coached one Northern Region player of the year and 28 all-league kids. The quality of kids coming through the program is going to be the part she misses the most.
“I’m so grateful for the relationships my kids have had with my players and their families. The kids and their parents have loved my children and have brought great things into their lives,” Eckles said. “To me, one of the saddest things about not coaching is that in order to give more time to my kids, my kids are going to miss out on those relationships with my players.”
Eckles said she had always hoped that there would be a group of kids that she would enjoy less than others and it would make it easier to step away. That never happened during her stint at SSHS in which she is one of two head varsity coaches that has been on the sidelines since the school opened.
“There is always a great kid to replace another great kid. There are really great kids still left in the program that are very hard to walk away from and leave,” Eckles said. “It became a reality to me that I would never have a group that I didn’t like and didn’t respect and didn’t have good relationships with. So it ended up being a decision about what was best for me. It’s a fantastic group to walk away with, kids that mean a lot to me and I have a ton of respect for.”
SSHS Athletic Director Art Anderson said he won't post the job opening until after the season and hopes to have a new coach in place by the end of March.
He knows Eckles leaves some big shoes to fill.
"It's extremely difficult to lose a coach who has built a program and has been as dedicated and passionate to the program as she has been over the 12 years," Anderson said. "I've known Christine since when the school first opened and I was coaching right along with her and then becoming athletic director. It's been a pleasure to work with her the whole time. It was a difficult decision for her to make, and it will be a difficult process for us when we move forward in order to search for a new coach to replace her because the program is identified with her. We're entrusted with a difficult task to hopefully find somebody who is as dedicated and passionate as she was."