LUCASVILLE — Mark Merritt has spent 33 seasons of watching basketball from the bench area—either with West’s boys or most recently with Valley’s girls.
The next basketball game he watches he said, starting next November, will be from the stands.
That’s because Merritt, on Friday, officially announced he was stepping down as Valley’s girls basketball head coach —following 16 seasons of leading the Lady Indians to 181 wins with 175 losses.
Merritt’s first season at Valley was the 2004-05 campaign, as he made his way back to The Reservation following 13 seasons with West’s boys — including eight as the head coach and with 87 career victories at The Rock.
He concludes his coaching career with 268 wins and 312 losses, explaining in a telephone interview with The Portsmouth Daily Times on Friday that “it’s just time”.
Merritt, earlier in the week via text message, was asked about unofficial rumblings that he was electing to step down.
At that time, he said he was “still in the decision-making process”, and that he would first meet with Valley athletic director Darren Crabtree to discuss his intentions.
On Friday, Merritt — in another text message —mentioned that he informed Crabtree of his decision to retire from coaching.
“I will miss it, but I think it’s time,” said Merritt, in his telephone interview. “I’ve really enjoyed coaching basketball both at Valley for the girls and West for the boys. Coaching and education has been very good to me. But my wife and I are empty-nesters now, I’ve got two new grandsons so spending more time with my family is important, and we want to travel more and just enjoy life. Athletics have been a big part of my life, but now it’s time to be a spectator at games.”
Merritt is a 1977 graduate from Valley, and spent 22 years in education in the West (Washington-Nile) district before teaching in the Valley district for his final 11.
He has been retired from teaching for the past five years.
While at West, he coached against his brother Harold, who incidentally was the boys bench boss at Valley at the time — and of their 16 meetings, they split their career series with eight wins apiece.
Merritt came to coach the Valley girls when his daughter was a freshman there, and the Lady Indians improved to 9-12 in his first season.
“I went from West to Valley to be closer to my daughter, but I had to get permission from her first,” the coach recalled.
The Lady Indians, although they never won the Southern Ohio Conference Division II championship —in a decade-and-a-half when Oak Hill, Minford and Wheelersburg were widely-regarded as the top three programs year-in and year-out — did capture eight sectional titles, either as a Division III or Division IV program.
His 2008-09 Lady Indians — which went 16-7 — advanced to the Division IV district championship game, but lost to rising small-school Southeastern Ohio powerhouse Waterford inside the Ohio University Convocation Center.
He said all of his teams, when specifically asked about the Lady Indians, had one common attribute.
“My teams worked hard and played hard and came out ready to compete every night,” said Merritt. “I worked with a lot of great kids, both at West and at Valley. We built strong player-coach relationships based on wanting to work hard and buying into the program. The kids did that for years. It went a long way into being successful when you talk about the won-loss column. I’ve always maintained that when you work hard and play hard, great things will happen.”
He also thanked all of the people which made coaching possible —and enjoyable.
“I’ve had a lot of great people help make coaching a tremendous experience. Coaching is not made possible without support,” said Merritt. “I want to thank all of the parents who allowed me to coach all of their sons and daughters. I’ve obviously had a lot of very good players over the years. My athletic director, Darren Crabtree, has been with me at Valley for the last 16 and has been very helpful. Our assistant coaches have been great to work with, and our booster clubs and other support people have been exceptional. I will miss working with them, but I am deeply appreciative of all of those people.”
Now, Merritt will become one of those supporters — watching basketball in Scioto County from the stands as opposed to the bench.
“I am going to be a full-time spectator now,” he said.
Reach Paul Boggs at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1926, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @BoggsSports © 2020 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved