When you talk about girls’ basketball in Cathlamet, Paul Dretsch’s name will work its way into the conversation.
Dretsch led the Mules to the state title in 1980, and six state placings in his eight years on the Wahkiakum bench. He later guided Black Hills to seven state appearances in 10 seasons. His success over a 30-year coaching career will culminate with his induction into the Washington State Girls Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
Dretsch will be joined by former King’s coach Eric Rasmussen, Terry Wilkinson of Blanchet, Karen Blair of Meadowdale, Steve Berg of Lake Stevens, and former Yakima Herald-Republic reporter Scott Sandsberry at the induction ceremony on March 15 at King’s School in the Seattle suburb of Shoreline.
Born and raised in Minnesota, Dretsch played football and wrestled in high school. He later attended Pacific Lutheran University, and in 1977 was hired to teach at JA Wendt Elementary School in Cathlamet.
In 1978, Dretsch was offered the girls’ basketball coaching job, despite not having played basketball in high school or college.
“I had coached when I was in high school and college,” Dretsch said in a 2015 Wahkiakum Eagle story. “I think the reason I took the basketball job was to find out if my belief system would work in coaching. It didn’t matter what I coached. That’s where the opportunity came for me and I jumped at it.”
To make up for his lack of basketball knowledge, Dretsch used a disciplined style of play which included plenty of conditioning. The extra work paid off as the Mules adopted a pressure defense with a hi-octane offensive attack.
“We were pressing and doing things a lot of teams weren’t able to do yet,” Dretsch said in the 2015 Eagle story. “They weren’t able to handle the ball against the kind of pressure we put on. And we were deep. I believed that if we played good defense, offense would take care of itself. That philosophy allowed us to be successful right out of the blocks.”
In 1979, the Mules made their first state playoff appearance under Dretsch, finishing fourth after falling to Ritzville 54-52 in the state quarterfinals. Ritzville went on to win the B state title.
“It took that loss for the kids to realize we were good,” Dretsch said to the Eagle. “That year really spring boarded the future, the next seven to eight years for basketball.”
The next year, the Mules finished 25-3 which included a state title when they beat North Beach 46-36 in the state finals. Wahkiakum returned to the state title game in 1981, falling to Republic 54-45.
The Mules placed in three of the next four state championships under Dretsch, finishing third in 1982, fifth in 1984, and fourth in 1985. Dretsch resigned after the 1984-85 season to get married, but returned to the bench in 1990 for a single campaign. During his time at Wahkiakum, he compiled a 161-40 record which included five league titles and six district crowns.
“Back in those early years the power houses were Naselle, Willapa Valley and us,” Dretsch told The Eagle. “I think those first seven years we won six district championships. Every year we went to state, we won at least three games. When I started, everything was about the teams on the east side but we developed a reputation over here as a good team.”
After a stint as an assistant coach at Tumwater, Dretsch took over at Black Hills where he led the Wolves to state in seven of his 10 seasons on the bench.
In 2002, Dretsch was recognized as one of the top five ‘B’ coaches in District 4, and in 2007 at the end of his coaching career, he was selected as one of the Washington coaches for the Washington vs. Oregon All-Star game which Washington won 103-54.
“I believed in having personal relationships with each kid,” Dretsch told The Eagle. “I really believe that is one of the keys to coaching, to get into their world and understand them and respect them. I respected kids; I just wanted them to respect me back. I would do anything for them.”