ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
Taking a line from “The Wizard of Oz,” Micah Ratzlaff, one of Hillsboro’s favorite sons may be inclined to agree, “There’s no place like home.”
A star basketball player for Hillsboro High School until graduation in 1998, Ratzlaff went on to play at Oral Roberts University and earned All-American honors after transferring to Tabor College.
Last week, he agreed to return to Hillsboro to become assistant coach for the Bluejay men’s basketball program under head coach Don Brubacher.
“I have a brother and sister in Hillsboro and my dad lives there, so we’re anxious to get back,” Ratzlaff said from his home in Ada, Oklahoma.
He will be teaching physical education classes at Tabor as well as coaching basketball.
Ratzlaff began preparing for a coaching career after graduating from Tabor in 2003 with a degree in physical education and recreation. He completed a master’s degree and was an assistant coach at Union College in Barberville, Ky.
From there, he and wife Amanda and son Brekyn made the move to East Central Oklahoma University, where brother Tyson, former Tabor All-American, was coaching under former Tabor football coach Tim McCarty.
“It’s an NCAA Division II school and I coached there for one year,” Ratzlaff said. “I really hadn’t thought about coaching at Tabor until Coach Brubacher gave me a call, and that’s what got things going.
“We’d always talked about getting back to Hillsboro, but I wasn’t sure what I’d do there,” he added. “But when this position opened up, I jumped on it. We’re really excited to be coming back.”
Brubacher echoed Ratzlaff’s enthusiasm.
“Micah set his goal to be a college coach,” Brubacher said. “Upon leaving Tabor, he took a graduate assistant job and he did that to prepare himself to become a college basketball coach.”
Possessing both athletic talent and basketball knowledge sets Ratzlaff apart from many athletes, according to Brubacher.
“It is not at all consistent that someone with an ability to play on Micah’s level is a student of the game,” he said. “Many of the best players are not, but Micah is.
“He approached the game from that perspective from a young age,” he added. “Micah has always been a player that understood the game and used that knowledge to better himself.”
His contract at Tabor begins Aug. 1.
“To have an assistant who’s gone through our program is absolutely huge,” Brubacher said. “He’ll understand our system from the moment he arrives and will be able to hit the ground running from a basketball perspective.”
Ratzlaff said it was his knowledge of Brubacher’s system and Tabor College itself that drew him and his family back to Hillsboro.
“I know what Coach is all about, I know what he coaches and I agree with everything he tries to teach.
“I’ve been away from that system for three years and it will be great to work with it again,” Ratzlaff said. “Plus the passion Coach has for basketball is amazing, and I hope he can hand some of that down to me.”
Ratzlaff said he knows the challenges he’ll face recruiting student-athletes to Tabor, but he said he is prepared to meet those challenges.
“I want to promote Tabor College to prospective student-athletes by telling them it’s a great Christian college that will help them fulfill their life academically, physically and spiritually,” Ratzlaff said. “I like to do recruiting, and I look forward to convincing kids to come to Tabor College.”
Ratzlaff said the past three years have helped him make the transition from player to coach.
“I’ve learned how to relate to players,” he said. “(The athletes are) not all the same and I’ve learned how to treat them from a coaching perspective.”
Ratzlaff said he hopes his connections in Oklahoma, as well as his network of contacts across the country, will result in future players at Tabor.
“It’s pretty much who you know and who the kids have been playing under,” he said. “It comes down to a trust issue with the coaches and the players.”
Brubacher said Ratzlaff’s coaching duties will extend beyond recruiting.
“Micah will come in as our No. 1 assistant and he’ll have some responsibility in all aspects of our program,” he said.
“He’ll be working with the players on the court, he’ll work with them individually in skill sessions, he’ll work with organization, with general workout programs and he’ll actively recruit.”
Familiarity with Tabor will be a great asset for Ratzlaff, Brubacher said.
“As an employee of Tabor College, Micah already understands Tabor’s mission,” he said. “He understands the goals of the college and he understands how the basketball program and the physical education classroom are supposed to support the mission and goals of Tabor College.
“He’ll contribute immediately both on and off the court because there will be no learning curve.”
Ratzlaff said he and his family move to Hillsboro in late July.
“I lived in Hillsboro for over 20 years, so we’re excited to come back home,” he said. “Hillsboro is a great place, and that’s where we want to raise our family.
“It’s an exciting mix for me to get back with family and be back at Tabor College.”