A girls basketball coaching legend, Karen Wittrock, 71, compiled a record of 657 wins and 198 losses in 41 years as the girls basketball coach at Lutheran West High School in Rocky River. She ranks fourth in career victories on Ohio’s all-time girls coaches’ list.
Not only was she the first girls basketball coach at Lutheran West, she was the first coach in every girls sport there.
When Karen arrived at Lutheran West fresh out of Concordia Teachers College in Nebraska in 1967, Lutheran West had no girls sports teams. She must have felt like a fish out of water. In college at Concordia, she was the athlete of the year, earning letters in basketball, softball, field hockey and track. Her pioneer instincts immediately kicked in.
Karen started the entire girls sports program, starting with basketball. Nothing was easy. Her girls team was not permitted to practice in the main gym. They used the hallways to practice dribbling and passing but not shooting. They pretended to shoot layups at an imaginary basket. They bought their own uniforms, raising money through car washes and bake sales. They rented practice time at a nearby recreation center. Today the gym is named after her, referred to as the “Rock,” her college nickname.
Next she started field hockey, track and softball for girls. Soon she added volleyball and cross country. She coached them all. Later she coached the boys golf team.
She is forever identified with basketball, however. He teams won seven district tournament championships and 21 conference titles. Her teams experienced only two losing seasons. The Ohio High School Athletic Association honored her four times with its prestigious James Naismith Meritorious Service Award. She was the Ohio girls coach of the year four times and conference coach of the year 20 times.
Tonight marks her induction into her fourth hall of fame, including the Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame which included her in its 2006 inaugural class.
She has twice fought off cancer but refuses to slow down. She still fills in regularly as a substitute teacher in math and phys ed at Lutheran West. She takes vacation trips in her motor home to Florida where she visits a brother and to her native Missouri to visit other family members. She enjoys those quiet moments when she drops a line in the river.