The Tucson High School coach who integrated Rim Country summer outings and Payson tournament play into his basketball program retired Feb. 1.
In a moving, emotional ceremony held in the Tucson Amphitheater gymnasium, following a 47-44 win over Catalina, Pat Derksen stepped down after 20 years at the helm of the Panther program.
In a post-game speech to fans and about 100 of Derksen's former players, the coach spoke of summer trips to the Rim Country as building blocks for his program.
"Kids remember wins and losses, but those times we had in Payson are some of their greatest (memories)," he said.
The annual retreats to the Rim Country began 20 years ago when Derksen and his staff hosted a weeklong camp in Payson High School gymnasium.
The 40 or so teens who participated in the camp were housed at Mount Cross Lutheran Church while undergoing three-a-day practices.
The camp wrapped up with a parents' afternoon at Tonto Natural Bridge.
Each year since the inaugural camp, Derksen brought his Amphi team to Payson for the annual PHS boys summer invitational tournament.
The Panthers won two summer tournament titles and contended for several other titles.
Payson invitational tournament founder and former Longhorn boys coach, Jim Quinlan, said the presence of Amphi, then a Class 5A school, lended a bit of "big school" aura to the summer shootouts.
While playing in the tournaments, the Amphi players stayed at a private home in Pine Canyon where their nightly "snipe hunts" and cookouts eventually became the stuff of legends on the Amphi campus.
Derksen said, because some of the Amphi players were from disadvantaged areas, the outings to the Rim Country provided the athletes an outdoors experience they could not enjoy in the city.
The players also represented a multitude of cultures and ethnicities, prompting Derksen to once declare that his team makeup was much like a meeting of the United Nations.
Among the former Amphi players to participate in the Rim Country experience were several who went on to D-1 university basketball success.
Emerson Whitley became a team captain at Yale. Anthony Oates was a captain at the University of Massachusetts. Lucas Gabriel went on to Northern Arizona University and Anas Fellah played at the University of Arizona.
During Derksen's tenure at Amphi, he won more than 200 games, several region titles and his teams were frequent state tournament qualifiers.
His finest team, in 2004, finished 25-4.