To many people who follow high school sports in Oregon, Brian Morse is the face of Cascade Christian basketball.
It probably seems to many that he’s been coaching the Challengers as long as the school has been in existence.
For the record, he hasn’t. The school opened in 1984 and Morse didn’t arrive until 1988, fresh out of college and probably the youngest head coach in Oregon at 21 years old.
Now, 29 years later, Morse is one of the deans of the sport in Oregon and one of the winningest coaches in state history.
According to a story in the Oregonian, Morse ranks fifth among active coaches in Oregon with 544 wins, including state titles in 2007 and 2009.
Two of the other coaches on the list also have their teams in the tournament this week. Dayton’s Ron Hop ranks 16th with 327 wins in his 15 years at Dayton, including titles in 2012 and 2015. And Horizon Christian’s Dave Brown has the most wins, with 775 wins in 44 years, most spent in California. His Hawks teams have 238 wins and took state titles in 2010, 2011 and 2013.
Morse has enjoyed quite a journey with an expanding school.
When he started, Cascade Christian used an old school building in Jacksonville, had 52 students and played in the old Class B classification (now Class 1A).
“We went to 1A, to 2A and 3A,” he said. “I got to coach in four different classifications.”
Cascade Christian peaked with 360 students before the recession hit and the $7,000 tuition became too steep for many parents. Now the school is down to about 240 students.
Over the years, Morse has seen a vast improvement in facilities.
A Medford businessman made a deal with the school a little over a decade ago to donate land for a state-of-the-art building if the school sold the Jacksonville facility and put that money into the new building.
Now Cascade Christian has a building that includes both the high school and the middle school.
And, much pleasing to Morse, the Challengers have a nice gym to call their own.
For years, Morse had to take his team wherever it could for practice and games. The team played on a carpet floor for several years and had to practice from 8 to 10 p.m. other years because that was the only time gym space was available.
For a couple years, the team even practiced on a concrete floor in a barn owned by a parent, Morse said.
“We were vagabonds all over the place,” he said. “I feel so grateful and blessed that we have a nice facility.”
Morse likes to look back to when the school was in Jacksonville and to realize how far Cascade Christian has come.
“It was an old classic school built in 1925,” He said. “Three stories. Weird noises. Weird smells.
“We’ve had a great journey over the years. It’s very awesome and I feel very blessed.”
One of the biggest blessings has been coaching his children.
Morse has four sons and three daughters.
The boys — Scott, Eric, Jeffrey and Chad — all played basketball for Morse and he also started a tennis program when Scott was a freshman in the 2005-2006 school year.
The boys also all had some success in that sport — Scott was a three-time individual state champion before teaming with Eric to win in doubles his senior year — and Morse also had a chance to coach his daughter, Nicole in tennis as well — she finished third in state in 2014 and 2015.
Now Morse is experiencing a different side of coaching — Scott is on his staff at Cascade Christian.
“It is a complete joy,” Morse said.
It’s a much different relationship than coach and athlete.
“In high school, when I was coaching him, he was very competitive,” Morse recalled. “We would kind of butt heads at times.”
So Morse had one of his assistants work with Scott.
Now father and son work close together without butting heads.
“Every day, I look forward to going to practice,” Morse said. “I get to be with my oldest son. We get to coach together for two hours. It’s really fun.”
“It’s a good time,” he said.
When he was in college, Scott helped his dad with summer ball, which fueled his interest.
“I knew I kind of wanted to coach,” he said.
Scott is the lead scout for the program, breaking down what opponents like to do.
“We have pretty detailed scouting reports,” Morse said. “That makes a big difference.”
Morse also likes the young energy Scott brings to the program.
“Having some young assistant coaches, they relate so much better with the kids than I do,” Morse said. “It’s a good combination.”
Paul Sha has been coaching with Brian Morse for decades, while Ryan McLemore is a more recent addition like Scott.
“It’s a good diversity,” Scott said.
Scott works for a chemical engineering company, which has allowed him the flexibility to coach with his dad.
It’s a partnership that could last for some time.
Morse has no plans to quit the bench any time soon.
“I’m 50 years old,” he said. “I still have a lot of years in me.”
In fact, he’d love to coach his grandchildren, if that opportunity came up.
“I told Scott, if you want, I will be your assistant,” Morse said. “I could be your assistant and you could be head coach.”
For now, Scott is happy in the role of assistant.
The Challengers expect to contend in the tournament after just missing out the past two winters.
They lost an overtime game at Nyssa two years ago and a three-point contest at Santiam Christian last winter, when Chad was one of four senior starters.
“Everyone thought we would not be as good as we are,” Morse said. “The team has really come together.
“We have a strong base of juniors. They are really good defenders.”
The Challengers’ lone returning starter, Carson Cochran, won’t be able to play in the tournament because of a medical emergency, but they still have high hopes.
“These guys are working their butts off and doing the little things to keep us competitive.”
It’s enough to make their father-and-son coaches happy.
“We’re proud of how we’re doing,” Scott said.