– BY BEN JOHNSON
VERDIGRIS — Chris Houk is embarking on a return home — sort of.
After coaching at Chisholm for three seasons, Houk has been named the next boys basketball coach at Verdigris, where Houk kicked his coaching career into high gear. Houk takes over for Randy Upshaw, who stepped down as the Cardinals’ coach after nine years at the helm.
“My family and I feel honored and blessed to have the opportunity to come back home to where my high school coaching career started nine years ago,” Houk said, “and be able to continue the traditions that coach Upshaw and I worked toward with the Verdigris basketball program.”
In his first season in charge at Verdigris, Houk will inherit a club that went 20-8 during the 2016-2017 campaign. The Cardinals, after winning a Class 3A state championship in 2016 and reaching the state championship in 2015, were eliminated from postseason during the most recent season in the area consolation finals.
Upshaw stepped aside at Verdigris in an attempt to be able to watch his son Cade play college basketball at Mid-America Christian University.
Now Houk will take the reins for a man who has been his mentor going all the way back to his high school playing days at Mannford, where Upshaw coached from 1990 to 2008.
“This is a special situation in that I have been a player for four years and an assistant coach for six years under Randy Upshaw,” Houk said. “Our relationship spans over 25 years. Coach Upshaw, Tammy and his children and grandchildren have become family to me, my wife, Shelley, and our three children.”
Needless to say, Houk has picked up plenty of pointers from Upshaw.
“While working with Randy, I learned the importance of a strong work ethic, being honest and how to effectively teach the game of basketball,” Houk said. “I also learned the importance of respect, a strong coaching network for support and feedback, and all of the ins and outs of a successful basketball program.”
At Chisholm, Houk compiled a 38-43 record. The Longhorns capped a 12-14 run during the 2016-2017 season with a regional-round exit in the playoffs.
What’s next for Houk is taking his head-coaching experience at Chisholm and translating it to one of the preeminent small-school programs in all of Oklahoma.
“The value of my experience during my three years at Chisholm High School as the head boys basketball coach is that I have learned the importance of relationships with players and parents,” Houk said. “And the importance of support from the administration and community for a basketball program to be successful, which are characteristics that are ingrained at Verdigris.”