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Virgin retires after eight seasons of East Ridge basketball

East Ridge head coach Paul Virgin watches the action during a Suburban East Conference game against Park on Jan. 13, 2017. File photo / RiverTown Multimedia

Paul Virgin has not missed too many boys' basketball games during the past eight years.

In fact, the head coach has been absent from only one game in program history, which happened this season to attend the funeral of a former player. But that will likely change starting next season as this week Virgin announced his resignation from the boys' basketball team.

With his planned retirement from teaching at East Ridge coming after next school year, Virgin said he knew before the start of this winter's basketball season that it would be his last.

"My son's a senior, I've only got one more year left to teach, so it just felt like this was the best time to go," Virgin said. "It's been the plan for probably the last five or six years."

Of course, it is no surprise that the AP calculus math teacher has a well-thought-out exit strategy for retirement.

"Goodbye tension, hello pension," he jokes.

Virgin was given the opportunity to start the program from scratch when East Ridge opened in 2009. Virgin had plenty of previous experience as an assistant basketball coach, including positions at Duluth East, Princeton, St. Francis, Winona, Park and Woodbury high schools. When District 833 began looking into adding a third high school, Virgin was first in line for planning sessions at Newport Elementary School.

"I was there from the get-go. I organized the first couple of meetings," Virgin said. "We got it underway, and we got East Ridge going. To build it from scratch to the program it is today is just phenomenal. I couldn't be more happy and more proud of our program from kindergarten through varsity."

Virgin will retire with a career coaching record of 128 - 91 to go along with two Suburban East Conference championships, including this year's co-championship with Woodbury.

When reflecting on the two conference championships, the eight-year coach compares the challenges of the 2014 SEC title with this year's squad. Both teams needed to overcome injuries to key players. In 2014, now University of Hawaii-Hilo player Brian Ishola went down with an ACL injury, and current Pepperdine University center Ryan Keenan had struggled with ankle injuries.

This season, East Ridge lost guard Michael Virgin to a broken wrist and forward Ben Carlson to a concussion. Forward Zach Bennett also missed part of the year after being diagnosed with mononucleosis.

"We fought through that because I think we have such a good program, and our kids buy into our system," Virgin said. "We fought through those injuries. And this year, to lose three out of your top eight and still win 10 or 11 in a row, it couldn't have been more proud of our kids."

East Ridge will graduate seven seniors from this year's team, including Virgin's son Michael Virgin, but the next head coach will also benefit from young skilled players who should return. Sophomore Courtney Brown Jr. led the team by averaging 19.5 points per game last year, and freshman Ben Carlson also averaged more than 10 points per game. Courtney's younger brother, Kendall Brown, has also earned the reputation as a talented eighth-grader who could contribute in the future.

As a basketball coach, Virgin said he was focused more on a team's improvement than its wins and losses. But what he said he will miss the most about coaching has little to do with a zone press or points per game.

His favorite part of coaching is the connection with the students whom he speaks to every day for months during the season.

"Interacting with the players, seeing them grow," Virgin said. "That's the thing I'm going to miss, is the daily interaction on the court with the players, and seeing them grow and mature into young men. That's what it's all about."