Colony High School
Witzel turned the Colony High girls basketball team into a powerhouse during his 15 seasons, leading the Knights to eight appearances in the Class 4A state championship game and winning four titles. He finished his coaching career with a 337-117 record over 17 seasons, most prominently at Colony, where between 1994 and 2009 he racked up eight Northern Lights Conference championships and state championships in 1995, 1997, 1998 and 2008.
Witzel the wizard was named NLC Coach of the Year three times and Alaska 4A Coach of the Year twice in 1998 and 2008. “He was deserving of these awards because he not only was successful at winning games, but he made lifelong connections with his players that made them better people,” said Jeannie Hebert-Truax. “Facing a Don Witzel coached team was always a challenge.”
Witzel started his coaching career in 1980 at Hooper Bay, where he went 29-2 and won Lower Yukon league titles in 1981 and 1982. From there he bounced around as an assistant before taking over as bench boss at Colony in 1994. Colony dominated the Northern Lights Conference on Witzel’s watch, winning six straight league titles from 1995 to 2000. He also coached arguably Alaska’s greatest women’s basketball player in Jessica Moore, a two-time Gatorade Alaska Player of the Year and Parade All-American. “Coach Witzel demanded the best out of his players. His attention to detail was unmatched,” Moore said. “I remember he would sometimes have us practice walking into a gym as if we were playing an away game. He made sure our heads were held high, and that there was no shuffling our feet or hands in our pockets. We walked with a purpose.”
“Great coaches obsess about the smallest details, so when its game time you are fully prepared for battle,” Moore said. “Looking back on my basketball career beginning at Colony, winning NCAA championships at UConn and then fulfilling my dream of playing professionally in the WNBA, I can say without a doubt that Don’s guidance during those early years opened doors for me and set me on the path to achieve my goals.”
Witzel made every player feel like they were special, from stars to subs. Ask Martha Yuknis, whose daughter played for Witzel. “Brook began playing ball as a timid and inexperienced seventh grader, and thanks to Don’s coaching she became an integral player, both defensively and offensively, on a state championship team,” Yuknis said. “Those years on the team with Don as a coach were exciting and wonderful years.”