DAYS CREEK — It’s certainly a unique arrangement James Ellis has during the winter sports season.
The 52-year-old ended a long teaching run at Days Creek High School last year to become the new principal and athletic director at Elkton High.
Ellis wasn’t ready to end his coaching career, though.
He wanted to guide the Wolves’ boys basketball team for at least one more season, mostly because the youngest of his three children, Blake, was entering his senior year at Days Creek and would be one of the top returners for the 2018-19 squad.
With the blessing of both schools, Ellis is enjoying his first year in an administrative position with Elkton during the weekday and coaching at his alma mater after hours. This marks his 27th year as Days Creek’s head coach.
“It’s actually been much smoother than I anticipated,” Ellis, a 1984 graduate of DCHS, said during an interview Thursday. “I wondered how welcome it would be with the Elkton community, but they’ve been overwhelmingly supportive in allowing me to make this endeavor possible.
“Leaving early, leaving work early ... they were completely understanding, probably because of my son’s last year. Both parties have been very supportive.”
Elkton and Days Creek are both members of the Class 1A Skyline League North.
The Wolves (18-5, 12-1 Skyline North) entered the weekend leading the North division on the final weekend of the regular season. Days Creek hosted Elkton on Friday night, defeating the Elks 53-25 to complete a series sweep.
Saturday, the Wolves traveled to Dixonville to face Umpqua Valley Christian and came away with a 44-33 victory to capture the North title.
Looking back at Days Creek’s 53-27 victory over Elkton on Jan. 11 at Grimsrud Gym, Ellis admitted it was a different experience coaching against the school he works at.
“It was awkward, to say the least,” he said. “You build relationships with these (Elkton) kids and you already have relationships with the kids from Days Creek. I think it was more awkward for me, not for the kids.”
Ellis says it was an interesting transition when he began his job at Elkton last summer.
“I felt more comfortable with the staff, the board and community than I did with the students,” he said. “I understand that. They’re seeing this guy they’ve seen their entire lives, coaching and working at Days Creek. It took a little longer for the kids to warm up to me.
“Things now are very good, my relationship with the kids is very good. I actually had a couple of them at first tell me they wanted no part of me because I was from Days Creek, but those kids have opened up to me and I get along with them really well now.”
Ellis’ wife, Shari, is a teacher in Days Creek. His daily commute from Days Creek to Elkton and back is nearly 170 miles.
“I grew up in Tiller and anywhere you go from Tiller is a drive, so Elkton is just a little further,” Ellis said with a smile. “It’s not that big of an adjustment for me.
“From my driveway to Elkton’s parking lot is 83.6 miles one way.”
Ron Dunn, the Days Creek athletic director and volleyball coach, is a close friend of Ellis. He’s happy Ellis remains in charge of the boys basketball program.
“It’s definitely different not having James around during the work day,” Dunn said. “I really miss him, but he’s still coaching basketball and I get to talk to him a lot. As athletic directors, we still communicate really well.
“To me, James’ strongest trait (as a coach) is he gets so much out of his kids. He gets great effort out of them. He knows the kids, knows what buttons to push and what buttons you can’t push. He’s a good Xs and Os guy, and you don’t see Days Creek beat itself very often.”
Ellis, who owns 456 career wins at Days Creek, is considered one of the top coaches in the 1A ranks.
“He’s the best coach in the league as far as I’m concerned,” Glendale coach Tom Ford said. “It’s his system. He has kids buying into what he does.”
The Wolves, led by Blake Ellis, are having another successful season under James Ellis. Blake Ellis is one of five seniors on the team along with Layton Berlingeri, Caleb Kruzic, Rocco Muir and Loy Knutzen.
Blake Ellis, a four-year varsity letterman, leads the team in scoring and assists.
“I didn’t realize how special it was growing up. It’s been amazing playing for him,” Blake Ellis said. “It’s my senior year and I’m soaking it all in. Playing for dad, it doesn’t get better than that.
“We have our ups and downs, but I love it. He’s pretty strict and holds kids accountable, but he always has their backs — no matter what.”
James Ellis has coached all of his kids in basketball at Days Creek, starting with daughter Taylor on the girls’ team. She graduated in 2012, followed by Carter (2017) and Blake (2019).
“It’s a blessing to coach your own kids,” James Ellis said. “(Blake’s) my third one. It’s going to be a sad day when the season’s over, but again I can’t thank Elkton and Days Creek enough for allowing this to happen.
“Blake’s been a great kid to coach. He’s a lot of fun, loves the game and worked hard in the offseason. He’s put in a lot of time to make this as a successful season as he can.
“These are his buddies ... guys hanging out at my house and him hanging at their house. I’ve watched them all grow up together since kindergarten. It’s a great friendship, camaraderie, a family. I can’t tell you how fun it is.”
The season is winding down. Days Creek will head to the Skyline district tournament next weekend at Marshfield High School in Coos Bay. Depending on how the Wolves fare there, they’d need to win one or two state playoff games to advance to the eight-team state tournament in Baker City.
“These kids haven’t surprised me in their effort,” James Ellis said. “Overall as a team we’re playing some of the best basketball that we possibly can. Our kids get along pretty well ... nobody cares who has the glory, who’s getting the points. They work really well together as a team.”