Jim Yerkovich, one of the winningest high school basketball coach ever in Utah, died Wednesday in his Poulsbo, Wash., home after a bout with Parkinson’s disease. He was 77.
Yerkovich spent 44 years coaching at Judge Memorial High School, where he won 634 games. He still holds state record for most coaching wins at one school, per the Utah High School Activities Association. He’s second all-time in the state in total wins.
“We are mourning the loss of Jim Yerkovich,” Judge Memorial principal Patrick Lambert told The Salt Lake Tribune in an email. “He made an incredible impact with the Judge Memorial community. He was teacher, administrator, coach, parent, alumnus and friend.”
In his four-plus decades at Judge Memorial, Yerkovich won three 3A state championships — 1980, 2006 and 2008. He retired in 2010 after amassing more coaching wins than anyone in Utah high school, college or professional basketball other than Jerry Sloan, who died last month.
Yerkovich accumulated many accolades throughout his career. He took the Bulldogs to 38 state tournament appearances. He led them to 16 region titles. His teams played in nine state championship games.
Yerkovich’s teams were also invited to the prestigious Alhambra National Catholic Invitational Tournament 13 times. He even coached against Michael Jordan in a 1981 McDonald’s All-America game.
Yerkovich coached more than 50 players who went on play Division I college basketball at programs like Wake Forest, Stanford, Utah, Utah State, Washington State and others.
“The UHSAA is saddened by the news of the passing of Coach Jim Yerkovic," the state association said in a statement. "His legacy at Judge Memorial and his impact on countless student-athletes will live on forever. Our thoughts are with his family, friends, and the Judge Memorial community during this difficult time.”
Yerkovich was known for his “We” philosophy to coaching basketball, where he focused on the value of playing as a team rather than individually. He published a book on the subject called “We, a Model for Coaching and Christian Living,” in 2003. He considered it one of the highlights of his career.
“His players embraced this selfless philosophy,” Lambert said.
The gym at Judge Memorial was dedicated to Yerkovich in 2017. It has since been called the Coach Yerkovich Gymnasium. He graduated from the Catholic high school in 1961, when the gym was only three years old.
Yerkovich was born in Salt Lake City. After moving with his family to Wyoming for some time, he returned to SLC and started his sophomore year of high school at Judge Memorial. He returned to his alma mater after after graduating from the University of San Francisco.
Yerkovich taught advanced placement calculus for 25 years before taking an administration job. He retired as the academic vice-principal.
“Jim Yerkovich’s warm and loving presence carries on,” Lambert said. “‘WE’ are grateful for this man that dedicated his life to lifting the horizons of the people under his care.”