Cody Sherrill's college entrance essay hangs on Kelly Meek's office wall. For admittance into the University of Denver, Sherrill, a 2003 graduate of Steamboat Springs High School, was asked to write about the most influential person or thing in his life. Sherrill selected Meek, his varsity basketball coach for three seasons. It was an easy choice.
"It didn't take me long to write it at all," Sherrill said. "He's been the biggest mentor in my life and probably the biggest mentor in any player's life, even those in high school now. They may not know it yet, but when you get out of school and look back ... he's probably my best friend and always will be."
Sherrill is a sophomore at DU. Meek is 58 and in his 31st year coaching boys varsity basketball in Steamboat. On Saturday, Meek won his 500th game with the Sailors. Only five other coaches in Colorado preps history have reached that milestone. Only one other man -- Denver Christian's Dick Katte -- has won 500 games coaching boys basketball at one school.
"I'm thrilled for him and happy for him," said Katte, the state's winningest coach with 732 career victories. "He richly deserves it for what he's given to the sport."
In Colorado coaching circles, Meek has developed a reputation for being fiercely competitive and steadfastly focused on developing players for life beyond high school. It is his commitment to the sport and to its players that has his peers extending the warmest of congratulatory remarks.
"I wish I could be there," Roaring Fork
boys basketball coach Roger Walters said. "He's been quite an inspiration for me. I wanted our program, or any program I was a part of, to resemble something Kelly had put together all those years in Steamboat."
Walters said he has "something like 125 or 126" career wins in seven years at Rifle and two at Roaring Fork. Reaching the 500-win mark is "quite mind-boggling" to him.
"I can't put it in perspective," he added.
Meek's career mark is 500-193 with several of those losses coming at the hands of Moffat County coach Craig Mortensen. Mortensen coached against Meek for 19 years before taking over the girls program when his youngest daughters got to high school. Mortensen, like Meek, attended Adams State College and was an acquaintance of Meek's before the two became friends when Mortensen moved to Craig.
"He was the one who told me about the Moffat County job," Mortensen said. "I remember one game, Kelly and I almost got into a fight and then we were laughing about it later. He's such a competitor. He's intense and enthusiastic, and those qualities rub off on other people. He's a disciplinarian. Players know what they are getting into when they play for Kelly."
Not Jay Poulter, who was a Sailor in the 1970s. Committed to academics, Poulter, who stands 6-foot-8, hadn't given any thought to playing high school basketball. Meek took an interest in Poulter and changed his mind.
"I was nervous about coming out," Poulter said. "He came to my house. We had a hoop, and he took the time to show me how to shoot, one on one. I loved sports, but I was not comfortable in my own self. He brought out the real potential. If Coach Meek had not been in Steamboat when I was 15, I don't think I would be where I am today."
Poulter became an All-State player for Steamboat in the late 1970s and went on to earn a degree in economics from Stanford University. He owns and operates Poulter Colorado Camps, a children's resident camp, in Steamboat.
It's Meek's relentless need to pull the most from his players that resonates on the court. Look at the Sailors players through the years, Poulter said. Steamboat is a small town. Although some have gone on to play in college, most have not and never will.
It's likely many of Steamboat's players would have played few minutes in other programs because their individual potential wouldn't have been maximized the way it was under Meek.
"He was always so hard to play against because his teams were fundamentally so good," Katte said. "And the players respond to him. If you can get that out of young people, that's more important than X's and O's."
Meek's scouting reports and practices are legendary among his former players and peers. His understanding of the game and his ability to adapt to various styles with different personnel is largely responsible for his amazing career.
He seems to overlook nothing and remember everything, they said.
"In the middle of practice, he'll stop and tell us about one play that helped get something done in a game in 1975," Sherrill said. "I feel like he knows every play that happens in ever game that he's ever coached."
Walters said it isn't a feeling. It's a fact. He played against Meek while at Rifle in the 1980s and now coaches against him. Nothing has changed in Walters' eyes.
"You better hope and pray he didn't have you -- and only you -- for a game that week," Walters said. "He would know everything you did before you did it. He scouts so well and knows your kids as well as you know your kids. He always has his team prepared for what you're going to do."
Meek has never been afraid to seek advice and input from others. Katte remembers bringing his Denver Christian teams to Steamboat during the summers for scrimmages and workouts. Afterward, they'd go to Meek's house for a barbecue.
Mortensen remembers similar get-togethers where the two picked each other's brains.
"We would visit about how we could get our teams better for next year," he said. "We would get together and talk about strengths and weaknesses. It was a healthy competition. He made me a better coach."
Meek excelled in athletics growing up in Alamosa and received a Division I scholarship to play basketball at the University of Nebraska. He opted to enroll at hometown Adams State, however, when his high school track coach, Joe Vigil, accepted the track head coach position with the college.
The decision was made even easier when Meek's high school sweetheart and eventual wife, Karen Meek, wanted to stay in Colorado.
Meek began his freshman year playing basketball and running track -- he excelled at the 400 meters and hurdles -- but he broke his arm on a dunk and ruptured his Achilles tendon during track in the spring, ending his college career in both.
Surgery corrected the problem, and after three years of recovery, Meek earned a starting wide receiver spot with Adams State. He went on to lead the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference in receiving during his final year in school.
In 1972, Kelly and Karen Meek moved to Steamboat and became teachers. Meek is a weights coach at Steamboat Springs High School. He also coached track and football for several years before focusing exclusively on basketball in 1985. The couple has three daughters, Katie Moskowitz, Aimee Hatcher and Megan Meek.
Megan, the youngest, is in Denver. Aimee married former Steamboat player Taylor Hatcher, and the couple lives in Sicily. Katie, who coached volleyball at Adams State, married Mike Moskowitz, a basketball coach. The couple lives in South Dakota with a 4 1/2-month-old son, Myles, who is Karen and Kelly Meek's first grandchild.
Mortensen, who has four daughters, fondly remembers getting to know Meek's girls, and Mortensen remembers Meek taking an interest in his daughters' lives. Meek's love of children, his own and others, has made coaching high school basketball a perfect fit since 1974.
"Kelly is a monument," Mortensen said. "Anybody who stays in it as long as he has, has to have great determination and perseverance. It's not easy. Even more important is his love for kids. He has to have great love for those kids he coaches."
The feeling is mutual.
"Outside of my parents, Kelly was the single greatest positive influence in my young life," Poulter said. "He's someone I would consider a friend who always made the time to share wisdom and compassion. I feel like, after all these years, I can't believe he's at 500 wins. He is an incredible talent."