After a prolific coaching career at Illinois Valley Central, girls’ basketball coach Paul Mercer is retiring.

After a prolific coaching career at Illinois Valley Central, girls’ basketball coach Paul Mercer is retiring.

“Four years ago I talked to my wife and made the decision to retire,” Mercer said. “Every three years you have to reapply to be a coach if you aren’t teaching still, and I decided that this class would be a good class to finish with and that when they graduated, I would retire.”

The Illinois Valley Central District 321 school board accepted Mercer’s retirement at the Feb. 28 school board meeting.

Mercer, 69, coached in the district since 1966 at Mossville Junior High and then switched to being the boys’ assistant coach at IVC and, for the past 21 years, has been the head coach of the Lady Ghosts.

“Basketball has always been my favorite sport, ever since I played in high school,” Mercer said of his time at Western Illinois University. “In college, I wasn’t going to be a teacher, but I had helped out as an assistant coach on a team. I liked it so much I found out what it took to be a head coach, and back then you had to be a teacher to coach. I then changed my major to education.”

The way each year brings fresh challenges to a coach was something Mercer said he enjoyed as he led teams.

“It was a whole group of players that made my career special,” Mercer said. “Every year is different; it’s always changing. You can have the same personnel and a lot of the same players, but every year you always face new challenges, and it’s a different experience.”

The last season in his illustrious career, the 2011-12 season, was filled with challenges of various girls on the team suffering injuries throughout the year, but Mercer was proud of the way the team handled the adversity.

“This last season we had a lot of ups and downs and injuries but the girls fought through it,” Mercer said. “They were still playing hard right up until the season ended.”

Those unique challenges and helping the girls battle through them was something Mercer said he enjoyed about working with the players.

“When I decided to be a coach and a teacher, I wanted to hopefully help change their lives and help them, and that opportunity has been great,” Mercer said. “It has been great to show them that life is a lot like sports. There are ups and downs but you just have to be tough and fight through the rough spots.”

After he is done coaching a team of individuals, Mercer said, it does not mean that the players are out of his life.

“I have had teams that still contact me and send me emails,” Mercer said. “The people I have had always stop by and talk to me and tell me how I’ve helped them and what their time in the program has meant to them, and that’s something I’m proud of.”

Mercer said he has always had assistant coaches who are capable of helping him with the pressures of making the basketball team run smoothly and efficiently.

“My assistant coaches Alex Razo with the freshman team and Kayla Doering with the sophomore team are very capable coaches, and they have helped me out tremendously,” Mercer said.

Doering, who graduated in 2006, knows what it’s like to work with Mercer as a player and a coach.

“Coach Mercer is an all-around great guy and always wants the best for his players,” Doering said. “He gives all his time to the players and always pushes them to be better. He was a great mentor to me both as a player and as a coach.”

Now that he is retired, Mercer still has plans to make sure he stays busy.

“I work a lot as a volunteer at Mossville United Methodist Church, and that’s one aspect of my life that I want to continue doing,” Mercer said. “I want to travel, which is something that I really haven’t been able to do a lot of. I have a sister in California, a sister in Arizona, a sister in Texas and a former classmate in Montana that I would like to visit. I would also like to see Mount Rushmore.”