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Six-time state champion coach Mark Wortman retires after 41 years at Elkhorn High
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Six-time state champion coach Mark Wortman retires after 41 years at Elkhorn High

Mark Wortman

Mark Wortman won 356 games and six state championships during 41 years at Elkhorn High School.

The Elkhorn South vs. Omaha Westside Class A football state championship game at Omaha Westside High School on Friday, November 20, 2020.

What will Mark Wortman do on Friday nights this fall?

He’s wondering that himself.

After 41 years and 356 wins as Elkhorn’s coach, including six state titles while spinning off two other schools in the growing Elkhorn district, Wortman is retiring.

“I plan on cheering on the Antlers still, from a different viewpoint,” Wortman said. “Deb and I have four daughters, three live in Colorado, and we have nine grandkids. We see them, but we’ll see them a little bit more now. And the fall weekends, if there’s something that comes up we can go.”

Wortman, 67, said the decision to leave the only school where he’s been a head coach was bittersweet.

He broke it to his team, which won Class B last November, Thursday.

“Oh, golly, there’s been no place like Elkhorn,” he said. “The kids, the community, the administration. I wasn’t tempted to go anywhere.

“Somebody just asked me if there were years you thought maybe this is it. And there never was, not until this year that I thought maybe this is the time. I’ve loved every minute of it. So that’s why this is not easy.”

Wortman grew up in Lexington, graduating in 1970, then graduated from Northern Colorado.

He was an assistant at Heritage High in Littleton, Colorado, for four years then became a graduate assistant for Sandy Buda at UNO in 1979.

Buda offered to make him an assistant coach. Heritage wanted him back. But he already interviewed for Bill Patton’s job at Elkhorn with, among others, School Board President Scoop McArdle and Athletic Director Gene Kruger.

“There was something that kind of struck me,” Wortman said. “I really didn’t know Elkhorn from anyplace else, but I went out there. Small little community. Brand new high school at the time and something kind of struck me that, you know what, this might be home.”

Wortman said he thought Elkhorn might grow into a Class A school by the time he retired.

In fact, Elkhorn has been to Class A and back twice after spinning off Elkhorn South in 2010 and Elkhorn North this year.

All six state championships were in Class B — 1989, 1992, 1996, 1999, 2011 and 2020. His career record concludes at 356-96, including 11-2 in 2020. He was the 1993 Nebraska high school coach of the year and his win total is second in state history (to Jeff Bellar’s 369 at Norfolk Catholic).

Wortman said his last team would have been special no matter the outcome.

“This was a memorable year just because of the sacrifices that everybody had to make,’’ he said. “We didn’t know if there would be a season, and then we didn’t know if we’d have summer weightlifting but we did and we had to sterilize everything, have certain paths we had to take, keep away from people, the masks we had to wear. It was a burden, but everybody did it.

“We took it day by day. We told the kids we’re going to have a game Friday night, let’s cherish it. It might be our last one. Then we’d have practice the next Monday and we were like, ‘Guys, this might be our last practice, you don’t know. So let’s make this be the best practice that we’ve had because we might not be here tomorrow. Breathe it in, baby, because this might be it.’ And then we had a state championship game.”


Photos: 2020 state football title games

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Reporter - High school sports

Stu is The World-Herald's lead writer for high school sports and for golf. Follow him on Twitter @stuOWH. Email stu.pospisil@owh.com

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